Alcohol Consumption & The Body
Many people participate in dry January, giving up alcohol for the entire month; others partake in damp January, which means reducing alcohol consumption. But what if we went beyond that and considered why we drink and what alcohol does to our overall well-being?
Just about all social gatherings include alcohol. Why is that? Because we are anxious or too stressed so we cannot relax? Do we like the way it makes us feel? We laugh harder, let down our defenses, and talk freely to others without feeling awkward. Are we drinking to cope or escape?
There is a coming-of-age ritual when you turn the legal drinking age to go out to a bar with friends and family and get drunk. For many, it is not the first time they have gotten drunk, but they are now legally allowed to drink in public. But is this really what it means to be a mature adult, making adult decisions? Ironically this action into adulthood could be one of the first terrible adult decisions we make.
Alcohol-related auto accidents are the leading cause of death for Americans between 16 and 24.1
Putting aside the consequences that may occur from drinking, let's talk about the effects it has on our bodies. Even if you are a casual to moderate drinker, there can be adverse effects on your body. Alcohol is associated with unhealthier aging.
The world health organization considers alcohol a class one carcinogen or cancer-causing agent.2 Alcohol and gut health.
We know that a healthy gut microbiome is crucial to our overall health. So how does alcohol affect the gut? If you consume alcohol just a few times per week, you may increase unhealthy microbes in your gut.3 It directly irritates the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and increases acid release. In general, alcohol promotes an imbalance of the gut and may cause bacterial overgrowth. Bacterial overgrowth is When too many bacteria, or the wrong kind, populate the small intestine; it can lead to chronic gas and diarrhea. It can also impair your ability to digest and absorb nutrients from food by damaging the cells of the stomach lining. Intestinal permeability is also linked to autoimmune disease, food sensitivity, and other immune concerns.4 Because a large portion of our body's immune cells is created in the gut, an imbalance in the gut microbiome can make you more likely to have a weakened immune response.5
Alcohols Effect on Sleep
Sleep impacts every part of your health. That's why we feel best when we're well rested and may suffer from mood swings, blood sugar imbalances, and poor memory when our sleep is disrupted.
Alcohol disrupts sleep through multiple mechanisms triggering insomnia and contributing to abnormalities of circadian rhythms and short sleep duration. Alcohol also increases breathing-related sleep events, such as snoring and low oxygen levels in the blood.6
Alcohol Effect on Hormones
Increased alcohol load means your liver can't metabolize estrogen well. Increased estrogen can lead to breast cancer. Drinking just one glass of wine daily increases breast cancer risk by 40%. Enjoying a glass of wine can be part of a healthy diet but only in moderation.7 Alcohols effects on healthy inflammatory response Alcohol contributes to inflammation in the liver, pancreas, brain, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs.8
Alcohol Effects on the Brain
Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption was associated with reductions in overall brain volume. Studies show adults 50 and older who drink a glass of beer or wine daily are associated with adverse brain changes that are equivalent to age two years.9
Alcohol and Nutrient Deficiencies
Alcohol inhibits the natural breakdown of nutrients in several ways:
- Decreasing secretion of digestive enzymes from the pancreas.
- Impairing nutrient absorption by damaging the cells lining the stomach and intestines.
- Disabling the transport of some nutrients into the blood.
- Alcohol also interferes with the body's microbiome.10
With poor digestion and lack of nutrient absorption, our body lacks vital micro and macronutrients, essential vitamins, and minerals, especially causing deficiencies in vitamins A, C, D, E, K, zinc, and B.
Maximizing nutrient density should be the primary goal of our diet because deficiencies of any of these essential nutrients can contribute to the development of chronic disease and even shorten our life span.
Getting Back on the Wagon of Good Health
Restore gut health by increasing fiber intake and taking probiotics, prebiotics, and nutrients that support the healing of the gastrointestinal lining.
This doesn't mean you have to avoid drinking entirely, but rather to notice when you're using it to numb out or escape. Life is too precious to lose yourself in escapes. I challenge you to be present and feel what you need to feel, have conversations in which you are there, and awaken to life.
There are great mocktail recipes out there that you may want to have available at your next gathering with the people you love.