WHAT IS ALCOHOL?
Alcohol (also known as ethanol) is a compound that gets produced when glucose is fermented by yeast. It is not an essential nutrient but it does contain calories and so can be used by your body for energy. In this article I will be taking a deeper look at alcohol and the impact it has on your body.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF ALCOHOL?
Alcohol is believed to have been around since the stone ages with beer jugs from as early as 10,000 B.C. being discovered. It was identified as a separate compound by the Iranian alchemist Muhammad bin Zakaria Razi (also known as “Razes”) sometime between 864 AD and 930 AD. In other words they provide energy and nothing else.
HOW MANY CALORIES DOES ALCOHOL CONTAIN?
Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram (g) which is 2 less than dietary fats (which contain 9 calories per gram) but 3 more than carbohydrates and protein (which contain 4 calories per gram). The calories in alcohol are often referred to as empty calories because they contain no vitamins or minerals.
HOW DOES YOUR BODY PROCESS ALCOHOL?
Alcohol is processed by your liver. It takes approximately 1 hour to process 1 unit (8g) of alcohol. Your body cannot store alcohol so when you drink alcoholic beverages processing the alcohol becomes a priority. That means that any carbohydrates, dietary fats and proteins that you eat get stored as fat whilst your body processes the alcohol. Additionally, your body cannot absorb nutrients properly whilst processing alcohol which means you do not get the full nutritional value from your foods.
WHAT ARE THE CURRENT RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION?
The current UK recommendations for alcohol consumption are listed below:
- Men:- A maximum of 4 units per day.
- Women:- A maximum of 3 units per day.
Both men and women are also advised to have at least 2 alcohol free days each week.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF ALCOHOL?
The biggest benefit of alcohol is that it acts as a social lubricant. Drinking in moderation can make you feel happy, relaxed and even euphoric.
Numerous studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption has a long list of additional health benefits which are detailed below:
- Possibly improving general health.
- Possibly increasing blood levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (a type of cholesterol that removes harmful low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol from the blood and keeps the blood vessels free from blockages).
- Possibly increasing lifespan.
- Possibly preventing Alzheimer’s disease (a mental disorder that causes problems with memory, thought and speech).
- Possibly preventing arthritis (inflammation of the joints).
- Possibly preventing cancer.
- Possibly preventing the the common cold and the flu.
- Possibly preventing dementia (a mental disorder that leads to personality changes and impaired reasoning).
- Possibly preventing diabetes.
- Possibly preventing gallstones (small, hard stones in the gallbladder) and gallbladder disease.
- Possibly preventing osteoporosis (reduced bone mineral density).
- Possibly preventing strokes (a loss of blood flow to the brain which results in the death of brain cells and brain damage).
- Possibly reducing your heart disease risk (by increasing blood levels of HDL cholesterol).
However, the problem with all these studies is that these benefits cannot be definitively linked to alcohol consumption. For example, statistically moderate drinkers get 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night and exercise regularly. So are the health benefits down to the good sleep patterns, the regular exercise, the moderate alcohol consumption or a combination of all 3?
Additionally, some of the health benefits may be down to other ingredients and not the alcohol. For example, many people believe that consumption of red wine is the reason for the low rates of heart disease in France. However, a lot of people argue it is not the alcohol in red wine but the resveratrol that prevents heart disease.
WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF ALCOHOL?
Even moderate alcohol consumption has disadvantages. These are listed below:
- Disrupted sleep patterns.
- Increased breast cancer risk.
- Increased liver damage in people with hepatitis C (inflammation of the liver).
Heavy drinking has a number of serious consequences. These are outlined below:
- Alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver caused by alcohol abuse).
- Alcohol poisoning.
- Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats).
- Brain damage.
- Cardiomyopathy (chronic disease of the heart muscle).
- Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver).
- Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach).
- High blood pressure.
- Insomnia (inability to sleep).
- Loss of coordination.
- Organ damage.
- Organ failure.
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).
- Personality disorders.
- Physical injury (through loss of coordination).
- Poor absorption of nutrients.
- Possibly causing various types of cancer (including breast cancer, colon cancer, mouth cancer, larynx cancer, liver cancer, oesophageal cancer and pharynx cancer).
- Sexual problems.
- Skin problems.
- Stomach ulcers.
- Weight gain.
Alcohol can be very damaging to your health and does not have any solid health benefits. In an ideal world no one would touch it. However, drinking alcohol is fun and provided that you keep your consumption under control it will have a minimal effect on your health and fitness. Drinking heavily every night is a serious problem but the occasional wild night out is not going to destroy your fitness goals.
Alcohol: Balancing Risks And Benefits (Harvard School Of Public Health)
Alcohol And Health (Postdam.edu)
Calories In Alcohol (Drink Aware)
Drinking Alcohol And Benefits (Medical News Today)
History Of Alcoholic Beverages (Wikipedia)