Talking about alcohol and healthy living is like laughing in a church for some, whereas it doesn’t have to be complicated. How does alcohol impacts the body, and your health in general? We explore if it fits with a healthier lifestyle, and how you can make informed choices. In Part 2 we give you a healthier drinking guide, and look at how personal choice can play a role as you embark on lifestyle changes. Did you ever wonder what alcohol actually does to you and if you should cut down? Get your facts on alcohol consumption, and make up your mind whether you should drink or leave it.
Alcohol: Healthy Drinking?
Does drinking alcoholic beverages stop you from being healthy? Strictly speaking the effect of alcohol on the body is such that it doesn’t really belong in the same sentence as healthy living. However, humankind has been brewing since the dawn of time, and consumption of alcoholic beverages are so ingrained in our cultures that you can hardly discount it.
On the other hand, if you indulge every day you have a habit. Your daily drink marks the end of a stressful day or accompanies your dinner. You are probably a social creature too, which makes for events and happenings that include alcohol.
Habitual drinking may not be a problem from an abuse point of view, as not all get dependant on alcohol. What is a consideration — even when you stay within recommended levels — is the effect on general health, fitness, and nutrition.
Are your drinking habits something you need to be concerned about? Take this test: Alcohol Self Assessment (drinkaware.co.uk)
Habits take time to form, and breaking them can be prompted by a decision to change. The question is of course if you want or even need to change your drinking habits. Do you?
Alcohol: Effects On Body
When you look at medical advice drinking in moderation means daily consumption of 1 (ONE!) beer, wine or shot of spirits. Heavy drinking is defined as more than three drinks on any day, or more than seven drinks a week.
Long-term or habitual drinking in excess has health implications. The public health recommendations for moderate drinking is brought on by the effect of alcohol on the body:
- Brain: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and cause disruptions which change mood and behavior. This also makes it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.
- Heart: Drinking over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart. Moderate drinking can be good, however (that means ONE drink) for older adults, whereas for middle-aged or younger cardiovascular health is better-taken care of through exercise and healthy eating.
- Liver: Drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations.
- Cancer: Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain cancers
- Immune System: Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
- Looks: Drinking changes you inside and out. The body reacts to the unknown substance. You can experience bloating, puffy facial features and general loss of energy. Alcohol contains calories that can contribute to weight gain, especially around the waist. Belly fat can increase if you drink more than two alcoholic beverages per day.
You might say that the above doesn’t apply to you. You feel fine and have not noticed any health issues. Great! However, if you continue reading you will be interested to see how long it takes for your preferred tipple to be processed in the body, and what happens inside you when you say: ‘Cheers!”.
Alcohol: Tipsy or Drunk?
Did you know that it takes only one alcoholic beverage 90 minutes to be broken down (metabolized) by the liver?
Any amount consumed over that first drink doesn’t get processed immediately but instead saturates your blood until your liver can process the excess.
Alcohol is metabolised by a normal liver at the rate of about one ounce (one shot, a normal beer, a regular sized glass of wine) every 90 minutes. (Wikipedia)
Only One Drink?
As the amount of booze in your blood increases, the effects become more and more pronounced. Intoxication starts at lower levels than you might think. Your brain and body won’t compute at the same speed, as your central nervous system get confused by mixed signals. Being drunk means that the amount of alcohol in your system has gone past the levels that can be processed by the body.
Tip: If you want to check how many drinks it takes to get intoxicated: Blood Alcohol Calculator
If you stick to the moderate levels, you might still be considered healthy, right? However, what many don’t realize is how even a small amount of alcohol makes healthy eating and fitness questionable. Read on to see why.
Alcohol: In The Company of Healthy Living
If you are on the path to becoming a bit healthier, you will be interested to know that alcohol is a substance that the body can’t process well. Even a moderate amount can increase total calories, decrease your motivation for exercise, and negatively affect your sleep.
One reason why many health nerds 🙂 give up alcohol altogether is that of the loss of translation just one glass of ‘amber nectar’ will lead to. As much as you may be eating a healthier dinner, the body will not be able to absorb the goodness you are trying to give it. That innocent glass of beer or wine will make the body recalibrate the nutritional contents and literally undo most of it.
The body will consider the byproducts of alcohol as dangerous and want to use them as fuel. Therefore, any natural burn of foods will be reduced, in favor of the toxin that the body considers one alcoholic beverage to be.
Calories, Carbs, and Fats…
While many talks about the calorie content of one glass of beer or wine – consider instead that the body will stop using natural carbohydrates as energy, and instead increase and store it as fat. Therefore if you’re eating a healthy dinner, the added drink with transform not only the empty alcohol calories but also the good food carbs into fat. What you would rather see happen is having the natural carbs turn into fuel for energy, right?
The main process plant of the body – the liver – will work overtime to deal with the substance. To do so the liver increases its use of certain vitamins, such as the water-soluble vitamins B1, B3, B6, folate, and C, while also possibly depleting some of the fat-soluble vitamins, A, E, and K1. This, in turn, impacts what the role these vitamins play in your motivation, energy and overall sense of well-being.
Your kidneys will react too, and you have probably noticed that you need to go to the bathroom more often after a drink (or two or…). The increased release of urine also means that your body will involuntarily release minerals and electrolytes (calcium, magnesium, copper, selenium, and manganese). These play essential roles in blood volume, bone health, blood pressure, and the anti-oxidant pathways.
A recent study also showed that while moderate drinking can show some benefits to heart health in older adults, testosterone levels in men got reduced by 6,8% but the enzyme Aromatase ( converts testosterone to estrogen) got increased – meaning that men got more than they bargained for.
Alcohol: Choice and Health
Whether you choose to drink or not is of course up to you. No-one can tell you what to do, but being more aware of the effects makes for an informed choice.
It is absolutely possible to stay on the healthier side of things, while still enjoying the occasional drink. What can make it complicated is when social pressures, work schedules and overall life considerations take over. Given how alcohol takes such a central place in many societies, it is worth feeling secure enough to know when to drink — and when to leave it.
If you want tips on how to practice healthier drinking and how to incorporate a glass or two into your lifestyle changes — follow The GOODista and get the updates to Part 2 of this series on Alcohol and Healthy Living.
Recommended and Related:
- Alcohol, Fitness, and Performance – Drinkaware UK
- The Healthy Nerds View on Drinking – nerdfitness.com
- Alcohol and Health – Harvard Health
- How Alcohol Affects Your Health – livescience.com
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