Christmas tends to be a time when people overindulge in food and drink. After all, the end of the year can be quite intense – gift shopping, school events, work deadlines. By the time the celebrations finally begin, you’re more than ready to enjoy yourself.
The trouble is that the ‘season to be jolly’ can last quite a few weeks, when you consider all the Christmas functions and get-togethers. Overindulgence may begin in November with the work Christmas party and continue until school goes back in late January! That’s a long time to be putting extra pressure on your liver.
The relationship between your gut and your liver
Your gut and liver work closely together, for good or ill.
A healthy diet tends to produce helpful gut bacteria, which make helpful metabolites (amino acids, lipids, sugars, organic acids etc). These metabolites travel through the portal vein to the liver and influence its health.
An unhealthy diet, however, tends to disrupt the gut bacteria, changing their number and type. This is known as dysbiosis. It can weaken the intestinal barrier and expose your liver to microbes that can cause inflammation and scarring.
So, to sum up, your food and drink choices influence your gut health and bacteria – and unhealthy gut bacteria may damage your liver.
How holiday eating and drinking habits can affect your gut and liver
To nurture a strong microbiome that supports gut health, you should regularly eat and drink:
- Prebiotic fibre that creates a healthy gut environment such as vegetables, legumes, fruits, wholegrain, nuts and seeds
- Probiotic foods that put some good bacteria into your gut, such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, tempeh, kimchi, sourdough bread and some cheeses.
Now, consider your likely Christmas menu. Few Christmas menus accommodate whole grains and kombucha!
The typical Christmas diet depletes your gut bacteria. Christmas cake, mince pies, shortbread biscuits, gingerbread houses, trifle, Baileys, cocktails, cheeses…They’re all delicious! But they’re also high in fat, sugar and calories, not to mention alcohol.
So, is there a way to enjoy a wonderful holiday and nurture your gut and liver?
How to improve gut health at Christmas
The key to a gut-friendly, liver-friendly holiday is balance.
Only Scrooge or the Grinch would tell you to avoid all Christmas food! This is a special time of year and it’s OK to enjoy it.
But pick and choose. Practise moderation.
Healthy Christmas foods
Fruits and vegetables can add some fun and colour to your Christmas menu. Try some decorative options like a fruit wreath, some vegetable Christmas trees or some Santa kebabs.
Bring something like this to an event and you’ve not only guaranteed there’s a healthy option, you’ve created some ‘wow’ factor too.
When it comes to fruit and veg, simply eat and enjoy. You’re helping your gut and you’re filling up on healthy choices, leaving less room for another slice of cake.
Are you drinking more than your liver can handle?
If you drink alcohol, please be mindful of how much you consume over Christmas and New Year. Drinking more than 4 servings of alcohol in one sitting counts as a binge.
- 1 shot of a spirit
- 1 standard glass of wine
- 285 ml of beer.
Note that this is often less than you’ll be served in a bar, where:
- A pot/middy of full-strength beer = 1.1 standard drinks
- A stubby of full-strength beer = 1.4 standard drinks
- A 150 ml glass of white wine = 1.4 standard drinks
- A 150 ml glass of red wine = 1.6 standard drinks.
And when you pour your own drinks at home without measuring…anything goes! It’s easy to drink far more than you intended to. And your poor liver must filter out every drop of alcohol that you drink.
So, if you intend to drink alcohol over Christmas or New Year, try to minimise its effect on your digestive system and liver by alternating alcoholic drinks with water. This will also help you stay hydrated, which is important in Australia’s summer Christmas season.
Alcohol alternatives at Christmas
If you’re keen to limit or eliminate alcohol while still enjoying a wonderful Christmas then:
- Remind yourself of the advantages of not drinking – it keeps your head clear, it’s cheaper and there’s less risk of embarrassing yourself
- Change how you think about alcohol – you’re not ‘missing out’. In fact alcohol probably dulls your true enjoyment since it is a depressant that slows down your thoughts and reaction times. Without it, you’re able to be fully present in the moment, genuinely enjoying yourself – and without a hangover the next morning!
- Create some refreshing mocktails – you’ll feel like you’re drinking something special but without the downsides of alcohol
- Focus on what you enjoy about this time of year – it’s not the alcohol that makes it special, it’s the people you’re with
- Organise fun activities – you’ll have far more fun playing backyard cricket, diving in the pool or going for a bushwalk than you would have sitting there drinking
- Be the designated driver – it’s a helpful way to ensure friends and family get home safely and it’s a handy ‘excuse’ for not drinking if you feel under pressure
- Work out what you’ll say if asked – some people may question why you’re not drinking (which is odd, really, since they’d probably congratulate you for giving up other drugs like nicotine). It may be helpful to have a quick response like ‘I feel better without it’ or ‘I’m happy with what’s in my glass’. Then turn the conversation in a new direction, perhaps asking ‘What’s new with you?’
- Join an online support group – as we learn more about the harmful effects of alcohol, there are ever-increasing numbers of people who are seeking to change their behaviour and drink less. You may find your cheer squad at sites like Hello Sunday Morning or This Naked Mind.
How can Moonee Valley Specialist Centre help?
We understand how hard celebrations can be when you’re trying to protect your liver.
We’re here to encourage you that it’s worth it! Your liver works so hard, doing over 500 different jobs a day. What you put into your body makes a huge difference to your liver, which can easily become overworked when constantly being required to fight against the risk of fatty liver disease or the effects of alcohol.
It’s not always easy to know when your liver is struggling since symptoms do not tend to appear until later in the disease process. If you’re concerned about your liver, we encourage you to come in for a liver scan. This is a non-invasive test, a bit like an ultrasound, which provides valuable insights into the health of your liver.
Please book an appointment today.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
From all of us at Moonee Valley Specialist Centre
All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Moonee Valley Specialist Centre can consult with you to confirm if a particular treatment or procedure is right for you. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. A second opinion may help you decide if a particular treatment is right for you.