If you've got weekend plans, but you've also been diagnosed with diverticulitis — pouches in the wall of your colon that have become inflamed and infected — you may be wondering if you can drink beer. The short answer? You shouldn't, especially if you're on antibiotics to treat it.
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Beer and Diverticulitis: A No-Go
"If there is active diverticulitis, it's often treated with antibiotics and a bland, low-fiber diet until the infection resolves," explains Arun Swaminath, MD, director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and an associate professor at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine. "Typically, that's a good time to stay away from alcohol, especially as some antibiotics, like Flagyl (metronidazole), can cause a nasty drug interaction."
The good news? Once the infection clears and you've finished your prescription, it's usually fine to drink moderate amounts of alcohol, including beer, again.
What Exactly Is Diverticulitis?
The digestive condition known as diverticulosis occurs when pouches or stretched out areas develop in the wall of your colon. When these weakened areas become inflamed or infected, the condition has progressed to diverticulitis, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
Lots of people have diverticulosis — about one-third of Americans 50 and older and more than half the people in the U.S. over age 60, the NIDDK states. Fortunately, the vast majority of people who have diverticulosis never go on to develop diverticulitis, says NIDDK. In fact, many people who have diverticulosis have no noticeable symptoms.
If diverticulosis does cause symptoms, NIDDK says you may notice bloating, changes in bowel movements (constipation or diarrhea) and abdominal pain. But these symptoms can also be caused by other digestive conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome.
Read more: Foods to Avoid if You Have Diverticulitis
How Serious Is Diverticulitis?
When people develop diverticulitis, it can sometimes be serious. About 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized each year because of the condition.
Though often corrected with antibiotics, diverticulitis can cause problems for some people, either because it's severe or leads to complications. These include bleeding, more serious infections in other areas of the abdomen, a small hole in the colon (perforation) and intestinal blockage, according to NIDDK.
Drinking Beer and Diverticulosis
The research on diverticulosis and alcohol has been somewhat mixed. Some studies suggest that drinking alcohol is linked to a higher risk of developing diverticulosis and bleeding. But a research review published in August 2017 in the Hawaii Journal of Medicine and Public Health concluded that alcohol doesn't seem to be a diverticulosis risk factor. So it's possible that tossing back a beer or two might be fine. But the review authors do note that the previous research has limitations and that additional research is needed.
Dr. Swaminath says if you already have diverticulosis, alcohol doesn't have to be off the menu, but there are still plenty of reasons to limit alcohol or avoid it altogether if you're sensitive to its effects. "Alcohol, depending on the threshold and the person's individual sensitivities, can act as a toxin to the stomach, causing alcoholic gastritis (stomach inflammation), injury to the pancreas (pancreatitis) and, most well-known, injury to the liver," he points out.
Read more: 5 Hidden Health Benefits of Alcohol
Other Lifestyle Factors That Play a Role
Alcohol isn't the only habit that may cause a problem for people with diverticulosis or diverticulitis. A lack of physical activity, obesity and smoking have all been implicated in both conditions, according to NIDDK. Some medications, such as aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, seem to increase the odds of these digestive woes.
Consuming a typical Western diet, high in red meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy is associated with a higher risk of developing diverticulitis, according to a May 2018 article in the Annals of Internal Medicine. By contrast, a diet high in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains may be protective — it is linked to a decreased risk of diverticulitis, researchers reported.
In the past, doctors thought that certain foods might get stuck in diverticular pouches. People were advised not to eat nuts, seeds and popcorn, for instance. More recent research has found that these foods don't seem to cause problems for people with diverticulosis, NIDDK says. In fact, their fiber content could help you avoid problems.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Diverticular Disease"
- Hawaii Journal of Medicine and Public Health: "Association between Alcohol Consumption and Diverticulosis and Diverticular Bleeding: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis"
- Annals of Internal Medicine: "In the Clinic: Acute Colonic Diverticulitis"