What is alcohol?
Alcohol is formed by yeast fermentation of different foods. Wine, for example, is made from the sugar in grapes and beer comes from the sugar in malted barley. Through this fermentation process, ethanol is produced as a by product. The strength of the alcohol is dependent on the length of the fermentation process. Spirits, for example, have a higher alcohol content than beer or wine.
How much should you consume?
The Australian dietary guidelines recommend no more than two standard drinks per day for both men and women, and at least two alcohol-free days per week. This is the recommended maximum, and although consumption of alcohol in moderation is acceptable, one should aim to keep to a minimum as alcohol is simply empty calories. There are however certain individuals who should not be consuming alcohol at all. This includes pregnant women, children, adolescents and patients on medications that negatively interact with alcohol.
Metabolism of alcohol
Unlike food, alcohol does not require digestion as it gets quickly absorbed across the walls of the stomach and reaches the brain within a few minutes. In the stomach alcohol is broken down with an enzyme known as alcohol dehydrogenase. From the stomach, it moves to the small intestine where it is rapidly absorbed. Then the alcohol travels through the blood and reaches the liver. The liver is the main site where the alcohol is dealt with.
Why is drinking too much alcohol a problem?
The liver prefers to use fatty acids as its fuel; any excess fatty acids are packed into what is know as triglycerides and sent out to other tissues of the body. However, when there is alcohol in the body, the liver has to give priority to alcohol as it demands a lot of attention, and the fatty acids accumulate on the liver which can create what is known as ‘fatty liver’. By decreasing alcohol intake fatty liver is reversible, but only in the initial stages. If alcohol intake is excessive and the fatty liver progresses to cirrhosis, it is largely irreversible.
Besides the liver, alcohol also affects the brain. Although alcohol is often used to deal with emotional stress, it is essentially a depressant as it slows the central nervous system. Regular consumption of alcohol also reduces the amount of serotonin in the body which is a hormone that makes a person feel good. Hence, alcohol in the long run can actually lead to depression rather than be a cure for it. Excess alcohol also promotes obesity. Alcohol is calorie rich but does not provide any nutrients. Furthermore, alcohol interferes with excretion of uric acid which can cause inflammation of the joints.
Tips when drinking alcohol:
1. Drink water:
Alcohol can cause dehydration as it decreases the production of the anti-diuretic hormone that is responsible for retaining water. As a result, the loss of water can also increase thirst. It is important to quench your thirst only by drinking water; not by drinking more alcohol. To avoid dehydration, drink a glass of water before every drink. Further to reduce the hangover effect, drink an extra glass or two of water before sleeping.
2. Eat before drinking:
Eat a meal containing carbohydrates and fats before drinking. Carbohydrates such as bread, rice and yogurt will help slow the absorption of the alcohol, and the fats will slow the movement in the gut. This will help slow the process of alcohol reaching the brain.
3. Choose lower calorie options:
Avoid sugary mixers and high alcohol contents, and instead choose drinks like gin with diet tonic water, vodka with a lemon wedge or lower alcoholic beer.
4. Drink slowly:
The slower you drink, and with breaks in between the drinks, the easier it is for the liver to metabolize the alcohol.
Small amounts of alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation, but in excessive amounts it can be lethal. Closely monitor your alcohol intake as it could be the sole reason for weight gain and a number of other health issues.
Contact us for results focused on nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian and nutritionist Juhi Bhambhaney. If you have any questions regarding health and nutrition, make an appointment with one of our dietitians. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.