Why Does Beer Settle My Stomach (Or Help a Hangover!)

If you’ve ever had indigestion after a big meal, you may be wondering why having a beer or two sometimes feels like it helps. Does beer really help settle your stomach or is it all in your head?

Some beers, particularly ones with a high IBU, can help settle your stomach by promoting digestion and perhaps even improving your overall gut health, both of which can help with uncomfortable indigestion issues. Beer is not helpful in treating gas, stomach ulcers, or heartburn, and drinking to soothe a hangover will only delay the inevitable.

Read on to find out all about what beer (and alcohol in general) can do for your upset stomach, and where the limitations lie.

Can beer really settle an upset stomach?

Have you ever poured yourself a beer to help settle an upset stomach? You’re not alone, although many people may be surprised to learn there is actually a scientific backing to your home remedy.

Beer can promote digestion and therefore settle an upset stomach if that upset stomach comes from indigestion. Beer is a complex substance and there are several components that can, in the right doses, improve overall gut health as well. 

Beer’s overall effect on digestion hasn’t been studied a whole lot. In fact, according to a 2019 study, more attention should be paid to this topic to truly understand it. Early indicators show, though, that some of the components of beer can act as probiotics, promoting digestion and overall gut health.

In addition to the bitter hops and probiotics in most beers, other acids like maleic acid and succinic acid can also promote gastric acid production. But it’s not just acids that contribute to improved digestion: even the alcohol in beer can also help settle your stomach.

Why does alcohol settle your stomach

Most studies show there is a sweet spot between a sip of alcohol to settle a stomach ache and overdoing it. In addition to the hangover you may feel the next day, drinking too much alcohol, or even a smaller amount of a higher-alcohol spirit like whiskey will have no effect on digestion.

In small doses, ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, promotes the creation of gastric acids which break down food. This can help digest a big meal no matter what type of alcohol you’re drinking.

According to the National Library of Medicine, “beverages with a higher ethanol content (whisky, gin, cognac) do not stimulate gastric acid secretion or release of gastrin.”

So basically, the higher alcohol content of spirits won’t do as much to soothe you after pigging out on pizza– all the more reason to stick with a trusty beer!

Does beer help with a hangover stomach?

Most of us have heard the phrase “hair of the dog” or possibly even uttered it as an excuse to order a Bloody Mary at a morning-after-the-party brunch. “Hair of the dog” is shorthand for “hair of the dog that bit you,” an old theory that sometimes, the cure for what ails you is the same as the cause of your ailment.

In the case of hangovers, this indicates the theory that waking up and drinking alcohol again can provide you some relief from the upset stomach, headaches, and fatigue of a pesky hangover.

Though some people swear by “hair of the dog” as a cure-all for hangovers, it’s not so much a cure as it is a way to delay the inevitable. If you’ve ingested enough alcohol the day before to be hungover the next day, your stomach may be irritated from the sheer volume of alcohol you drank. Drinking more alcohol certainly won’t help that stomach irritation.

Even if a hangover beer or two makes you feel better in the short term, this is likely due to the endorphins that are released naturally after having a drink. Endorphins are linked to pleasure and happiness, but that happiness is typically short-lived. After the alcohol leaves your system, these endorphins can drop, leading to anything but pleasurable feelings.

Even if you’ve experienced soothing of your hangover stomach by cracking open a couple more beers, science indicates that you’re better off sticking with water and giving your hangover time to pass. Otherwise, you may just be resetting the clock on hangover symptoms, setting them up to come back later.

Is beer good for stomach gas?

Because it’s carbonated, beer is full of CO2. This means that drinking beer means quite literally adding more gas to your digestive system.

These gas bubbles can make your stomach feel full or bloated, and also cause burping. Because of this, beer and all other carbonated beverages should be avoided when stomach gas is an issue. The only possible relief it can provide is by triggering a burp which may help relieve some of that buildup of pressure.

This bloated feeling can mean that, even if the bitter hops and acids in beer are working to promote digestion, you can still experience stomach discomfort after drinking a beer. Because everyone’s body is different, some people are more prone to these gassy feelings than others.

Is beer good for stomach ulcers?

Generally speaking, beer (or alcohol of any kind) is not a suggested source of relief from existing stomach ulcers because alcohol can delay the healing process of existing ulcers.

Some past studies, however, indicate that moderate consumption of alcohol can help eliminate the stomach of a harmful bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. This is the bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers, and about 50% of people naturally have it in their stomachs.

Though many people who carry it never get any symptoms, scientists have concluded it can cause negative reactions (like ulcers) later in life in some. In this way, an occasional beer can, theoretically, help reduce the risk of developing stomach ulcers in the first place, according to this study.

If you have ulcers, talk to your doctor to learn more.

Is beer good for heartburn (or acid reflux)?

Sufferers of chronic heartburn or acid reflux often avoid alcoholic beverages altogether because of their tendency to cause these symptoms.

People who are prone to these conditions often find that their triggers vary wildly from those of others, so there’s no surefire way to prevent them from flaring up when drinking.

Both the carbonation of beer and the acids that comprise it can both be triggers of heartburn and acid reflux.

The folks at the Tampa Bay Reflux Center advise that, if you are concerned about these symptoms and still want to enjoy a few drinks, be sure to chase them with plenty of water to help balance out the acids in your stomach.

What’s the best beer to settle an upset stomach?

Because bitter hops in beer contribute strongly to settling one’s stomach, more bitter styles of beer can potentially have a greater positive effect on the digestive process. 

Beers are measured in International Bittering Units (IBUs). The higher the IBU, the more bitter the beer will be. According to Brewer’s Friend, Imperial IPAs, Imperial Stouts, and Barleywines have the highest IBUs.

But drink with caution: these styles of beer also tend to have the highest alcohol content, which can work against you.