Here’s some quirky facts about alcohol which you might not all be aware of (and in honor of my business partner's wedding dance party tonight):
1. Even if you don’t get a hangover from alcohol, alcohol increases the effects of the sympathetic nervous system which means your fight or flight system is more activated. For those who are super-busy or have high stress, alcohol doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for you. If you’re on vacation and chilling, go for it. (1)
2. The rest and relaxation part of your nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system becomes deactivated with alcohol. Is this why binge drinkers tend to experience more anxiety, impulsiveness, and “sensation seeking”? (2)
3. Hangovers happen with alcohol due to many factors including the type of alcohol you ingest, hydration status, sleep status, genetic factors, blood sugar levels, and inflammation pathways. However, by eating healthy, drinking lots of water, and not drinking too much, you probably won’t get much of a hangover unless you really overdo it. (3,4,5,6,7,8)
4. Intoxication is accurate word for any alcohol use. Alcohol is by the way a toxin.
5. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. However, it’s thermic effect of feeding (or how much energy is required to digest alcohol) is ridiculously high. It’s even higher than protein which basically means your body needs to use a significant amount of energy to digest alcohol. However, it doesn’t mean you can drink a 12 pack and not gain weight because…
6. Beer guts are real. (9)
7. The amount of research on weight loss and alcohol is remarkably thin. However, alcohol appears to not affect hunger significantly. But, alcohol also doesn’t really give much feelings of being full. This makes it easy to drink more calories and can make it harder to lose weight. If you are trying to lose weight, I recommend seriously no more than one to two drinks per week.
8. Moderate alcohol intake improves heart health. However, the cancer risk of organs above the waistline goes up if you consume any amount of alcohol on a regular basis. Take your family history into consideration. (10)
9. Alcohol disrupts sleep, but can still help us get to sleep faster. If you drink alcohol to get to sleep, you need to try other alternatives. (6)
I hate to break it to you, but most American adults should not be regularly drinking alcohol because we’re simply too busy and get don’t get consistent adequate sleep. Remember, alcohol increases your sympathetic nervous system which is contraindicated for many of us (including me).
However, if you’re retired, get great sleep, don’t have a major history of cancer in your family, and aren’t super busy, drink away… in moderation. If you go on vacation, and can truly relax, I think drinking is fine. Since cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death in America, moderate drinking will help protect your heart.
Most American adults should in my opinion simply smoke a lot more weed. I’m totally kidding. Most people need to stop looking for an external fix like alcohol or weed, and really focus on the basics like sleep, eating healthier, self-care practices, and connecting with friends, family, and community. It’s not sexy, it’s challenging at times, but it gives by far the most bang for the buck in terms of health. In other words, get your priorities straight.
1. Grassi GM, Somers VK, Renk WS, Abboud FM, Mark AL. Effects of alcohol intake on blood pressure and sympathetic nerve activity in normotensive humans: a preliminary report. J Hypertens Suppl. 1989 Dec;7(6):S20-1. PubMed PMID: 2632716.
2. Adan A, Forero DA, Navarro JF. Personality Traits Related to Binge Drinking: A Systematic Review. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2017;8:134. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00134.
3. Kruisselbrink LD, Martin KL, Megeney M, Fowles JR, Murphy RJ. Physical and psychomotor functioning of females the morning after consuming low to moderate quantities of beer. J Stud Alcohol. 2006 May;67(3):416-20. PubMed PMID: 16608151.
4. Bendtsen P, Jones AW, Helander A. Urinary excretion of methanol and 5-hydroxytryptophol as biochemical markers of recent drinking in the hangover state. Alcohol Alcohol. 1998 Jul-Aug;33(4):431-8. PubMed PMID: 9719404.
5. RUBINI ME, KLEEMAN CR, LAMDIN E. Studies on alcohol diuresis. I. The effect of ethyl alcohol ingestion on water, electrolyte and acid-base metabolism. J Clin Invest. 1955 Mar;34(3):439-47. PubMed PMID: 14354014; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC438648.
6. Verster JC. The alcohol hangover--a puzzling phenomenon. Alcohol Alcohol. 2008 Mar-Apr;43(2):124-6. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agm163. Epub 2008 Jan 8. Review. PubMed PMID: 18182417.
7. Swift R, Davidson D. Alcohol hangover: mechanisms and mediators. Alcohol Health Res World. 1998;22(1):54-60. Review. PubMed PMID: 15706734.
8. Kaivola S, Parantainen J, Osterman T, Timonen H. Hangover headache and prostaglandins: prophylactic treatment with tolfenamic acid. Cephalalgia. 1983 Mar;3(1):31-6. PubMed PMID: 6342813.
9. Michael Jensen, MD, professor of medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.Mayo Clinic web site.
Bobak, M., European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003; vol 57: pp 1250-1253. 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.