How Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Your Body?

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Popped open a bottle of champagne to celebrate a milestone recently? Concerts, dinner parties, sporting events―all include the option to drink alcohol. Why do we keep drinking when alcohol has zero health benefits and can be highly toxic and addictive? April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Fact: alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the U.S., with 17.6 million people either dependent, abusing or binge-drinking regularly. Alcohol affects every bodily system, including your liver, brain, nervous system, heart and emotions. In a 26-year global study on alcohol intake in 195 countries, The Lancet found that no amount of alcohol is beneficial to your body. Further, the study showed that alcohol lowers immune function, increases inflammation, wreaks havoc on hormone levels and is a leading risk factor for disease.

At PrimeHealth, we help patients cut back on alcohol or switch to healthier alcoholic options. These changes are built into your Personalized Wellness Plan and your health coach works alongside you to implement these changes.

We also perform detailed Functional Medicine tests, which show how your liver and other systems are functioning. We optimize nutrient status and detoxification pathways so that you can maximize your health without compromising enjoyment. Denver (and Colorado in general) offers many alcohol-related activities, with over 300 breweries in Colorado. We are here to help you enjoy Denver without sacrificing your health.

7 ways consuming alcohol negatively impacts your body:

1. It Increases Cancer Risk

Alcohol increases risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, breast, liver and colon. The more you drink, the higher the risk. Heavy drinkers (4+ drinks/day) have five times the risk of developing oral and throat cancers, and 50% increased risk for breast and colorectal cancers. Even one drink per day increases your risk of oral and throat cancers by 20% and elevates risk for breast cancer. Smoking along with drinking heightens risk even more.

2. It Leads to Weight Gain

Calorie-wise, alcohol packs a punch. Check out the average calories in a single serving of the three main types of alcohol:

  • 5 ounces of liquor: 98 calories
  • 5 ounces of wine: 120 calories
  • 12 ounces of regular beer: 150 calories

These calories can add up, especially when adding mixers. Further, alcohol stimulates appetite, causing you to eat more. It also lowers inhibitions, meaning you’re more likely to say yes to poor food choices.

3. It Causes Liver Problems

Your liver is an amazing organ, carrying out 500+ essential functions. One function is detoxification, processing waste from bodily functions and the things we consume, including alcohol, medications and other toxins. Overconsumption of alcohol is a significant contributor to liver disease. Alcohol is toxic to liver cells and can cause the liver to develop excess fat cells, resulting in “Fatty Liver Disease”. Fatty Liver Disease decreases liver function. If abuse continues, scar tissue (or liver fibrosis) can occur. As this advances, cirrhosis―severe scarring of the liver―can lead to liver failure and death. Cirrhosis is often irreversible, requiring a liver transplant. Quitting altogether is the only way to prevent alcohol-related fatty liver disease from progressing.

4. Heavy Alcohol Consumption can be Detrimental to Cardiovascular Health

Drinking causes stress on your heart. When you drink heavily, blood platelets are more likely to clump together, forming blood clots, which can lead to stroke or heart attack. Because blood alcohol levels peak 2-3 hours after your last drink, these problems can occur while you’re asleep, raising risk of a cardiac event or stroke in the night. There is evidence that light to moderate drinking can lower blood pressure and decrease the rate of blood coagulation, which would prevent clot formation. But overall, when it comes to booze and your health, less is better.

5. It Contributes to Depression

In the short term, alcohol depresses the central nervous system. It slows communications between brain cells and impacts the limbic system with lowered inhibitions. You may find yourself doing things you otherwise wouldn’t (i.e. karaoke) and exhibiting dangerous behaviors (i.e. driving drunk). According to WebMD, ~33% of people suffering from major depression also have an alcohol problem. There’s a chicken-or-egg debate on which comes first, but there’s no debate that booze intensifies depression symptoms, lowers the effect of depression medications, and contributes to suicidal thoughts.

6. It Increases Risk for Short-Term Injuries

Consuming alcohol impacts your brain and central nervous system. This causes slurred speech, blurred vision, balance problems, impaired memory and slower reaction times. Lowered inhibitions may lead to make risky decisions. The CDC lists unintentional injuries including burns, falls, drowning, firearms injuries and motor vehicle accidents as problems associated with alcohol consumption. Alcohol can also increase violence and result in spousal abuse, mistreating children, and more.

7. It Impacts Your Brain and Nervous System

Ever suffer from memory loss the next morning? Drinking is associated with memory and learning problems, poor performance in school, and can contribute to dementia. Consuming alcohol causes ethanol to build up in your brain, inhibiting the formation of memories. Over time, alcohol can cause your brain’s hippocampus to shrink. The hippocampus is a critical organ in your limbic system that enables memories, long-term memory and spatial navigation. When it shrinks, it is strongly associated with dementia and depression.

If you’d like to learn how to cut back on your alcohol consumption, switch to healthier alcohol alternatives, or optimize your body for handling of toxins, please schedule a free in-person consult today.

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