The Real Effects Of Alcohol On The Body: The Good And The Bad

Let us start with some basic trivia and see if you can guess whether they are True or False.

  1. Alcohol is a stimulant?
  2. Women get a worse hangover than men?
  3. Beer gets you less drunk?
  4. Hangovers get worse as you get older?

The facts are people, they are all false!

Humans have been drinking alcohol for at least 10,000 years. Today it is well known that there are significant differences between drinking in moderation and excessive intake of alcohol, such as the case with alcohol abuse and full blow addiction to alcohol known as alcoholism.

In many studies, it has been found that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol is good for circulation and for the heart. Alcohol, when drunk in moderate amounts seems to protect people against gallstones, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Fact !! The cost of alcohol to society £21 billion;

This equates to;

£11 billion in alcohol related crime;

£7 billion lost productivity through unemployment and sickness;

£3.5 billion cost to NHS.

But What Is Moderate Alcohol Consumption? 

  • In women, this means drinking one alcoholic beverage every day (and no more).
  • Men can get away with 2 alcoholic beverages per day.

The recommended levels for drinking are 14 units per week, that’s men and women. This is equivalent to 6 pints of average strength beer, or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine.

Spread units over the week, have free days and avoid drinking all your units in one go.

More alcohol than that and the positive effects of alcohol seem to slip away.

Positive Effects of Moderate Alcohol Consumption

Red wine decreases your blood pressure, which is why some scientists say it’s better for your heart (cardiovascular system). Particular compounds in red wine called polyphenols are thought to be good for our blood vessels. It is the natural chemicals from grape pips and skin, that gives red wine its colours and taste.

But which contain the most?

In 1st place wines with Sagrantino grape, mainly from Italy have 737mg of polyphenol content per glass.

In 2nd place – Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile have around 402mg per glass.

Followed by;

3rd place – Merlot.

4th place Rioja.

5th place Pinot Noir and 6th Sauvignon Blanc (white) has the lowest polyphenols about 60mg.

Now this is not justification for drinking more, as polyphenols are found in lots of other drinks and foods i.e filter coffee, blueberries, pomegranate, walnuts and dark chocolate to name but a few.

  • Moderate alcohol consumption, such as in the amounts listed above, have been found to decrease the risk of diseases caused by blood clots by a factor of 25-40%. This includes stroke, heart attacks, and peripheral vascular disease.
  • It has been found to decrease the risk of complications of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and old age.
  • This amount of alcohol has been found to increase the levels of HDL cholesterol, which is considered the “good cholesterol.”
  • Blood clotting factors are less likely to cause clots in those who drink alcohol.

Now this is not cause for celebration, please remember, alcohol is still Ethanol and is a poison, read on…..

Negative Effects of Alcohol

The causes of alcohol related liver disease are complex. It’s not just down to how much you drink or your genes, diet and weight are all factors as well.

Fact!! Alcohol makes us eat more.

The more muscle in our bodies, the more alcohol you can handle due to your body’s water content.

On average the liver gets rid of about 1 unit or 1 shot of spirit every hour. The enzyme in the liver that does the job of processing the alcohol, is actually present in small amounts in the lining of the stomach (men have more of this hormone than women). So when your stomach is full and the alcohol is kept there for longer, this lining can do some of the work, that’s normally just left to the liver. However this can vary, depending on;

  • Whether you are male or female.
  • Your age.
  • Your weight.
  • Whether you are on medication and what type the medication is.
  • How much food you have eaten.
  • Whether you have a fast or slow metabolism (meaning, how quickly or slowly your body turns food into energy).
  • The type and strength of the alcohol.

How much is one unit?

One unit is equivalent to 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol. There are roughly:

  • 2.1 units in a standard glass of (175ml) of average strength wine (12% ABV)
  • 3 units in a standard glass of (250ml) of average strength wine (12% ABV)
  • 2 units in a pint of low-strength lager, beer or cider (3.6% ABV)
  • 3 units in a pint of higher-strength lager, beer or cider (5.2% ABV)
  • 1 unit in a single measure of sprits (25ml)

So by drinking 1 large glass of wine (250ml) it takes the body 3 hours to break down the alcohol. But this time can vary given the factors above. If you have several drinks on a night out, it can take several hours for the alcohol to leave your body, which is why if you have had a heavy night out, you should refrain from driving the next morning as it is highly probable that the alcohol is still present in your blood and you would most likely be over the alcohol limit to drive. I can assure you that although you may feel or seem fine to drive, the effects of alcohol from the night before are far from over and by far, have not left your blood system.

