Alcohol is a significant part of the modern lifestyle, and even though most of it’s health risks are well known, many people still drink alcohol in excessive amounts and on a regular basis.
As a byproduct of yeast fermentation, alcohol is classified as a mycotoxin which means that it’s a toxic substance produced by fungus. Other common sources of mycotoxins include mold spores, antibiotics, and hallucinogenic drugs. Many of us have experienced the toxicity of alcohol in the form of a hangover, and as such, the damaging effects of alcohol shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
Moderation: How Much is Too Much?
Although it’s well established that excessive alcohol consumption is a significant health risk, there’s a lot of ambiguity surrounding the effects of moderate consumption. For every piece of research indicating that moderate alcohol consumption is problematic, there seems to be another claiming that it’s beneficial.
According to the USDA, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. Before you accept this as a license to consume alcohol on a daily basis, keep in mind that the USDA also recommends that we consume an excessive amount of grain based food which causes significant health problems for many of us. Also keep in mind that the political influence of the alcohol industry may have been a factor in the development of this definition.
While all of the problems listed below are clearly associated with excessive alcohol consumption, many of them are associated with moderate consumption as well. If you truly want to improve the quality of your life through excellent health, then it’s in your best interest to keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. Limiting your consumption to half of the USDA’s guideline would be a good start. Ultimately, you’ll need to determine for yourself how important your health and well being are to you, and based on this, how much alcohol consumption you feel is appropriate for you. Just be sure to consider it in combination with other unhealthy influences such as stress, inadequate sleep, and unhealthy eating.
Why do You Enjoy Alcohol?
Along with excessive consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates, drinking alcohol has become a major part of the modern lifestyle. Very few people drink alcohol for it’s taste. In fact, most alcoholic beverages are designed to hide it’s taste. Some of the real reasons why people drink alcohol are to lift their mood, enjoy a “buzz”, overcome inhibitions, or to simply fit in with the crowd. As such, alcohol is often used to compensate for psychological weaknesses.
As you read through the potential effects of alcohol listed below, ask yourself if their potential is worth the short term satisfaction that you get from drinking it.
The temporary lift in mood that alcohol provides can easily become addictive, especially for people who already suffer from mood imbalances. By causing neurotransmitter deficiencies, alcohol can create or worsen mood problems and lead to cravings that increase susceptibility to addiction.
By irritating the lining of the intestines and causing inflammation, alcohol interferes with the absorption and metabolism of nutrients. In some cases, excessive alcohol consumption can reduce appetite and cause nutrient deficiencies by effectively displacing more nutritious foods.
3. Brain Damage
Frequent alcohol consumption has been shown to cause brain damage and atrophy that impairs thought, memory, and motor function and also increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and stroke. Despite conflicting evidence, moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to cause these issues as well.
4. Nerve Damage
Alcohol is toxic to nerve tissue and can cause damage that leads to numbness, tingling, burning, weakness, and impaired control of bodily function.
5. Liver Damage
The byproducts of alcohol metabolism are even more toxic than alcohol itself. These byproducts cause inflammation and damage within the liver and can lead to malnutrition, impaired detoxification, and diseases such as cancer, cirrhosis, and hepatitis.
6. Poor Sleep
Many people consume alcohol prior to bed because it causes a temporary increase in melatonin that helps them fall asleep. Shortly afterward, the effect is reversed and melatonin often drops to a level below normal. As a result, sleep will likely be interrupted and never progresses into the deeper and more restorative stages.
Alcohol consumption impairs the water absorption abilities of the kidneys. This causes excess urination, and in turn, dehydration. While isolated cases of dehydration cause relatively minor symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, and headaches, chronic dehydration can cause much more serious conditions including acid reflux, arthritis, constipation, and high blood pressure.
8. Depression and Other Mood Disorders
Alcohol alters brain chemistry and can cause a temporary lift in mood by artificially increasing levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. This forced alteration can cause or worsen neurotransmitter deficiencies and lead to mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, and irritability.
9. Blood Sugar Fluctuation
By preventing the liver from producing glucose, alcohol consumption often causes a significant and sustained drop in blood sugar. This can lead to many symptoms including decreased brain function, temporary mood imbalances, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, heart palpitations, and poor sleep. The excessive amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates that most alcoholic beverages contain makes this problem even worse.
