Professional Fitness for the 21st Century

The Facts and The Fix: Alcohol

This blog series is not designed to judge those that partake in any of the substances mentioned in the Facts and Fix series. It is merely a statement of the facts about the effects they have on your body in the short, medium and long-term and a possible selection of fixes should you wish to avoid the negative consequences. That’s all. This blog is all about alcohol.

It’s Friday night. You’ve just finished work. What’s the first thing that springs to mind? For most people it’s to get out and have an alcoholic drink. Unless you don’t drink of course. Nothing beats that first sip of beer or wine after a hell of a week where each day seemed like a battle for survival. There’s something about it that just takes the edge of those feelings of stress and mental exhaustion, allowing you to let go of any worries that you may have about targets, workplace relations, printer ink running low. It makes you happier through triggering the release of dopamine! You want more of this so you drink some more. And then some more. And then a little bit more. You stumble home via a local eatery and go to bed. You wake up the next day with a bit of a hangover, only to repeat the process again that evening. Who knows how many units you consumed? But who cares, you had another great night! This is of course your stereotypical weekend for the office based worker. Not all weekend evenings end up like this!

There are many different reasons why people drink. Some drink because they enjoy the taste of alcohol – those likely to go to wine tasting. Some enjoy the inebriating effect of it. Some drink because they are depressed and need some form of relief from the misery – alcohol provides a temporary fix in some cases (this often leads to dependency or addiction). In all cases, alcohol is yet another substance that people put into their bodies in various quantities. This blog is designed to give an overview of the facts associated with alcohol consumption.

The Facts:

Alcohol is a colourless volatile flammable liquid which is produced by the natural fermentation of sugars. To make alcohol, you need to put grains, fruits or vegetables through a process called fermentation (when yeast or bacteria react with the sugars in food – the by-products are ethanol and carbon dioxide). A drink’s alcohol content is affected by how long it’s left to ferment. Spirits also go through a process called distillation – where a proportion of the water is removed, leaving a stronger concentration of alcohol and flavour.

Alcohol is a actually poison…

However good it feels when you drink alcohol is actually a poison. Your body processes one unit of alcohol per hour. Drink a lot in a short space of time and the amount of alcohol in the blood can stop the body from working properly, meaning it can: Slow down your brain functions so you lose your sense balance, irritate the stomach which causes vomiting and it stops your gag reflex from working properly meaning you can choke on your own vomit, affect the nerves that control your breathing and heartbeat, stopping both, dehydrate you, which can cause permanent brain damage, lower the body’s temperature, which can lead to hypothermia, lower your blood sugar levels, so you could have seizures.

Alcohol interferes with the normal sleep pattern…

Even a couple of drinks can interfere with the normal sleep process. When you drink alcohol close to bedtime, you can go straight into deep sleep, missing out on the usual first stage of sleep, called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Deep sleep is when the body restores itself, and alcohol can interfere with this. In the course of a night you usually have six to seven cycles of REM sleep, which leaves you feeling refreshed. However, if you’ve been drinking you’ll typically have only one to two, meaning you can wake feeling exhausted.

Alcoholic drinks are full of empty calories and sugar…

Alcoholic drinks are full of empty calories and have no nutritional value. Not very good news if you’re trying to lose weight! Many people don’t consider that they can also be full of sugar. A pint of cider can contain as many as five teaspoons of sugar, meaning alcohol can negatively alter blood sugar levels, putting heavy drinkers at increased risk of developing alcohol-related diabetes.

Alcohol irritates the digestive system…

Drinking alcohol even a little, irritates the digestive system, making your stomach produce more acid than usual, which can in turn cause gastritis (the inflammation of the stomach lining). This triggers stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in heavy drinkers, even bleeding. People with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may find their symptoms get worse if they drink alcohol. Drinking to excess can cause symptoms that mirror IBS (NHS Choices, 2014). Drinking can also make it more difficult to digest food and absorb vital nutrients, particularly proteins and vitamins (Lieber, 2003).  That’s because alcohol reduces the amount of digestive enzymes which the pancreas produces to help us to break down the fats and carbohydrates we eat. Alcohol can also contribute to developing a peptic ulcer – a painful, open sore in your stomach lining. In the longer term alcohol will increase the risk of cancer of the mouth, tongue, lip, throat, stomach, pancreas and colon.

Alcohol increases the chance of heart attacks and strokes…

Drinking alcohol has been associated with the development of high blood pressure (hypertension) meaning there is an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Alcohol increases the risk of a number of diseases…

Drinking alcohol has been associated with an increased risk on developing the following diseases: Pancreatitis, Bowel Cancer, Liver Disease, Breast Cancer, Oral Cancer and Diabetes. Liver disease is probably one of the most well known. Let’s take a closer look. The liver is our largest internal organ and it has 500 different roles, including the breakdown of food into energy and helping the body get rid of waste products and fight infections – particularly in the bowel. And yet, when your liver is damaged, you generally won’t know about it – until things get serious. Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of developing liver disease and cause irreparable damage to this very important part of your body. In fact, alcohol is a major cause of the 25% increase in deaths from liver disease in England over the last decade (from 9,231 in 2001 to 11,575 in 2009). Overall, alcohol-related liver disease accounts for well over a third (37%) of liver disease deaths. And figures show victims of liver disease are getting younger – more than one in 10 of deaths of people in their 40s are from liver disease, most of them from alcochol-related liver disease.

