What’s in your festive spirit? Understanding alcohol intolerance

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‘Tis the season to be merry’, so the saying goes. And for many of us, merry means a festive glass (or three) of something fizzy, brewed or distilled.

And while it’s not unusual for us to overindulge at this time of year, leaving us nursing a hangover headache, if you find that your favourite tipple isn’t quite getting you into the festive spirit, and you’re experiencing the after-effects of a heavy night after only a drink or two, it might be time to consider what’s in that glass.

What is alcohol?

Alcohol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol) is the ingredient found in beer, wine, and spirits that causes us to feel drunk.

It’s formed when yeast ferments the sugars in different foods. Wine is made from the sugar in grapes, beer from the sugar in malted barley, cider from the sugar in apples, perry from pears and vodka from the sugar in potatoes, beets, or other plants.

Alcoholic drinks can also contain different flavourings from fruits, spices or even dairy, such as in cream liquors.

Common symptoms of alcohol intolerance

While too many top ups can leave us feeling worse for wear, there are some symptoms which can also indicate an alcohol intolerance. These include:

  • Affected breathing
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headache
  • Hives
  • Nausea
  • Red face and flushed cheeks
  • Runny nose

It can be frustrating when you know that you haven’t overindulged but yet, feel as though you have. We tend to write off the symptoms as simply having had one too many, but it could actually be the case that an intolerance is to blame.

What’s in your glass?

When it comes to alcohol, there are several different ingredients which could cause problems for people with food intolerances and sensitivities. We don’t often think about what goes into our favourite festive drinks, but for those of us that struggle with our trigger foods, even a trace can cause trouble.


Beginning with the alcohol itself, the ethanol contained in alcohol also opens up blood vessels and can make symptoms such as asthma, urticaria or rhinitis worse. Alcohol as an ingredient can also increase gut permeability, allowing toxins and bacteria to pass into the bloodstream, increasing the chance that you could develop a food intolerance.

There can be many reasons why people are intolerant to alcohol itself. These include:

  • Being asthmatic
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Being of Asian descent
  • Enzyme deficiency
  • Intolerance to histamine
  • Sensitivity to sulphites.

As well as the alcohol, the different ingredients, from fruits to grains, mixed in to flavour your favourite drinks could also be a cause for concern. Some of the common triggers include:


The staple of wine, if you have an intolerance to grapes, you may find that even a small glass of wine causes you to feel unwell.


Beer is a grain-based beverage made from either barley, wheat, or rye, which means that, if you’re gluten-intolerant, your favourite pint could be causing you more than a regular hangover. Thankfully, there are gluten-free options available on the market.


Used to ferment sugars into alcohol, yeast is a common ingredient in all sorts of beverages. But if you find that yeast causes you to feel unwell, you may notice that a wide range of drinks lead to problems. Likewise, fruity drinks could also be an issue as yeast grows on the skin of fruits like grapes, plums, and damsons. If you’re looking to avoid yeast, try opting for clear, distilled spirits such as vodka or gin.


Creamy drinks made with dairy are particularly popular during the festive season as we seek something with a little more indulgence. But if you find that cows’ milk tends to make you feel poorly, you may want to think twice about those creamy cocktails.

Happily, thanks to the rise of free from alternatives, there are more substitutes available on the market made with dairy-free swaps, such as almond milk.

What is food intolerance?

Food intolerances can occur when your body’s immune system mistakes a food protein as a threat, releasing antibodies to fight it. This reaction can result in a range of inflammatory symptoms, such as IBS and bloating, headaches, brain fog, skin complaints like eczema or acne, or joint pain. Those who experience food intolerance might have one or more symptoms, ranging from mild to more severe.

Frustratingly, food intolerance symptoms can be delayed by as much as 72 hours, making it difficult to pinpoint the cause and often leading to the wrong ingredients getting the blame. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for food intolerance sufferers to react to between 4 and 6 ingredients

Take control of your diet

Getting to the bottom of a food intolerance can be frustrating. A common recommendation is the elimination diet, where you remove one food at a time for a few weeks to see how you feel. But this process can take a long time. And, although many of us commonly react to a few different ingredients, the elimination diet is often abandoned when the first trigger food is found, leaving an incomplete picture of what’s causing the problem.

Get answers faster with Smartblood

When it comes to food intolerance testing, it’s important to do your research and choose a reputable laboratory testing company. At Smartblood, we offer a comprehensive test to help you take control of your diet quickly and discover your own trigger foods. 

Our home-to-laboratory service gives you fast, accurate results that pinpoint exactly which foods you are reacting to. Tests are completed in our accredited laboratory by trained experts, with clear, easy to understand results sent to you via email within three days. 

Dedicated nutritional support

Our tests include a telephone consultation with our BANT registered Nutritional Therapist. This additional support is there to help you understand your results and put a plan together to make safe, sustainable changes to optimise your diet. 

Your consultation is a brilliant opportunity to talk about the foods you love, helping you find great alternatives for your trigger foods to ensure you don’t miss out, including your favourite festive tipple. Cheers to that!

Could you have a food intolerance?

If you think that food intolerance may be responsible for your symptoms then we believe that our easy-to-complete tests could help you. Find all your food intolerances at once with a full Smartblood test.

Around 10% of our customers exhibit no IgG reactions to the 134 foods whatsoever – we provide non-reactive customers with a 100% REFUND so they can continue their investigations through other testing.

Find out today with Smartblood.

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