A night out for drinks with friends once or twice a week, a weekend of binge drinking, or just one drink a night: what type of damage are you really doing to your body? Alcohol can result in many problems including:
1. Weight Gain
Alcohol contains about seven calories per gram, which is less than a gram of fat contains, but more than a gram of protein or carbohydrate, so it is not extremely hard to compensate for the calories in alcohol to avoid weight gain, but it's not necessarily the calories alone in the alcohol that cause weight gain.
When alcohol is consumed, your body uses it as a preferred fuel for energy. This means the fat, protein, and carbohydrate calories you ate for the day have nowhere to go except into fat storage resulting in weight gain. Chronic or excessive consumption of alcohol can actually lead to the formation and accumulation of fats which can result in fatty liver or hyperlipidemia (high fat in the blood which is a heart disease risk factor). Multiple scientific studies show that alcohol consumption decreases fat burn more than protein and carbohydrate burn. This means that alcohol is basically metabolized like a fat as it interferes with fat burn more than other nutrients. Other studies have shown an increase in appetite and decrease in inhibitions, two more factors possibly contributing to weight gain from drinking.
2. Tissue Damage and Cancer Risk
The end products of alcohol metabolism can interact with other components in your body and create reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS are found at normal levels in the body but ROS at high levels in the body can be detrimental. High levels of ROS in the body are associated with cancer, heart disease, inflammation, diabetes and aging among other problems. Your body has adequate antioxidants to protect itself from damage done by ROS at normal levels, but when there is an overload such as in chronic or binge drinking, the antioxidant levels decrease because they are used to tend to the high ROS level created from alcohol, thus weakening your immune system. Alcohol metabolism byproducts can also contribute to liver enlargement, form compounds with DNA to form cancerous DNA, as well as increase the carbon dioxide level in your body leading to tissue damage and respiratory failure.
3. Alcohol Dependency
A hangover are alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Your body and your brain develop dependency on alcohol--after all it is used as a preferred fuel when in the body. Alcohol metabolism end products interact and combine with neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin, leading to a seemingly therapeutic effect on the nervous system. This therapeutic effect, along with your body's accommodation to alcohol as fuel, is thought to ultimately result in alcohol dependency.
The best way to avoid the problems resulting from alcohol consumption is of course to avoid drinking alcohol. If this is unrealistic for you, consume less alcohol and include more antioxidant rich foods such as different colored fruits and vegetables in your diet.
IF CUTTING ALCOHOL OUT OF YOUR DIET ISN'T REALISTIC, CUT BACK ON CALORIES WITH THESE 5 LOW-CAL COCKTAILS.
Jamie Yacoub, M.P.H., R.D. is a clinical dietitian with a Master's of Public Health in Nutrition, and expected Certified Diabetes Educator (C.D.E.) fall 2013. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in clinical nutrition from UC Davis after four years, during which time she participated in internships in several different nutrition environments including Kaiser Permanente and Women, Infants, & Children (W.I.C.). After graduating from UC Davis, she went on to study public health nutrition at Loma Linda University where she obtained her Master's of Public Health in Nutrition. Jamie completed the community nutrition portion of her dietetic internship as an intern for a Certified Specialist in Sports Nutrition. She completed both the food service and clinical portions of her dietetic internship at a top 100 hospital in the nation, where she was hired as the only clinical dietitian shortly after. Jamie now works as an outpatient clinical dietitian and is an expert in Medical Nutrition Therapy (M.N.T.) using the Nutrition Care Process (N.C.P.) including past medical history and current laboratory values as a basis of nutrition assessment.