Dr. Doni Wilson discusses how excessive alcohol and sugar consumption impair methylation, and stress your liver, hindering healthy function in the body.
So far in this series, I have talked about how adrenal distress, toxins and/or metal exposure, leaky gut, and inflammation all block methylation, a key process that ensures healthy bodily function, including detoxification. If you have missed any of my previous articles in this series, please click on these links.
With the holidays coming up, I want to talk about two additional substances that impair methylation as well as liver function, especially when you have an MTHFR mutation: Alcohol and sugar.
Methylation: The B-Vitamin Cycle
As a quick re-cap, during methylation, methyl-folate comes together with methyl-cobalamin (B12) and homocysteine to make a substance called methionine, which is then converted to SAM (S-adenosylmethionine). Our bodies need SAM for many different purposes, including maintaining energy, mood, and focus; healthy cell production; breaking down adrenaline; ridding the body of histamine; making glutathione; and ensuring good sleep.
Methylation is a cycle – I call it the “B-vitamin cycle.” Think of gears in a machine, making the engine turn, so the machine can function. Now imagine a small stone gets into the gears, causing them to get stuck, so they cannot turn.
That’s similar to what happens when sugar or alcohol enter your system: They prevent your body’s methylation “gears” from turning. How? Specifically, alcohol blocks the methylation enzymes, while sugar increases inflammation; and as I discussed in a previous article, inflammation hinders methylation.
Both alcohol and sugar also put stress directly on your liver, which makes detoxification more difficult, creating yet another “stone” in the gears of methylation. This is especially the case when you have an MTHFR mutation – also known as a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) – such as SNP 1298 and/or 677.
How Alcohol Affects Methylation
As mentioned, in healthy methylation, folate combines with B12 and homocysteine to create SAM. Alcohol blocks the enzyme pathways, so these substances don’t combine properly, and this process doesn’t happen effectively. This means you don’t get that much-needed SAM.
One of the functions of SAM is to protect your liver from substances such as alcohol; so, if you don’t have enough SAM, your liver is at risk. Let’s look at this more closely:
- SAM is used to make glutathione, which is a major anti-oxidant and cell protector. Glutathione gets used up by alcohol. Therefore, the more alcohol you consume (especially in one sitting), the less glutathione you’ll have, and the more oxidative stress. And because alcohol blocks the pathways to create more SAM, your glutathione supply is not replenished.
- SAM blocks inflammation caused by alcohol. But when SAM is depleted by alcohol, it is not present to stop inflammation. Inflammation then increases, further inhibiting methylation.
- SAM is also used to make choline, an important ingredient of bile. Bile is produced in the liver and carries toxins from the liver out through the digestive system. Without enough SAM, there is not adequate choline and bile to help eliminate toxins (such as toxins in our environment and personal care products).
This is why you are more likely to feel the negative effects of alcohol when you increase your intake. It is also why the liver can develop B-vitamin deficiencies and cirrhosis (permanent liver damage) if there is too much alcohol consumption over time. In fact, studies show that consuming more than two alcoholic drinks per day increases the risk of cirrhosis.1
Even worse, alcohol increases leaky gut and decreases insulin function, which leads to higher blood sugar levels. Let’s now look at how high blood sugar affects your liver and methylation.
How Sugar Affects Methylation
Sugar comes in many forms including fructose (fruit sugar and high fructose corn syrup), glucose, sucrose (white table sugar), maltose, dextrose, and more. Sugar, in small amounts, is not a bad thing. Our bodies can use sugar to make energy. However, studies show that excess sugar consumption increases inflammation,2,3 which inhibits methylation via at least three different mechanisms:
- Sugar feeds the bacteria in our intestines. When we consume more sugar than can be effectively absorbed by our intestines, it continues down through our intestines and overfeeds the bacteria instead. When bacteria are overfed, they overgrow, and when that happens, they can create toxins and send inflammatory signals throughout our bodies.
- Sugar is absorbed from our intestines into our blood stream, where it increases our blood sugar levels. Insulin is the hormone that signals for sugar to enter cells. When insulin is overwhelmed, blood sugar levels stay high, and the excess sugar sticks to the outside of cells and proteins in the body – referred to as advanced glycation end-products (AGE) – causing cell damage, oxidative stress, and inflammation.
- Excess sugar is stored in the liver, in fatty tissue, and as cholesterol. Over time, this leads to liver damage, weight gain, and elevated cholesterol and triglycerides.All three of these scenarios lead to increased inflammatory messages that spread throughout the body. The inflammatory signals caused by sugar block the methylation pathways, just as alcohol does.
The Effects of Alcohol and Sugar on Your Liver
Excess alcohol and sugar consumption also overtaxes your liver, causing many possible symptoms, which you might not intuitively connect with liver and methylation impairment. These include:
- Weight gain (especially around the waist)
- Skin rashes
- Vision changes
- Joint pain
- Gas and bloating
- Sugar cravings
- Decreased memory
How Do You Know if Alcohol and/or Sugar Are Impairing Your Health?
