What is ALCOHOL?
Alcohol or an alcoholic beverage is a drink that has some amount of ethanol, a type of alcohol that is a by-product of the fermentation of fruits, vegetables, and other sources of sugar. In nature, alcohol is naturally produced when yeasts ferment sugars to generate energy. Animals that eat a lot of fruit or nectar have the required enzymes to break it down. But, we humans, unfortunately, or fortunately don’t have those enzymes.
Chemical evidence from fragments of pottery in China shows that humans have been making alcoholic drinks for at least 9000 years now. With time, the act of drinking itself began playing an important social role in many cultures. The modern context is a good example. With the advent of social media and networking events, it’s almost become the norm to laugh, share stories, and connect over a drink.
According to a 2019 government survey, Indians are consuming more alcohol: 1 in 7 Indians in the 10-75 age group drink alcohol. Factors contributing to this increased consumption are; rapid urbanization, rising income, easy availability of alcoholic drinks, and changing attitudes towards alcohol.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DRINK ALCOHOL?
Once you’ve had a drink, about 25% of the alcohol is absorbed from your stomach into the bloodstream. The rest of it is taken in by your small intestine. The amount of alcohol absorbed by your bloodstream and the rate at which this happens is controlled by many factors including,
- The concentration of alcohol in your drink- the higher the concentration in your drink, the faster it is absorbed into your bloodstream.
- If the drink is carbonated: sparkling drinks like champagne, hard seltzer, etc. are absorbed more quickly than non-sparkling drinks like red wine)
- Full stomach or empty stomach: Food in the stomach leads to slower absorption of alcohol.
Once there is alcohol in your bloodstream, it remains in your body until it is processed. 80-90% of the alcohol you drink is processed by the liver. The rest is eliminated through your urine, secreted out through your sweat, and breathed out through your lungs.
HOW IS ALCOHOL PROCESSED IN THE BODY?
There are two pathways used by your liver to process alcohol:
Most alcohol is broken down by enzymes alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase which gives the by-products of carbon dioxide and water which leave the body through lungs, urine, and sweat.
This is activated in regular drinkers. It is known as the ‘microsomal ethanol-oxidizing system’ and is mainly used when the level of alcohol in your blood is very high.
Even though alcohol might seem like a normal thing to us, it’s a toxin to your body. Hence, it’s processed by the liver because the liver is responsible for detoxification.
SHORT-TERM AND LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL
The short-term effects of drinking too much alcohol on one occasion can include:
- Lowered inhibitions
- Interpersonal conflict
- Falls and accidents
- Altered behaviour – including risky or violent behaviour
- Alcohol poisoning.
Long-term effects of alcohol consumption include:
- Domestic and public violence
- Cardiovascular disease
- Cancers, including of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, Colo-rectum and female breast
- Nutrition-related conditions, such as folate deficiency and malnutrition
- Overweight and obesity
- Risks to unborn babies
- Liver diseases
- Alcohol tolerance and alcohol dependence or addiction
HOW ALCOHOL AFFECTS YOUR WEIGHT LOSS JOURNEY
Alcohol changes how your body processes and deals with fat:
Chemically, alcohol is a toxin for your body. If consumed beyond a level, it might cause alcohol poisoning or lead to death. To prevent this, when alcohol is consumed, the liver focuses all of its energy on metabolizing and breaking down alcohol into a non-toxic form.
This is not good for your weight loss because while the breakdown of alcohol happens, the fat processing takes a back seat. That means all the food you eat while you have drinks gets stored as additional fat. Those calories are not burned because the body is highly focused on making sure you don’t die of alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol makes you hungrier:
Alcohol seems to affect your hunger levels, which may push you to eat more snacks than usual, consume extra calories, and lead to weight gain. A 2017 study performed on mice showed that alcohol consumption triggered brain regions responsible for starvation to activate, causing the mice to overeat.
Although alcohol has a lot of calories, it isn’t as satiating as solid food. Your body doesn’t sense liquids the same as it senses solids. Therefore, it’s easier to consume more calories than what’s healthy for you.
Alcohol makes it more difficult to make healthy decisions
Alcohol can make you a poor decision-maker. It is known to lower your inhibitions and impair the logical decision-making centres of your brain like the prefrontal cortex. When your decision-making centres are impaired, it’s more difficult for you to make healthier choices like eating a salad or going for a run. For example, if a person is hung over the next day or is tired after consuming alcohol, he/she is unlikely to want to wake up, exercise, and make a healthy breakfast.
Alcohol has a lot of calories:
Alcohol is completely jam-packed with calories. It has 7 calories per gram, compared to 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates and protein and 9 calories per gram for fat. It is a high-energy substance. Even if a person chooses to have whiskey neat instead of a cocktail, there’s still a large number of calories in it.
Cocktails are usually one of the worst drinks to have in terms of calorie count for the following two reasons:
- They contain added sugar which increases the calories of a drink.
- They usually contain two standard drinks of alcohol, almost doubling the calories from the alcohol you get in one shot.Alcohol messes up your hormones:
Alcohol can also disrupt the functioning of your endocrine system. It seems to affect levels of reproductive hormones like testosterone and oestrogen which are important for our daily functioning.
Alcohol also seems to act like a stressor for the body, which makes the body lose normal cortisol secretion. Cortisol is a really important hormone responsible for hunger stimulation and regulating metabolism. Uneven levels of cortisol can contribute to weight gain, most profoundly around the belly.
In conclusion, drinking alcohol is not too great for the body and for your weight loss goals. Drinking alcohol is a personal choice. With every glass you drink, you need to be aware of the sacrifices you’re making and if the gains are worth it for you.