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Alcohol – What Does it Do with Us?

Alcohol and the weekend – a perfect match?

The weekend has started and many of us are happy to have a blast in the evening. But why does alcohol have such magical power of attraction and what exactly does alcohol-consumption do with us and our body? And why shouldn’t you drink it when you’re pregnant?

I have to admit that in this respect I know how to have a good time. Occasionally, I like to drink one or two glasses of wine or Moscow Mule. Alcohol has a more relaxing effect on me, I become more talkative, my hand movements are bigger – at least according to the legend – and with too much alcohol I could fall asleep while standing. But I also know people who become aggressive and really uncomfortable when they drink it.

Alcohol – how much is too much?
Alcohol – how much is too much?

What is alcohol anyway?

It is a neurotoxin and is considered to be a macro-nutrient besides carbohydrates, fats, and proteins as we consume a lot of energy from drinking it. We consume 27 kJ per gram of pure alcohol, which is about 6.5 kcal. Although it is considered a macronutrient, it is not essential to our body. So we can survive without it! 😉

Our body can not store alcohol, unlike the other macronutrients. That’s why our bodies depend on breaking it down and excreting it. This alcohol metabolism is incompatible with other metabolic processes: While our body and especially our liver is busy with sobering up, our fat metabolism reached a low point. Not only because of the high-calorie density but also because of this inhibition of fat loss you should avoid alcohol during a diet.

Its effect as a neurotoxin is also the reason why especially pregnant women should refrain from it. Serious neural defects and malformations in the unborn child as well as miscarriages can be caused by this neurotoxin. The effect of a neurotoxin also explains why we feel less pain when we’re drunk.

What is alcohol doing in our bodies?

Ethanol is a major constituent of the alcohol we drink. While our body degrades ethanol, it first produces acetaldehyde, a chemical poison, and a proven carcinogen. This acetaldehyde can damage both our body’s own proteins and our DNA. In the second step, the acetaldehyde is converted by the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) to non-toxic acetic acid and further to water and carbon dioxide. And this is precisely the reason why many Asians are not able to metabolize it: They either lack the alcohol-degrading enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase completely or it is not very powerful. When people with low levels of ALDH drink alcohol, they usually get a redhead as acetaldehyde gives our vessels the signal to widen. This leads to redness and also to the feeling of “warming”. Actually, drinking it cools us down as our vessels expand and we lose body heat.

In the case of alcohol metabolism, also free radicals are produced. I have already told you more about free radical’s exact effect here. In addition, the neurotoxin in our body inhibits the absorption of vitamins, trace elements, and other vital nutrients.

Plus, alcoholic beverages often contain carcinogenic substances from fermentation and production such as nitrosamines and phenols. Since our liver is primarily concerned with the metabolism of all these substances, as a detoxification organ it is above all affected by diseases caused by abuse.

A glass a day keeps the doctor away?!
A glass a day keeps the doctor away?!

But one glass is ok, right?

In the case of alcohol, the dose actually makes the poison. Low alcohol consumption, according to studies, is associated with a reduced likelihood of heart disease and lower blood pressure. A glass of red wine provides us with Resveratol, an antioxidant that can have many beneficial effects on our body. However, we also find resveratrol in blueberries or red grapes in general and therefore do not necessarily have to hit the bottle. At the same time, alcohol consumption increases the likelihood of cancer, heartburn, and liver disease. Depression, liver cirrhosis, sleep disorders, digestive disorders, and many other diseases are also referable to alcohol abuse. Not to mention the many car accidents, crashes, injuries, and other accidents that are due to too much of the good. In the US alone, 31% of car accidents in 2014 were alcoholics. That’s every third car accident!

Even small amounts of alcohol increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer. In 2016, researchers of the University of Houston found that alcohol not only boosts estrogen production in women, which in turn stimulates breast cancer cell growth but also nullifies the effects of the widely used cancer drug tamoxifen. Tamoxifen is used to inhibit estrogen production.

For all, to which the sentence applies “No alcohol is not a solution!”, I can only say: A glass of wine for dinner is perfectly fine if you are not physically burdened and already suffering from heartburn, etc. But just this “one” glass “now and then” is the biggest challenge for many. Alcohol in moderation is more or less ok, but not in bulk. Still, you have to keep in mind that it is addictive.

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Here’s the scientific evidence this blog post is based on

Angarita, G.A./Emadi, N./Hodges, S./Morgan, P. T. 2016: Sleep abnormalities associated with alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, and opiate use: a comprehensive review, in: Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, Vol. 11, 2016, No. 9.

Bode, C./Bode, J. C. 1997: Alcohol’s role in gastrointestinal tract disorders, in: Alcohol Health & Research World, Vol. 21, 1997, pp. 76-83.

Cao, Y./Giovannucci, E. L. 2016: Alcohol as a Risk Factor for Cancer, in: Seminars in Oncology Nursing, Vol. 32, 2016, pp. 325-331

Chen, S./Sun, X. Z./Kao, Y.-C./Kwon, A./Zhou, D./Eng, E. 1998: Suppression of Breast Cancer Cell Growth with Grape Juice, in: Pharmaceutical Biology, Vol. 36, 1998, pp. 53-61.

Kanda, J./Matsuo, K./Suzuki, T./Hiraki, A./Watanabe, M./Mizuno, N./Sawaki, A./Yamao, K./Tajima, K./Tanaka, H. 2009: Impact of alcohol consumption with polymorphisms in alcohol-metabolizing enzymes on pancreatic cancer risk in Japanese, in: Cancer Science, Vol. 100, 2009, No. 2, pp. 296-302.

Kesmodel, U./Wisborg, K./Olsen, S. F./Henriksen, T. B./Secher, N. J. 2002: Moderate alcohol intake in pregnancy and the risk of spontaneous abortion, in: Alcohol and Alcoholism, Vol. 37, 2002, pp. 87-92.

Rehm, J./Baliunas, D./Borges, G. L, et al. 2010: The relation between different dimensions of alcohol consumption and burden of disease: an overview, in: Addiction, Vol. 105, 2010, pp. 817-43.

National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2015, November). 2014 Crash Data Key Findings (Traffic Safety Facts Crash Stats. Report No. DOT HS 812 219)

Shufelt, C./Merz, C. N./Yang, Y./Kirschner, J./Polk, D./Stanczyk, F./Paul-Labrador, M./Braunstein, G. D. 2012: Red versus white wine as a nutritional aromatase inhibitor in premenopausal women: a pilot study, in: Journal of Women’s Health, Vol. 21, 2012, No. 3, pp. 281-284.

Traversy, G./Chaput, J. P. 2015: Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update, in: Current Obesity Report, Vol. 4, 2015, pp. 122-130,

Zhang, S. M./Lee, I. M./Manson, J. E./Cook, N. R./Willett, W. C./Buring, J. E. 2007: Alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk in the Women’s Health Study, in: American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 165, 2007, No. 6, pp. 667-676.

What does alcohol consumption do with our bodies? And is there really a limit of consumption which is even good for us? Read more!

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