Alcohol. Its been around since 3000 BC. It is a large part of many cultures, from religious ceremonies to celebrations and medicinal purposes. From the earliest recorded use of alcohol, drinking has been a social activity. Going out for a drink with the crew after work. Cheers to another Birthday. Or cracking open a bottle of vintage wine for that extra special dinner. None of this seems abnormal or problematic
As a nutritionist and wellness coach, perhaps it may be expected that I lead a squeaky-clean life. Nothing but kale smoothies and yoga poses. Well guess what, I’m human. It would be hypocritical of me to tell all my clients to never have a drop of alcohol when I enjoy a drink or two on occasion myself.
To be clear, this post is not to encourage people to consume more alcohol. It is simply to educate. Understand the true effects on your body as a casual drinker and offer a few tips to help you stay balanced and minimize the long-term serious health effects.
Lets Start With a Few Facts.
It’s well known that alcohol affects your liver and long term heavy alcohol use serious affects heart, pancreas, lung infections, infertility, and shrinking of the frontal lobes of the brain. This post again is geared towards the casual drinker. Not that continued use may not lead to these more serious conditions, But I would like to focus on some lesser known things affecting your health aware of before you order up another.
Alcohols effects on your body start when you take the first sip and can last up to 80 hours. Different people have different tolerances based on age, weight and height. The lingering effects can affect your hormones, blood sugars, blood pressure, immune system and mental functions including memory, decision making and mood disorders.
Blood Sugar Irregularities.
Anyone of my clients will know that I talk a lot about blood sugar balancing to control our health and our weight. Drinking alcohol has shown to have negative affects on blood sugars. The extra sugar in a few cocktails, wine or even beer will create a spike in blood sugar. Insulin will be secreted to lower the blood sugars and over time, cells become resistant to the insulin. This means that the pancreas still secretes the insulin, but the cells do not recognize it. Two things will happen. The excess insulin in the body will trigger fat storage. Distorting your body’s ability to manage your blood sugars will put any weight loss goals to a halt. Even worse, elevated blood sugars create the potential for cellular damage leading to diseases that may affect the liver, heart and pancreas. As an example, drinking alcohol can cause abnormal digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas. This can lead to inflammation of the pancreas. This is the same organ that dispenses insulin to lower blood sugar. When your pancreas cannot function properly due to inflammation, it may not be able to produce adequate amounts of insulin to utilize the sugars. This again, can lead to hyperglycemia, too much sugar in the blood. If you are concerned for your health at all you want to keep your blood sugars in check. You may not feel the effects of high blood sugars right away. Instead, you will experience excessive thirst as your body is begging for water to help dilute and flush out the excess sugar. Energy will deplete, and you will experience chronic tiredness. Use these signs as warning bells going off to get your blood sugars in check.
Impaired Liver Function
Our liver may be one of the most important organs in the body. It has over 500 functions with detoxification. Alcohol is exactly that a toxin. This puts a great demand on the liver when alcohol is consumed in excess leaving it less ability to metabolize other toxins consumes. You may be reading this thinking, what toxins? I don’t sprinkle toxins on my cereal in the morning. Understand that in today’s modern society with manufactured everything, we are exposed to and consume hundreds of toxins daily. From the soaps and shampoos you use in the morning shower, moisturizer you put on your skin, coffee filters that have been bleached white. The exhaust you inhale waiting for a ride. Your coworkers’ perfume, preservatives in our food. You get the idea. Your liver is responsible for all of it. So, add a few drinks into the mix and it’s a hefty job. If you want to lose weight and be healthy, you need clean up the toxic waste in your body. You may already be experiencing toxicity and not realizing it. Fatigue, muscle aches, joint pain, sinus congestion, headaches, bloating, sleep problems, chronic coughs and colds, cravings, rashes, and difficulty losing weight are all signs that your body is battling a load of toxins.