10. Intestinal Damage
Alcohol irritates the lining of the digestive tract and causes inflammation and damage, particularly in the intestines. This can increase intestinal permeability which will allow undesirable substances to enter the blood stream, and in turn, increase the risk of developing food sensitivities and autoimmune disease. As mentioned earlier, this damage can also impair the absorption of nutrients.
Because most beers are derived from wheat and some mixed drinks are made with dairy products, they contain the two most common food sensitivities, and as such, can worsen the intestinal damage caused by alcohol.
11. High Blood Pressure
Despite contradicting evidence, research has shown that people who drink alcohol on a regular basis are more likely to have chronically high blood pressure. In addition, excessive amounts of alcohol have been found to invoke the stress response which is known to temporarily increase both heart rate and blood pressure.
12. Heart Disease
As with blood pressure, there’s contradicting research regarding the association between alcohol and heart disease. The impaired liver function caused by alcohol can result in a higher concentration of toxins in the blood stream which can damage arteries and cause atherosclerosis and contribute to high blood pressure. In addition, the chronic dehydration that’s likely to result from frequent alcohol consumption can lead to atherosclerosis and high blood pressure as well.
13. A Weakened Immune System
Alcohol directly impairs the immune system by interfering with the production and function of white blood cells. This primarily effects lymphocytes which are responsible for destroying defective cells and eliminating foreign substances such as germs and toxins. The malnutrition and liver damage associated with frequent alcohol consumption are also capable of suppressing the immune system. Each of these factors can result in an increased susceptibility to frequent illness and even serious diseases such as cancer.
Many of the problems associated with alcohol consumption are of particular concern because they increase the risk of cancer. This is especially the case with suppressed immunity and tissue damage. In addition, alcohol is also being investigated as a possible carcinogen and has been found to fuel the growth of cancer cells.
15. Weight Gain
Although alcohol is typically metabolized for immediate energy use, some of it is stored as body fat. Because alcohol can be used to meet energy needs, it also reduces the need to metabolize existing body fat. While these factors do contribute to weight gain, the high sugar and refined carbohydrate content of most alcoholic beverages is much more of a concern.
Frequent consumption of alcohol can leach calcium from bones to compensate for the deficiency it can cause throughout the rest of the body. Because alcohol can cause malnutrition, it may also prevent the body from absorbing the wide variety of nutrients that are needed for proper bone maintenance. In addition, alcohol interferes with the development and function of osteoblast cells which are responsible for the regeneration that keeps bones strong and healthy.
17. Physiological Stress
In excessive amounts, alcohol has been shown to invoke the “fight or flight” stress response which is a physiological burden to the body. Low blood sugar and intestinal inflammation, which are also caused by alcohol consumption, invoke the stress response as well. Based on this, frequent consumption of alcohol can keep the body in the stress response for an excessive amount of time. This often leads to adrenal fatigue, and in turn, a wide variety of additional health problems.
Because regular alcohol consumption can disrupt hormone balance, it may impair or even prevent ovulation in women and interfere with sperm production in men.
Despite contradicting evidence, research has shown regular alcohol consumption to cause erectile dysfunction. This is believed to be a result of the damage that alcohol can cause to the nervous system.
20. Low Self Confidence
Alcohol can impair judgment, and in turn, provoke people to make extremely poor decisions and engage in regrettable behavior. This can easily lead to a diminished sense of self confidence and strain relationships with friends and family. In fact, it’s not uncommon for alcohol use to cause problems that ultimately lead to divorce.
A third of all deaths caused by automobile accidents are alcohol related. Every day in the United States, 36 people die from alcohol related accidents and approximately 700 more are injured. This is shocking proof of the stupid things that alcohol encourages people to do, and it only accounts for automobile accidents. If you consider all other aspects of life, alcohol is the cause of many more deaths and injuries.
If you occasionally have a few drinks and stay within the limits of reasonable moderation, chances are that it won’t have much of an impact on your health. However, if you allow yourself to believe that it’s healthy to consume alcohol on a regular basis, then you’re doing nothing more than reaching for justification and are likely to be harming your health in the process. Any benefit that can be achieved through alcohol consumption can be achieved more effectively and safely through a healthy lifestyle.
As with any unhealthy activity, you’re the one who must determine your limit by evaluating how meaningful your health is to you and how willing you are to sacrifice instant gratification for long term happiness. The only way you’ll be truly happy with the outcome is if you’re honest with yourself.