I love me a big ol’ glass of Barbaresco with a rib eye or some tasty Okanagan Rose watching the sunset with my bae – having the odd alcoholic beverage here and there is harmless. However, when this legal drug becomes a part of your daily life, it can wreak havoc on your body, especially for women.
Back in the 17th century, alcohol was actually used for its medicinal purposes (woohoo! Party time when I have the flu!), then the 18th century rolled around and the British parliament passed a law that encouraged the use of grain for distilling spirits. The market was flooded with cheaper spirits and peaked in the mid 18th century. Gin became rather popular and this thing called ‘alcoholism’ became pretty widespread.
By the 19th century, the temperance movement began promoting moderate use of alcohol which eventually leads to total prohibition. In 1920, the US passed a law prohibiting the manufacture, sale export and import of liquor and by 1933, the prohibition was canceled due to a boom in the illegal alcohol trade and has now become a normal, social and for some, daily aspect of their lifestyles.
Alcohol affects every organ and system in your body and can take years to reverse the effects of regular to heavy drinking.
The liver is the organ that must metabolize alcohol, so that’s the organ that takes the first hit. Without getting a too white coat, when my lovely glass of wine is consumed, it is absorbed into the blood from the stomach and intestines. Then enzymes (bodily chemicals that break down other chemicals) begin to metabolize the alcohol. Two hard working liver enzymes, alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), begin to break apart the alcohol molecule so it can eventually be eliminated from the body. Its ADH’s job to help convert alcohol to acetaldehyde.
Acetaldehyde is only in the body for a short time because it is rapidly converted to acetate by other enzymes. Although acetaldehyde is present in the body for a short period of time, it is highly toxic and a known carcinogen (cancer-causing). That’s just the start of it, but now you get an idea.
Unfortunately, women absorb and metabolize alcohol quite differently from men and research has shown that ladies tend to have less of that ADH enzyme active in the stomach which allows more of the alcohol to reach the bloodstream before it is metabolized (Cheap date, girls?). This could also be one reason why women are more greatly affected by alcohol and more susceptible to the health issues it can cause – Gentlemen? This is not an excusable pass to get on the piss, so to speak, because it can affect you just as badly.
Alcohol can cause:
- Weight gain (the liver works overtime to metabolize, and not to mention a glass of wine, for example, is approx. 200 calories, once the alcohol is in our blood, we become less aware of our decisions as well and that 3 am burger and fries doesn’t seem so unhealthy for us anymore! (Hello extra calories, I forgot about!)
- Depletes the body of essential vitamins and minerals often leading to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Affects our digestion and gut lining.
- Impairs our athletic performance and hinders the results we see in the gym
- Creates more fine lines and wrinkles on the skin; depletes the body of collagen and silica leading to brittle nails and fine, dry hair.
- Interacts with certain medications and can destroy neural pathways in the brain.
- Short – term and long term memory loss (“What was her name again?”, “Who are YOU in my bed?!” “NO! I didn’t… did I?”).
- Greatly affects our hormone levels and for women can lead to heavy, painful periods; men – erectile dysfunction and decrease in semen count.
- Affect your behavior, mood, and decision making processes.
- Increased risk of throat, mouth or esophagus cancers and breast cancer in women.
- Fatigue and difficulty sleeping.
- Depletes the body of calcium, leading to an increased risk of osteoporosis in women.
- Muscle cramps, thinning of bones, diabetic complications, miscarriage, severe dehydration, inability to conceive, shrinking of the body’s organs; oh, the list goes on and on.
Now I’m not sharing this as a scare tactic, rather an opportunity to educate the effects that something that is so socially accepted and almost expected can have on your health long term.
Like anything, moderation is the key and taking precautions particularly if you are already suffering from some health complications is the smart way to go.
Below are some tips to integrate alcohol safely in your healthy lifestyle if alcohol is not an issue or dependency for you:
- Save alcoholic beverages for special occasions only. (6 pm on a Monday night after your first day back at work isn’t really that special, is it?)
- Eat before/during alcohol consumption. (Drinking on an empty stomach greatly increases its effects on the body)
- Drink a glass of water in between each drink you have, should you drink more than one.
- Sip slowly and enjoy the flavor of the beverage. If you are drinking it purely for the effects it has on you, perhaps reconsider why you are drinking?
- Indulge in Vitamin B’s! Take a supplement or load up on brown rice, red meat, green vegetables, avocados, lentils and almonds for example.
- Choose your drinks wisely – a vodka, soda, and fresh lime is a better choice over a Pina Colada for example; or a 5oz glass of wine over that fishbowl margarita if you are drinking alcohol.
- Know your limit, stay within it.
- Never drink alone.
- Make sure that drinking improves social relationships not impairs them.
- Designate a driver and find a safe way home.
Next time you have a drink, consider some of these tips and how to integrate them into your decisions around drinking. Remember, it’s okay to have a non-alcoholic beverage too and still enjoy yourself. It’s quite empowering really and you feel great the next day!