Some people are sick all the time. One cold after another or a cough that just wont go away. Alcohol consumption could play apart in this. For you to stay healthy, your immune system must stay strong. Drinking alcohol threatens the very system used to protect it. A change occurs in immune system by altering cells and molecules. This change slows the ability to ward off infections for up to 24 hours after consumption. So put this into perspective. Say you go out on a Tuesday night for a couple drinks. Wednesday morning, you don’t feel too bad. Brew up a coffee and head into work. In the cubicle beside you, your coworker is hacking away with a horrible cough. Your system is no longer equipped to fight off the germs she passed onto the photocopier. Thursday rolls around and there is a big game. Grab a beer or two to watch your favorite team. Friday you sit beside someone at a meeting and they are sneezing on your shoulder. Before you know it, you are spending the weekend in bed missing out on all the fun desperately trying to repair your immune health with soup and Netflix. The cycle begins again the next week. And the cold never goes away. Its not the cold that keeps getting passed around the office. Its the state of your immune system to fight off the pathogens. Its not a mystery. Drinking alcohol impairs your immune system. It is no surprise that those who consume alcohol regularity are the same people who are always sick. And they never seem to know why. CLICK HERE for full post on how to support your immune health.
Digestive Distress and Weight Management
Alcohol can destroy your stomach lining by producing more acid than usual causing inflammation. Long term this can lead to serious health conditions such as gastritis. Stomachaches, bloating and heart burn are a clear sign that your stomach is not happy. Again, like the pancreas and liver we spoke of, all systems must be function for you to function optimally. If your digestion is compromised, you likely are not feeling your best with a bloated upset stomach and likely are nutrient deprived because your body is not equipped to break down foods and absorb nutrients as it otherwise would be. Drinking alcohol not only creates damage to the digestive system, it places a high demand on digestion. It must work harder to eliminate this toxin from the body and it prioritizes this task above metabolizing any other foods and nutrients consumed. So anytime you are eating while having a few drinks, all that food goes directly to storage (aka FAT) as the body is hyper focused on getting the alcohol out of the system asap. Not great for a weight loss plan. Our willpower seems to go completely out the window after a couple drinks too. Suddenly, those deep-fried cheese sticks seem like heaven. So again, if weight loss is your goal, regular drinks will not work in your favor.
Mental Focus and Clarity
I mentioned earlier that alcohol can stay in your system for up to 80 hours. That’s 3 days later. This blew my mind when I first learned it. I understood that not feeling your best the next day was not uncommon, but 3 days? That is precious time I am not willing to give up. It does not mean you are going t be hungover hugging the toilet bowl for 3 days. But it does mean you will not be at your best. Decision making, focus, energy, appetite, mood is compromised. Not as sharp at work for the first half of the week? Can’t quite find the energy you needed for your workouts? Craving foods, specifically carbs. And a little more emotional or irritable than you’d like to be. All of this can be signs that the drink you had on Saturday night is still in your system.
Now that we have talked about many ways’ alcohol can affect us negatively, here are the few guidelines I prescribe for my clients who like to indulge to help the consume consciously. As I mentioned before, I am no saint. I like a glass of wine or two on a weekend, so these tips are tried and tested by yours truly.
1. Never drink on a school night.
I know, we are all adults. I haven’t been in formal schooling for over 20 years. But in my head Sunday to Thursday is still a school night. During these days, I wont even consider a cocktail. This is my time to be productive. For me to do what I do, and want to do it well, I want to wake every day will a clear head and good energy. Even one drink during the week will rob me of that which means I’d be tired and feel sloppy working with my clients, my workouts likely won’t feel strong but rather just going through the motions, my appetite changes and my mood is just not myself. Understanding how it can get in the way of doing what I love, drinks on a school night are out.
No doubt, you’ve heard this before. I’m here to reinforce it. By drinking water in between cocktails, you are doing 3 things. You are diluting the alcohol, so your Blood alcohol is reduced. You immediately lessen the effects very efficiently. Second, since alcohol is a diuretic pulling water out of your body. That is the reason why you wake up the next day and want to chug 10 bottles of water before you even get out of bed. Dehydration is more than just being thirsty. Every biochemical reaction that takes place in your body, needs water to occur. From digestion, creating energy, mental function, all rely on water. Also contributes to the massive headache associated with a few drinks. Dehydration from alcohol also affects you is your skin. This may seem vain but let’s get real, no one wants to look any older than we are. Have you ever noticed how the lines on your face seem a little deeper, pores are exposed, and you lack any luster leaving a dull complexion? Dark circles under your eyes and dry dull skin are all a sign of dehydration. Give your body and your skin the water it needs. Drink water before your evening, in between cocktails and a glass or 2 before you go to bed.
