So now that Christmas is over I’m sure that a few of us will be thinking about cutting out alcohol for a while or maybe doing “Dry January". We’ve all heard or read numerous different things about the effects of alcohol, both good and bad. This blog will give you the unbiased information including what alcohol is, the effects it can have on the body, and how you can make smarter choices while still enjoying a tipple.
What is alcohol?
The active ingredient in alcoholic drinks is called ethanol, and this is the part that gets you drunk. Ethanol for alcohol is produced by the fermentation of certain sugars from plant material (i.e. grapes or grains). Yeast is the catalyst for this process, which creates ethanol and carbon dioxide.
What negative effects does alcohol have on the body?
As most of us have probably experienced, alcohol can help you lose your inhibitions and become more confident and self-assured. However, on the flip side of this, it can severely impair cognitive function and judgement, which can lead a person to act in a potentially dangerous way.
Liver problems are common with excessive consumption of alcohol. This is because one of the main functions of the liver is to neutralise toxic substances that enter the body, so it’s susceptible to alcohol damage. Heavy binge drinking can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, which is irreversible and leads to numerous other health problems.
The brain is something that we should all know is affected by alcohol! It is affected on both an acute and chronic level. In worst case scenarios, it can severely impair brain function, lead to an increased risk of dementia, cause brain shrinkage in elderly or middle aged people and even stop people from living independent lives.
As a personal trainer, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention the effect that alcohol can have on weight gain. Alcohol is known as 'the fourth macronutrient' alongside protein, carbohydrate and fat. Alcohol contains more calories per gram than both protein and carbohydrate. Also, unless you are drinking pure ethanol there will be even more calories in the drink from the sugar that is present. Many people don’t realise how many calories they are consuming, leading to weight gain. As always, there are many contributing factors that can cause differences in the effects, like the type of alcoholic drink and drinking habits.
As well as the impact that alcohol can have on the liver, brain, and weight gain there can also be negative impacts on the following:
- Cardiovascular health
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Alcohol Dependency
Are there any positive effects?
But it’s not all doom and gloom as far as alcohol is concerned. “Light to moderate alcohol consumption reduces the incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD), ischemic stroke, peripheral arterial disease, CHD mortality, and all-cause mortality, especially in the western populations” (Movva & Figueredo 2013). Red wine in particular has a number of health benefits, one being that it is extremely high in antioxidants.
With regards to type 2 diabetes, research has shown that moderate consumption of alcohol can help the symptoms of diabetes by reducing insulin resistance and also to reduce the risk of developing diabetes, unless it is consumed in large amounts, which increases the risk.
There is also research to show that moderate alcohol could actually reduce the risk of dementia, especially in elderly people.
Putting it all together
The truth is that most of the negative effects are a result of heavy drinking whereas light to moderate consumption of alcohol can actually positively impact most of these areas of health. As such, my overall conclusion will be left with Abraham Lincoln who once said “It has long been recognized that the problems with alcohol relate not to the use of a bad thing, but to the abuse of a good thing.”