Many people enjoy having a drink from time to time, but what effect does alcohol have on your health? Research shows that drinking alcohol in moderate amounts can increase HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), reduce insulin and reduce stress levels. Research also shows that the negatives may outweigh the positives when it comes to alcohol. So, what happens to alcohol once it enters the body?
The nutrients from food are digested and absorbed from the intestines, into the blood and carried to the liver. Nutrients are prepared for immediate use or for storage for future use by the liver. Different from food, alcohol cannot be used for fuel, stored, and also has little nutrients. We cannot store calories from alcohol the same way we can store calories from food because the body sees alcohol as a toxin rather than a nutrient. When there is alcohol in the body, the body’s main priority is to remove the toxin. Metabolism is slowed down as the body uses alcohol as fuel instead of fat. Basically, fat burning is put on hold while your body works on breaking down alcohol.
Alcohol increases acid in the stomach, which can cause gastritis. It also creates irritation and inflammation in the stomach lining. This leads to ulcers and stomach bleeds. Alcohol intake also decreases digestive enzymes which stops nutrients from being broken down and absorbed, especially the B vitamins. The cell lining in the stomach and the intestines becomes damaged from alcohol intake which keeps nutrients from being transported to the blood. Alcohol makes it hard for the body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E. It also decreases immune health.
Alcohol reduces muscle protein synthesis, which makes it harder to have muscle growth. While alcohol may make you feel relaxed and help you go to sleep, it does make it harder to stay asleep. Alcohol disrupts rapid eye movement (REM) sleep which leads to increased fatigue and physical stress. This can also lead to decreased strength and athletic performance. Alcohol contains empty calories, meaning there is no nutritional value in the calories. Many alcoholic drinks are also blended with mixers that add more calories.
One thing that always comes along with alcohol, is food. Alcohol can increase hunger and the desire for salty or fatty foods. It can also decrease fullness and lead to weight gain & central obesity. When we drink and eat at the same time the food is stored as fat while the body focuses on breaking down the alcohol. When you have a meal, wait till about an hour after to have alcohol. This gives your body time to break down the food, so that it is not competing with the alcohol.
You do not have to cut alcohol out of your life completely to live a healthy lifestyle. However, the drinks may make it harder for you to reach your health and fitness goals. It is up to you to decide what is more important. The USDA Dietary Guidelines for American’s recommends no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women and two for men. One drink is equal to 5 oz wine, 12 oz beer, or 1.5 oz liquor.
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