There are many tests you can take to determine whether sugar and/or alcohol have stirred up trouble within your body. These include:
- Fasting glucose – a blood test that indicates whether or not you have higher-than-optimal blood sugar and lower-than-optimal insulin function.
- HgbA1c – gives an indication of your average blood sugar level over the last three months.
- Cardio CRP – gives an indication of inflammation and heart disease risk.
- Metabolic panel with liver enzymes, including AST, ALT and GGT – when elevated, these levels indicate that your liver is stressed by excess sugar, alcohol and/or other toxins.
- Homocysteine – part of the methylation cycle that can be easily tested in blood, to determine the efficiency of methylation within your body and whether you need more folate, B12 and B6.
How to Recover When You’ve Had Too Much: 6 Alcohol and Sugar Recovery Tips
The holidays can be especially taxing on the liver and methylation because our consumption of alcohol and sugar tends to increase. You also might sleep less and feel more stressed during this season. So, here are six tips for what to do if you’ve had too much sugar and alcohol:
- Give yourself some recovery time. If you know you’re going to consume more sugar and alcohol on a particular day/week, give your body a few days where you are NOT consuming these things. The Stress Remedy Program could help you – find more info below.
- Make sure to drink plenty of water, as it helps you detoxify. Add electrolytes or sea salt to your water to further help rehydration.*
- Exercise and/or going for a sauna helps you detoxify by sweating. Even 15 minutes can do a lot of good.
- Get your blood sugar back in balance by eating small meals that contain protein. For example, you could have a protein shake – such as Dr. Doni’s Pea Protein Shake.
- Take antioxidants, such as glutathione.
- Take B-vitamins, including methylfolate and methylB12, plus B6 (P5P) – as long as you don’t feel worse when you take them. If you do feel worse, you need to work on de-stressing your liver before adding methylation support.
As I’ve said in other articles, some people feel worse when taking methyl-folate (the typically prescribed treatment for MTHFR), even though it is the most active and preferred form of this vitamin.
I would argue that other aspects of your health may need to be addressed first before starting to take folate, or in addition to taking folate. That’s exactly why I’ve created a 5-step approach to optimizing methylation, and the first step involves removing the things that block methylation, and the Stress Remedy Program is a great way to do that.
Your Stress Remedy Plan
Even if you don’t have MTHFR, overconsumption of alcohol and sugar can stress out your liver and your body in general. And if you end up consuming more than you think you should have, you might find my 7-day Stress Remedy program useful to help you recover (even if you only do 4 days’ worth!).
- Avoiding sugar and alcohol
- Avoiding gluten and dairy
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Practicing mindfulness and other forms of stress reduction each day
- Exercising (at your speed) or moving each day
- Using a protein shake to ensure adequate calories and nutrition
The 21-day Stress Remedy program gives you extra time to balance blood sugar, heal leaky gut, optimize gut bacteria, and integrate stress remedies into your daily routine. Click here to learn more about both the 7- and 21-day programs.
I hope you found this article useful and informative. If you know anyone else who could benefit from this information, please feel free to share this article.
To make sure you don’t miss out on future articles, please subscribe to my Weekly Wellness Wisdom e-newsletter. When you do, you will also receive a free e-book to help you get started with helping your body recover from stress and increasing your stress resilience.
If you’d prefer one-to-one support to improve your methylation and detoxify your liver, then you might be interested in the MTHFR package of consultations and health panels that I created based on what I have found helps patients most.
Or if you prefer to learn as a group, you may be interested in an upcoming MTHFR course with me. I offer a single MTFHR basics class, and am developing a five-part class over three months to guide you through my five-step approach to healthy methylation.
Here’s the single MTFHR basics class:
MTHFR Basics: The Answers You Need to Take Control of Your Health
If you recently found out that you have an MTHFR mutation and you’d like to learn more about what that means and what is involved in my approach to optimizing methylation, please sign up for my next live online group session.
For the 5-part online course (in development), please let me know you are interested:
Yes! I’m interested in a more extensive group online course on MTHFR!
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I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season with family and friends. May the tips in this article help you to remain empowered about your health goals and what you can do to support your body to be healthy even when stressed, including stress from alcohol and sugar intake. I can personally assure you it is possible to enjoy the holidays and stay well at the same time!
Wellness Wishes to You!
16th November 2017
P.S. I conducted a Facebook Live session on November 16 on this topic. If you want to tune into the next session, please “Like” my page: https://facebook.com/drdoniwilson.
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.
- Bruha R, Dvorak K, Petrtyl J. Alcoholic liver disease. World J Hepatol. 2012;4(3):81-90.
- Jameel F, Phang M, Wood LG, Garg ML. Acute effects of feeding fructose, glucose and sucrose on blood lipid levels and systemic inflammation. Lipids Health Dis. 2014;13:195.
- Lambertz J, Weiskirchen S, Landert S, Weiskirchen R. Fructose: A Dietary Sugar in Crosstalk with Microbiota Contributing to the Development and Progression of Non-Alcoholic Liver Disease. Front Immunol. 2017;8:1159.