5 Reasons Why Excessive Alcohol Consumption is NOT the Answer
5 Reasons Why Excessive Alcohol Consumption is NOT the Answer. Lockdown has seen us all missing out on many things we have always taken for granted in our lives – seeing friends and family, browsing the shops and, particularly in the glorious weather we’ve been experiencing lately, the opportunity to enjoy a glass of wine (or two!) in our local pubs and bars.
The human relationship with alcohol has been entwined since time immemorial - we’ve almost evolved with alcohol. But we really should be worried when we use excessive alcohol consumption to self-soothe in times of uncertainty, crisis, pain and actually... boredom.
5 Reasons why excessive alcohol consumption NOT the answer.
It’s a pleasure to share this review on Chris Kresser’s site of why alcohol has been part of human history and often not in the best way. Here, I've curated five of the key takeaways from the article.
1. Excessive alcohol consumption and immune function
Heavy or excessive alcohol consumption has been shown to inhibit immune function by reducing the activity of macrophages, critical cells involved in the immune response, our body’s front-line defence against pathogens.
Cigarettes, alcohol or environmental pollutants can negatively influence the effectiveness of the immune system's response to a pathogen. They act to decrease phagocytosis, the process by which white blood cells destroy harmful bacteria and viruses.
Heavy alcohol consumption also promotes a pro-inflammatory state and suppresses the immune system’s ability to remove pathogens via our antibody-dependent immune response. Anyone suffering from any sort of chronic infectious illness should certainly avoid heavy alcohol consumption; indeed, it may be better to avoid alcohol entirely.
2. Alcohol and blood sugar
It’s thought that alcohol does have an effect on blood sugar levels - alcohol intake significantly increases the risk of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels). And excessive consumption may promote insulin resistance by impairing insulin signalling in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that regulates numerous physiological functions, including hormonal balance and blood sugar control.
Although light to moderate alcohol consumption has potentially favourable effects on the cardiovascular system and potentially other tissues, excessive chronic alcohol consumption or acute intoxication adversely affects all organs, ultimately increasing morbidity and mortality.
3. Excessive alcohol consumption, unhealthy eating and weight/fat gain
Heavy alcohol use lowers our inhibitions, leading to poor decision-making in many areas, including our food choices. This explains why many pub crawls or other heavy drinking ‘sessions’ often end with a visit to the nearest kebab shop or other 'open all hours' ultra-processed, fast-food outlet!
As well as lowering our inhibitions, heavy alcohol consumption promotes unhealthy eating by triggering dramatic blood sugar fluctuations and by inhibiting leptin and glucagon-like peptide-1, hormones which suppress appetite.
Most alcoholic beverages are a source of ‘empty’ calories, filling our bodies with calories but almost no nutrients, so given the impact of excessive alcohol consumption on appetite, it’s no surprise that it may cause us to pile on weight.
- ½ a pint of beer contains around 150 calories
- a 150ml glass of wine equals around 125 calories
- mixed drinks – think vodka and orange - contain even more calories
Intake of these ‘empty’ calories doesn’t make us feel full; rather, it boosts hunger signals to the brain, leading (usually) to increased food intake and potentially promoting weight (and fat) gain. In contrast, individuals who frequently drink moderate amounts of alcohol may enjoy a healthier lifestyle, in general, and it may actually protect them from weight gain. And by the way... drinking alcohol in the evenings (even in small amounts) disrupts our sleep cycle and prevents us from benefiting from the restorative sleep our that body needs to repair and heal to maintain health. Consistently impoverished sleep quality not only significantly impacts every area of our health (not in a good way), it raises the stress hormone cortisol, preventing us from losing weight.Heavy #alcohol consumption promotes a pro-inflammatory state & suppresses the immune system’s ability to remove pathogens via our antibody-dependent immune response. Click To Tweet
4. Alcohol and gut health
Excessive alcohol consumption has some really concerning effects on gut health: https://chriskresser.com/how-the-gut-microbiome-influences-everything-about-your-health/
- It decreases beneficial gut bacteria while promoting the growth of harmful oral bacteria
- It increases the permeability of the intestinal barrier to endotoxins, a pro-inflammatory bacterial by-product.
If you’re struggling with gastrointestinal issues such as leaky gut or IBS, you may be better off avoiding alcohol altogether.
5. Heavy drinking and our skin
Alcohol is a diuretic – it increases water elimination and induces dehydration in our bodies. One study found that heavy alcohol consumption had a significant impact on skin appearance; for instance, increased facial lines, under-eye puffiness and visible facial blood vessels.
Excessive alcohol consumption has also been linked to a worsening of rosacea (essentially, red cheeks) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/rosacea/ in women and it may worsen existing skin conditions such as acne by disrupting the intestinal barrier, an important part of the gut-skin axis.
Consider a 30-day ‘No Alcohol’ challenge
If you feel that you are consuming more alcohol than is healthy, you may want to try a 30-day no alcohol challenge. The premise of the challenge is simple: avoid alcohol altogether for 30 days.
After 30 days, try adding back organic wine or whatever organic alcohol you enjoy and see how you feel. You might actually find that regular alcohol consumption is no longer something you want or need in your life, or that you really only want it once or twice a week or even just on those special occasions.
Serious caveat: A physical alcohol dependency
If you are a heavy drinker and are concerned about quitting alcohol (or other substances) unaided, please do reach out to your primary health professional, or to a specialist agency for their advice.
Simon Green at AIM for Recovery leads a team of qualified, highly trained and experienced nurses with a range of mental health nursing, substance misuse/recovery nursing and Independent Nurse Prescribing skills - to support people to overcome addiction safely, to reduce harm from problematic drinking/ drug use and to focus on restoring mental well being.
If any of the above resonates with you, or you know someone who may be struggling to reduce their alcohol intake, perhaps I can help?
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