Alcohol could give you a permanent hangover…

If you wake up most mornings feeling stressed and like you could deal with that extra hours sleep then you could be suffering from a permanent hangover. If you drink day to day this could be what you are feeling!

Alcohol affects your mental health

While alcohol can have a very temporary positive impact on our mood, in the long term it can cause big problems for our mental health. It’s linked to a range of issues from depression and memory loss to suicide. Our brains rely on a delicate balance of chemicals and processes. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it can disrupt that balance, affecting our thoughts, feelings and actions – and sometimes our long-term mental health. This is partly down to ‘neurotransmitters’, chemicals that help to transmit signals from one nerve (or neuron) in the brain to another.

The relaxed feeling you can get when you have that first drink is due to the chemical changes alcohol has caused in your brain. For many of us, a drink can help us feel more confident and less anxious. That’s because it’s starting to depress the part of the brain we associate with inhibition.

But, as you drink more, more of the brain starts to be affected. It doesn’t matter what mood you’re in to start with, when high levels of alcohol are involved, instead of pleasurable effects increasing, it’s possible that a negative emotional response will take over. Over the long-term this could actually increase feelings of anxiety, depression or stress.

 

The Fix:

A fix is only required if you want one. There are any number of reasons above that may make a person want a fix, but what does it constitute for you? Giving up alcohol altogether or enjoying it safely? The current government recommendation is for 14 units of alcohol per person per week. What does this amount to? Well… 6 175ml glasses of wine, 6 pints of lager or ale, 5 pints of cider or 14 25ml shots of a 40% spirit. Doesn’t seem like a lot at all, but these are the guidelines.

 

Those reading this will fall into one of five categories:

Category 1 – Those who don’t drink at all for whatever reason

Category 2 – Those who stay within safe limits all the time and do this consciously

Category 3 – Those who stray just outside the limits of safety but are aware of how much they drink

Category 4 – Those that stray well outside because they don’t keep track of how much they are drinking

Category 5 – Those who drink very heavily every day and are in some way dependent on alcohol

 

Category 1 and 2. Relax. No fix needed.

Category 3 – You stray just outside but you’re aware of this so can cut back at any time should you wish. The government and medical professionals would have you be more careful with your intake but this all depends what you want out of life. You may enjoy the drinking you do and not care to much about the slightly increased health risks.

Category 4 – The health risks dramatically increase if you fall in this category. My first piece of advice. Become more aware of the risks. Become more aware of how drinking this amount is making you feel in the short term, and how it may affect your life in the future.

Try having a dry 2 weeks. Do it as a personal challenge to yourself and as a way of allowing your body liver to detoxify. (Also try combining this with drinking 2L of water a day).

Alternatively, there is something called Declinol – https://www.declinol.com/en-gb/ They have a number of products and services designed to help you cut back or quit your cravings for excessive drinking.

Category 5 – If you fall into this category alcohol is not simply for enjoyment, it is necessity. When someone is dependent or addicted to anything, the best thing to do is seek help. The first requirement is to discover what the underlying cause for your addiction/dependency is. This may involve speaking to a therapist and subsequently joining something like an alcoholic anonymous group and taking part in their 12 steps programme http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/. Oasis health are another charity set up to deal with this and drug dependency http://oasishealth.org.uk/

Whoever you are and whichever category you fall into it may be worth taking a look at Hello Sunday Morning https://www.hellosundaymorning.org/ – They are currently developing an app called DayBreak which they say will help change your relationship with alcohol. I’ve had a little go on the app and it looks good. You can download it from the website whether you use i-phone or android phones.

So the choice is yours. To drink or not to drink. For any advice on any of the above and how alcohol can impact your health, feel free to get in touch with any of our Manchester personal trainers

Lieber, C. S. (2003). Relationships between nutrition, alcohol use, and liver disease. Alcohol Research and Health, 27, 220-231. Accessed 24 February 2016. Available at:
http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-3/220-231.htm

NHS Choices website. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – Causes. The Information Standard member organisation. Last reviewed: 25/09/2014. Available at:
http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Irritable-bowel-syndrome/Pages/Causes.aspx

The Royal College of Psychiatrists website. Alcohol and Depression. Available at: http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/alcoholdepression.aspx

 

British Liver Trust website. About The Liver. The Information Standard member organisation. Last reviewed: not known. Accessed: 30/11/15. Available at:
http://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk/liver-information/ 

National End of Life Care Intelligence Network website. Deaths from Liver Disease: Implications for end of life care in England. Available at:
http://www.endoflifecare-intelligence.org.uk/resources/publications/deaths_from_liver_disease.aspx 

 

About the Author