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Your Body on Booze

There's no clear evidence indicating the type of alcohol you drink affects your state of drunkenness. So what really happens inside your body when you imbibe?

Article
Rob Harmon
Photos
Courtesy
Posted
January 29, 2018

February is the month of love, and some of us just love to drink (not saying that’s a bad thing). Drinking keeps things interesting and fun, right? After all, who wouldn’t want to be or be with The Most Interesting Man in the World? And he seems to do his fair share of drinking.

Well, in recent years, scientific research has given us mixed messages about alcohol and how it affects your body. After years of research, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), a research and advocacy group of many of the nation’s leading cancer doctors, released a statement in November 2017 linking alcohol use to several malignancies, including breast cancer. The lead author of the statement, Noelle LoConte, M.D., an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison says the science behind it has been settled for some time.

“Alcohol is an undeniable menace to health, no matter how much alcohol is entwined to the cultures of billions of people around the world,” LoConte says. “Cancer doctors won’t tell you that occasional binge drinking with your friends is guaranteed to change your risk of cancer, but there is an increased risk with even light drinking, and certainly risks are greater with heavy long-term drinkers.”

On one side of the coin, alcohol in reasonable amounts has been linked to moderate health benefits, including fun. And on the other, it is extremely addictive for some individuals and highly toxic when consumed in excess.

But no two drinkers are identical. A person’s gender, age, weight and drinking history, as well as the type of alcohol being consumed, all play a role in how alcohol impacts someone.

Whatever the truth is about alcohol, one thing is for certain: it affects us and our bodies, and the effects of it are pretty complex. How does it actually affect the brain? What path does alcohol take in the body, and how does it affect those areas? How does the body best detoxify itself? Why do we vomit sometimes when drinking too much? And what’s the deal with hangovers? Is there really anything to worry about?

Let’s break down what we do know, for those of us who enjoy imbibing.

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Brain
Within minutes of hitting your bloodstream, the alcohol travels to your brain and begins to alter your neurotransmitters — which are chemical messengers that transmit signals throughout your brain and body. You start to feel tipsy or drunk.

Alcohol is basically ethanol, and simply put, it reduces communication between brain cells. This is why we experience so many of the symptoms of being drunk, like blurred vision and slurred speech. Binge drinking can lead to blackouts, which many times includes memory loss afterward.

All of these may only be temporary, but chronic alcohol abuse can make permanent changes in the brain. The brain is actually very sensitive to damage caused by chronic alcohol abuse. On the other hand, drinking responsibly has been linked with reduced risk of dementia, especially in elderly people, and remembering how much fun was had in younger people.

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Liver and kidneys
Our body works really hard to tackle all the toxic substances we put in it and when we put too much in too fast, it really suffers.

Your kidneys and lungs eliminate about 10 percent of the alcohol through your urine and breath.

Our liver and kidneys are extremely vulnerable to alcohol abuse. They work like crazy to filter tequilas and Bud Light through the body, but when there are too many mojitos or sangrias, going down the hatch too fast, they start taking on damage in the form of fat. This can lead to dead liver cells and scar tissue, which leads to a serious condition called cirrhosis. Sadly, cirrhosis can’t be reversed.

Mess up your liver, then the kidneys have to work too hard, leading to kidney failure.

The whole point here is that your liver can handle alcohol in moderation. So, if you really want to take advantage of that unlimited drink pass on your next cruise, do your liver and kidneys a favor and drink lots of water at the same time.

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Best detox
Your body knows how to handle alcohol and naturally detoxifies itself when it has all the right tools. Drink lots of water may sound like a broken record, but it’s the No. 1 way to cleanse your body from all the toxins you’ve been putting in it.

Secondly, fill your body with nutrients it can use to detox. Eggs, asparagus and fruit all load your body up with toxin-fighting properties and help reboot your body by flushing out the alcohol.

Thirdly, rest is so important for recuperating your body. The right amount of sleep causes your body to fight anything that is trying to harm it and keep it from being its absolute best.

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Hangovers
Researchers in the Netherlands showed that combined with lack of sleep and other factors, hangovers produced by alcohol can have permanently damaging effects. Some of the ways to avoid severe headaches would be to get good sleep, drink lots of water and cut back on the cigarettes.

“Several factors do not cause alcohol hangover but can aggravate its severity,” says Dr. Renske Penning and his cohorts of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “These include sleep deprivation, smoking, health status, genetics and individual differences. Future studies should more rigorously study these factors as well as biological correlates to further elucidate the pathology of alcohol hangover.”

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Vomiting
No one enjoys those terrible visits to the porcelain god. Throwing up is the body’s defense when a person has consumed too much alcohol. When alcohol enters a person’s system faster than the liver can metabolize it, the body looks for a way to rid itself of the toxin. Vomiting can be dangerous or deadly if a person is unconscious and the vomit obstructs the airway.

So, how can we best avoid tossing our cookies after a fun night out? First of all, drink water throughout your alcohol consumption. It keeps you from being dehydrated and settles your stomach.

Secondly, eat a banana or two beforehand or afterward. They are high in potassium, which helps keep electrolytes high.

Thirdly, consume ginger. Whether it be ginger tea or soda, ginger candy or just chewing on a raw piece of ginger, its anti-nausea properties can squelch the queasiness.

So, just remember this Valentine’s Day, or maybe even better yet, next month during all the Saint Paddy’s Day celebrations — don’t forget to prepare your body if you plan on having a little bit of the good stuff. You’ll have a good time and your body will thank you. 

Stay thirsty, my friends.