Many people treat alcohol as simply another beverage, like water, but much more enjoyable. But it is important to remember that alcohol is a toxin. It has the potential to damage many tissues in the body.
Because of its toxic potential, alcohol needs to be detoxified and eliminated from the body as soon as possible. The organ responsible for detoxifying the alcohol is the liver.
Most of the time, the liver does this very efficiently, and copes very well with the alcohol load. However, when the intake of alcohol is excessive, the liver can become overwhelmed and unable to cope with the greater load. When this happens, it can lead to organ damage.
What are the effects of alcohol abuse on the body?
Excessive alcohol intake, especially long-term intake, can affect many organs and systems in the body. Below we consider seven:
- Stomach – Alcohol irritates the stomach lining and cause a condition called alcoholic gastritis which leads to abdominal pain and nausea. Long-term chronic and repetitive alcohol abuse, can lead to gastric or duodenal ulcers, and sometimes to pancreatitis.
- Brain – The effects that alcohol can have on the brain are well documented and known to most people. They range from changes in personality and behaviour to permanent brain damage. Most of the effects are short-term and reversible, but drinking large amounts of alcohol at one time can cause the death of millions of brain cells – and these cells never grow back. This can lead to chronic brain damage and cause premature senility.
- Liver – As mentioned earlier, the liver is the primary detoxifying organ of the body. When it is overwhelmed by large volumes of alcohol it cannot do its job properly, and this results in liver cell damage and eventually to the destruction of liver cells. In the early stages of this phenomenon, the result is fatty liver. But if the alcohol abuse continues long-term, this can lead to alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.
- Kidney – Alcohol is a diuretic. It causes the kidney to pass a lot more water in an attempt to wash out the excess alcohol from the body. This often leads to mild dehydration and a headache – often described as the post-alcohol ‘hangover’.
- Sleep disturbance – Some people use alcohol to help them fall asleep. Although this can work, it does so at the expense of sleep quality. Alcohol disrupts the sleep cycle and causes early morning waking and poor sleep. Once the alcohol has been detoxified, it acts as a stimulant, with subsequent difficulty in returning to sleep.
- Heart – Alcohol can affect blood pressure and pulse rates. It can cause palpitations and irregular heart rhythms. Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to damage to heart muscle and cardiomyopathy.
- Sexual function – The old saying that alcohol increases the urge but decreases the performance is absolutely correct. What is not that well known is that long-term alcohol abuse can lead to diminished sexual function and erectile dysfunction.
Does alcohol impact your weight?
Because it is often seen as just another beverage, the calorie content of alcohol is often discounted or ignored by many people. This is a mistake, because alcohol can have quite an impact on weight if the alcohol intake is significant. Let’s do a little arithmetic to look at the impact that alcohol can have on weight.
If your preferred drink is wine, you can count on a minimum caloric value of 80 calories per glass. That goes for white wine and red wine – their calorie content is approximately the same. Champagne has a few more calories – about 100 calories per glass.
Spirits, such as brandy, whiskey or vodka, are also about 80 calories per shot. However, when spirits are mixed with soft drinks or used in cocktails, the calorie content can more than double, because you are then adding the calorie content of soft drinks, juices or liqueurs. If you consume these drinks on a regular basis, you can do a lot of damage you to your weight.
Beer is another alcoholic beverage with high calorie content. A can of beer contains 150 calories, on average. But drinking beer creates a new problem, not seen with many of the other alcoholic drinks. Beer contains carbohydrates as well as alcohol, and this combination is particularly bad for causing weight gain. Therefore beer is a poor choice as drink for anyone trying to lose weight.
Is it necessary to abstain from all alcohol?
The answer to that question is no. A moderate alcohol intake is quite acceptable, and may even be beneficial.
The question is: what constitutes moderate alcohol intake?
Most experts would agree that alcohol should be limited to one or two standard glasses of wine per day, or their equivalent; and should include at least two alcohol-free days per week.