May 3, 2021
The Lesser-Known Ways Alcohol can hurt our Health
Alcohol consumption is a personal decision. Many find it a good relaxation agent, social lubricant or simply enjoy the feeling it generates. Others view alcohol consumption negatively for reasons based on health or moral code. Some individuals choose to drink alcohol moderately while others drink heavily.
Typically, alcohol is a waste product that the body tries to excrete. Even a tiny bit of alcohol has an effect on the body’s systems. If we drink more than the body is able to process, we begin to feel intoxicated as the alcohol level builds up in the bloodstream and is distributed throughout the body. This distribution can affect the body’s nerve endings and slow down brain function. This causes feelings of excitement, numbness or inhibition.
Without being too negative on drinking alcohol, let’s try to look at some of the lesser-known ways alcohol can hurt us:
- Drinking gives our body work to do that keeps it from other processes. Once we take a drink, our body makes metabolizing it a priority — above processing anything else. Unlike proteins, carbohydrates and fats, our body doesn’t have a way to store alcohol, so it has to move to the front of the metabolizing line. This is why it affects our liver, as it’s our liver’s job to detoxify and remove alcohol from the blood. Incidentally, this is why we experience hangover symptoms the next day. Our body has focused on processing the alcohol and has not absorbed the nutrients and vitamins necessary for normal metabolism. Alcohol induces a nutrient loss that we experience as a hangover.
- Alcohol consumption can negatively affect our immune system. If we drink alcohol more than occasionally, we might notice that we catch colds, flu or other illnesses more frequently than people who don’t drink. This is because alcohol can weaken the immune system and make the body more susceptible to infections.
- Alcohol causes inflammatory processes which can become irreversible. The liver is an organ which helps break down and remove harmful substances from our body, including alcohol. Long-term alcohol use interferes with this process. It also increases our risk for chronic liver inflammation and liver disease. The scarring caused by this inflammation is known as cirrhosis. The formation of scar tissue destroys the liver. As the liver becomes increasingly damaged, it has a harder time removing toxic substances from our body.
- Drinking can lead to problems with our control of blood sugar. The pancreas helps regulate our body’s insulin use and response to glucose. When our pancreas and liver aren’t functioning properly, we run the risk of experiencing low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. A damaged pancreas may also prevent the body from producing enough insulin to utilize sugar. This can lead to hyperglycemia, or too much sugar in the blood. These problems can quickly lead to diabetes, a disease that kills over 80,000 people each year.
- Alcohol consumption can lead to central nervous system dysfunction. One of the easiest ways to understand alcohol’s impact on our body is by understanding how it affects our central nervous system. Slurred speech is one of the first signs we’ve had too much to drink. Alcohol can reduce communication between our brain and our body. This makes coordination more difficult. We may have a hard time balancing. As alcohol causes more damage to our central nervous system, we may experience numbness and tingling sensations in our feet and hands.
After 36 years as a Doctor, my simple recommendation regarding alcohol is to drink as little as possible and as infrequently as possible. No matter the occasion, no matter the reason.
Category: Dr. Sterling