2. Eat Before you Drink
Before a night out for drinks, plan to eat. A balanced, nutrient dense meal containing good fats, some protein and complex carbs. Recognize the order I put that in? I suggest prioritizing some good fats and protein before a night involving cocktails. The fats and protein are slower to digest which will help to stabilize your blood sugars which we already learned can be disruptive to your health. Slowing down the stomachs emptying time also ensures the effects of alcohol don’t sneak up on you. Grab a handful of nuts and seeds, have something cooked with coconut oil, or drizzle a little extra olive oil on your salad. Alcohol depletes your B Vitamins which are responsible for energy, concentration, memory and managing anxiety. Choosing foods that are rich in the B’s will help to offset this. Dark leafy greens, legumes, meat and whole grains are all good sources of B’s. Avocado is loaded with healthy fats and potassium. Potassium is lost with excess urination. A big breakfast with eggs and home fries may seem like the best thing to do after a night out, but eggs are actually a great choice beforehand. The essential amino acids help to break down the alcohol. Without getting too complicated and I go on one of my nutritionist rants just focus on a healthy meal before a night out. In this case something is better than nothing. Never drink on an empty stomach but aim to give yourself a dose of nutrients knowing that the alcohol will deplete it. The next morning, I suggest getting back on track with your clean eating. The best way to do this and be kind to your body after a night out is with a green smoothie. Easy to digest especially if your stomach is still doing somersaults. Loaded with nutrients especially those that are helpful for liver function. CLICK HERE for my favorite Detoxifying Green Smoothie recipe.
4. 3 Drinks Max
This is a simple little rule I have for myself and I suggest for my clients. Nothing good happens after 3 drinks. (I feel the same way about midnight. Nothing good happens after midnight but that’s another story) After one or 2 we may loosen up a bit, have a cheers and share some laughs. Anything after 3 things get kinda sloppy. The conversations make less sense, words become slurred, definitely lose the ability to drive. Three is a good enough amount that can be stretched through the evening without causing too much damage. Ideally this is 3 drinks max, one night only. I personally don’t like to be in the habit of drink all the time just for the sake of it. Especially recognizing how it affects my body. One night a week is enough to allow me to feel apart of social events without sacrificing my energy to do the things I love. I’ve also recognized that much more than this has an effect on my emotions. I feel down the next day and start to question things in my life. Totally irrational and not uplifting in anyway. Three is my magic number.
5. Take a break
I randomly do 30-day challenges with myself. Sometimes it’s don’t hit the snooze button for 30 days (that one was hard) and sometimes its no alcohol for 30 days. I started this in what I refer to as my former life. I was working a high stress job, 14-hour days. I found myself falling into the habit of having glass of wine when I got home to ‘wind down’. I didn’t like that this was becoming my thing. Its not that I felt I had a problem, but I wasn’t address stress in a healthy way. So, for 30 days I stopped. For the first bit, I hated it. It seems like as soon as I decided I wasn’t going to have any alcohol, I was invited to every social event under the sun that involved drinks. But I stuck with it. Ordering a virgin Ceaser when I went out. Drinking soda water out of a wine glass to trick myself into thinking I’m still taking part. (This I do quite often. Easy way to get people off your back at a party. If you have some sort of drink in your hand, no one tries to pressure you into a drink). After the 30 days, I felt great. First proud of myself that I made it the full month. But my energy was heightened, my skin felt great, I lost a few pounds without even trying and Best of all I changed the habit. I no longer would reach for a glass of wine daily. Human beings are habitual. Sometimes its not even that we want a drink, but we are in the habit of having a drink. Breaking that habit and saving alcohol for an occasion can be a simple way to save your health. I suggest the 30-day challenge to a lot of my clients and put myself through it about twice a year. I feel it’s a good idea to give the body a break occasionally, especially after a time of higher consumption like the holidays or vacation. Put it on pause. Let the body regenerate. Give your liver some love. Its not forever, but it’s just enough to break the habit and hit the rest button on your body.
In my practice I am asked regularly about alcohol. My goal is always to educate. Create an understanding of how alcohol affects the body then offer some guidelines where alcohol can still be enjoyed on occasion while st
ill maintaining good health. Cheers to that!
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