Fact!! Alcohol increases your risk of cancer.

Heavy Drinking And Alcoholism

Certainly heavy drinking is a problem and is one of the #1 causes of preventable injury and death.

Fact!! 10.8 Million Adults in the UK are drinking at levels that pose some risk to their health.

Drink drive accidents still account for 14% of all road deaths in Britain, alcohol can damage the heart and liver in large doses, causes alcohol dependence, and increases the risk of birth defects, breast cancer, depression, relationship problems, and other cancers.

Alcohol has been found to inhibit the absorption of folate, an important B vitamin for embryonic spinal cord growth. It is partly why alcohol is not recommended in pregnancy. If you are pregnant or suspect you could be, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all top keep risks to your baby to a minimum. This folate disruption in alcohol consumption is also felt to be the reason why alcohol can increase the risk of colon, breast, and other cancers. People who take in at least 600 mcg per day of folate can decrease some of the negative effects of alcohol consumption.

Fact!! Alcohol has been identified as a casual factor in more than 60 medical conditions.

Consistent heavy drinking (10-20 years) of more than 14 units per week poses numerous dangers for the body, easily comparable to poison it directly causes chronic disease, like cirrhosis and negatively effects important organs and processes in the body. Other illnesses you can develop are;

  • Stroke.
  • Heart Disease.
  • Alcoholism can cause alcoholic hepatitis, which is inflammation of the liver and cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver tissue that is not reversible and may lead to premature death.
  • It can increase blood pressure and cause cardiovascular damage to the muscle of the heart.
  • Cancers of the breast, mouth, pharynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, and larynx are linked to heavy alcohol intake.
  • Those who drink and smoke together are at an even higher risk of these diseases.
  • Alcohol consumption that reaches the level of being an alcoholic can lead to violent crime, automobile accidents, and social problems.
  • Brain damage and damage to the nervous system.
  • Those who drink in moderate to heavy amounts can have sleep disruption, cloudy judgment, and medication interactions.
  • It can be addictive in some people, especially those who have a family history of alcoholism.
  • Heavy alcohol use has been found in several studies to increase the risk of developing breast cancer in women. Those who drank more than two drinks per day suffered from a greater risk of breast cancer by a factor of 41%. Taking folate seems to counteract this negative effect.

Fact!! 1.6 million adults in the UK may have some level of alcohol dependence.

The main message is;

There is no safe limit! If you drink less than 14 units per week, this is considered as “low risk”. The less you drink the lower the health risks.

Who Becomes An Alcoholic

Both genes and environmental issues play a role in who becomes an alcoholic and who doesn’t. Genes for the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase seem to play a specific role. Those who have one type of alcohol dehydrogenase develop less heart disease than those who have another type of alcohol dehydrogenase in their bodies.

The benefits and risks of alcohol consumption vary with a person’s age. Younger people have less benefit and more risk, especially among pregnant women and those who drive drunk.

Older people may benefit from drinking one alcoholic beverage per day (or two for men).

How To Make Sense Of It All

Alcohol has complex effects on the body so that it is difficult to make statements as to whether or not you should consider alcohol helpful or harmful.

If you are at a low risk for heart disease and cancer, it may not pay at all to drink alcohol. If you are at risk for addiction, no amount of alcohol can prevent you from eventually developing an addiction to the drug in some cases.

If you currently don’t consume alcohol, most experts recommend you don’t start drinking just for medicinal purposes. People at a high risk for heart disease or breast cancer because of family history or lifestyle options may choose to drink a moderate amount of alcohol every day.

Make sure to take in at least 600 mcg of folic acid along with the alcohol so you don’t become folate deficient.

Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions or queries relating to this topic.