Down The Hatch – Seven Ill Effects Of Alcohol On The Body

effects-of-alcoholI love a good adult beverage as much as the next woman but alcohol consumption does come at a price. For many of us alcohol is a way to unwind at the end of a long day, is a social activity, or something to enjoy with a good meal. Drinking alcohol does have an impact on the body even when enjoyed in moderation. You don’t have to have a drinking problem to develop a problem from drinking. Here are the seven potential impacts alcohol has on our body:

1. Trigger Gout

Many people have heard of gout but don’t really understand what it is. Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis. Though we tend to lump gout in the category of old age conditions it is highly preventable through lifestyle management. In 2007-2008 according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 8.3 million Americans suffered from gout. It effects more men than women and more black men than white men. Gout is present in twice as many black men versus white men. This number has increased by nearly seven times over the last 50 years. More importantly only about ten percent are receiving ongoing treatment for the condition.

Gout occurs when the body has a high amount uric acid in the blood stream (hyperurecemia) that crystallizes and settles in the joints, usually starting with the big. At first the collection of crystals is small but as they build up over time they become big enough to see and feel. This crystallization can also occur in the renal arteries, the blood vessels leading to the kidneys, eventually blocking them. Alcohol, especially beer, is a major contributor to hyperurecemia, along with purine rich food such as meats and shellfish, high fructose corn syrup, and high-protein fad diets. The reason beer is a major trigger is its high purine content. Purine is a naturally occurring chemical in our body, fruits, vegetables and animals. When the body breaks down purine, uric acid is created. Yeast has a high purine content, therefore the more beer one drinks the more uric acid is created in the body. The body will flush out uric acid but can’t flush it out faster than it can be consumed.

Other risk factors of developing gout include obesity, cardiovascular disease and post menopause. Though men, especially black men, are more likely to develop gout after a woman reaches menopause her risk profile increases to that of a man. What can you do? Have your uric acid levels tested. Anything above 6.8 mg/dL is considered hyperurecemic. However that doesn’t mean that you will have symptoms of gout. People can remain hyperurecemic for decades before showing signs of gout. Take immediate action through lifestyle changes to reduce the risk. If you have developed gout, you should be under the care of a medical professional.

It is estimated that gout costs the healthcare system $6 billion per year. According to a 2013 study from the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada, the University of British Columbia and Boston University, there is a $2,021 annual work productivity loss per gout patient suffering from more than three flares per year. For those patients that suffer six or more gout flares per year, direct gout-related health care costs top $12,020. An additional study published in Seminars in Arthritis & Rheumatism in February 2015 reported that elderly and treatment-resistant gout patients could pay $16,925 to $18,362 per person in order to manage their gout. Visit the Gout and Uric Acid Education Society to learn more.

2. Slows The Metabolism

It’s not a secret that alcohol can slow the metabolism, but do you know why? Many people think because of alcohol’s sedative properties that it is just simply slowing the body down. In actuality the body stops whatever it is doing to focus on ridding the body of alcohol. Metabolism is the rate at which we burn calories at rest. When alcohol enters the system it stops burning the calories and shifts to detox mode. The calories that would have been burned during the hour it took your body to flush out that glass of wine remain unused. That also means that the sugar in your system won’t be processed for energy but may be stored as fat. The fat that’s already there won’t be released for energy. Alcohol is so offensive to the body that it literally considers burning calories for energy a secondary priority to removing it. I know, we love it. I love it. (Maybe I’m not supposed to say I love alcohol but give me a glass of red wine any day).

3. Interrupts Beauty Sleep

Many people like alcohol for its sedative effect. It can help take the edge off of a long day. Depending on your body composition just one drink can make a person sleepy. You know what happens though once the system has cleared the alcohol from the body? You wake up. Much like the sedation drugs you would be given for a surgery or medical procedure, once they are cleared from the body there is nothing keeping you asleep anymore. You didn’t fall asleep because of the body’s natural sleep process. You took a drug and fell asleep. The solution, limit the amount of alcohol you consume and don’t do it too close to bed time. Have just enough alcohol to feel a calming effect but not too much that you feel sleepy. That’s not sleep you’re feeling, it’s sedation. This is why too much alcohol can kill a person. Alcohol poisoning can cause the body to shut down, permanently.

4. Destroys The Liver

Though we may like to think of alcohol as our good and loyal friend it is actually quite toxic to the liver. Excessive drinking over time can cause the liver to harden. This is called cirrhosis. This is quite serious and can eventually lead to death. The liver is a major player in the body’s detox system. All manner of crazy stuff we put in our bodies passes through there. When we drink alcohol it isn’t just evacuated through our urine. When it enters the blood stream via the digestive tract it is taken to the liver for filtration. Excess alcohol use can cause the filtration system to clog up. The good news is the liver is the only organ in the body that can regenerate. The bad news is it can’t regenerate faster than we can destroy it with alcohol. The secret to success here is moderation. Give the body time to clear out alcohol of course followed by plenty of water, fruits and vegetables.

5. Reduces Inhibitions

This is the phenomenon known as drunk dialing or drunk courage. The cerebral cortex of the brain is responsible for good judgement. Alcohol slows down the brains ability to process the information we receive from our five senses. It also literally slows down thought processing. While you would normally think through calling your ex and under normal circumstances decide against it, once you’ve had a few drinks your brain can’t keep up with your actions. This pours into an increase in sexual urges, but it has the opposite effect on sexual performance due to suppression of certain nerve centers in the brain. It throws off the hormone balance that makes us able to want sex and also perform.

6. Tricks The Brain Into Happiness

This is why our friend alcohol is really not our friend because it tricks us into believing it is our friend. Alcohol stimulates the reward center of the brain causing the release of dopamine. The more dopamine you have in your system the happier you feel. The brain wants to be rewarded for actions that cause happiness. The brain cares not if those actions are good for us. All it knows is you drank a glass of red wine and dopamine was released. So the brain says, have another and another. Each time more dopamine is released. Once the dopamine rush is gone it can leave us feeling depressed even though we aren’t; or more depressed than we were when we started drinking. This is withdrawal. This is true even you’re drinking to celebrate. The effect of drinking is to go from happiness to euphoria. There is still a crash later.

7. Wreak Havoc On The Cardiovascular System

Consuming alcohol, even one or two drinks, can cause the heart rate to increase and blood pressure to go up temporarily. This is highly dependent on the person. Over time, though, excessive drinking can cause persistent hypertension (high blood pressure), heart failure and stroke. The recommendation from the American Heart Association is one drink per day for women and two for men. No, that’s not cumulative. You can’t not drink Monday through Thursday with the intention of drinking those day’s servings on Friday. That is how much alcohol on a daily basis the body can handle without contributing to long term ill effects. Excessive alcohol consumption may also lead to increase in bad cholesterol levels that in turn could lead to blockages of the arteries.

The key to all of this is drinking in moderation. Enjoying a good glass of wine with dinner doesn’t have to mean the end of the world, in fact, that may be a good thing. But as with most things, too much of anything can become a bad thing. I think it goes without saying that drinking impairs driving. One drink per every 60-90 minutes is generally speaking enough to metabolize the alcohol in the system. Just know that our systems are effected from the moment the first drop enters our body. If you’re not sure you can drive call a taxi, a friend or walk.

Please drink responsibly! Share this post with your friends, family and communities.

Nile Harris
Nile Harris, the Chief Chick, is a word weaver and dream believer with 20 years of experience in healthcare, finance, and education. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action. Her views are her own.
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