Alcohol. It’s kinda essential viewing at Christmas. It’s difficult to avoid. When else is it perfectly acceptable to drink with breakfast (ok brunches not included!)?
We don’t necessarily suggest avoiding alcohol completely but, we do recommend moderation. And just in case you didn’t know, here are the effects of booze on your body. Indulge if you wish, but just be aware what is happening on the inside!
It scrambles messages, leading to memory storing problems, controlling movements and thinking clearly. While not actually killing your brain cells, it does alter levels of neurotransmitters; the chemical messengers that control your mood, perception and behaviour.
It doesn’t do much for your looks. Your heart pumps more fluid into the surrounding tissues in your skin, to balance out those alcohol-widened arteries and veins, leaving you with a bloated puffy face. Your blood vessels dilate and may break, turning your skin and eyes red.
Alcohol messes with your hormonal and inflammatory responses to exercises, making it more difficult for your body to repair damaged proteins and build new ones (essential if you want to gain muscle). This situation will be made worse if you drink before a recovery snack or shake. So take time to eat and hydrate after working out, before having a drink.
Moderate drinking might protect your ticker due to the blood vessel-relaxing polyphenols that alcohol contains or by raising your levels of HDL, (“good” cholesterol), but recent studies suggest that these effects may only benefit the 15 percent of the population with a certain genetic profile affecting HDL levels. Those two drinks per day can raise your risk of arterial fibrillation by 17 percent. This type of irregular heartbeat approximately quadruples your risk of having a stroke and triples your risk of heart failure.
Just one night of bingeing (that’s five drinks or more for guys/ two drinks for girls in 2 hours) increases gut permeability, where harmful toxins and bacteria leak from your digestive system into your bloodstream, prompting a dangerous immune-system response that can eventually lead to liver disease and other health problems. At lower doses, alcohol irritates your stomach, increases acidity and relaxes the muscle at the end of your esophagus, causing heartburn. It may also make you fat. Because your body treats alcohol as a toxin, removing it becomes top priority, causing your body to stop burning its usual stored carbs and fat for energy and utilising the alcohol instead.
Alcohol sabotages sleep quality and good sleep is critical to weight loss. Although booze may help you drift off, it affects the first half of your sleep cycle, when you sleep the deepest. It also suppresses dreaming, being a sedative. Then when it’s metabolised, your brain wakes up causing fragmented sleep and nightmares. Research shows that heavy drinkers sleep 43 minutes a night less than non-drinkers and the sleep they log is of inferior quality. During deep sleep your body carries out a series of restorative and metabolic functions. Without it, your energy system can misfire; you feel hungry when you don’t need food, and you make poor diet choices. In a French study, people consumed 560 more calories during the day, following just one poor night of sleep than they did after sleeping eight hours.
When you've had a few drinks, fatty foods seem even more attractive. Alcohol triggers a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which makes you feel good. And MRI scans of social drinkers show decreased activity in brain circuits involved in detecting threats, along with increased activity in circuits involved in reward.
At the same time, your body also releases ghrelin, an appetite-stimulating hormone, and galanin, a neuropeptide that may lead you to eat more fat. The result is called hyperphagia—an abnormally increased appetite. You go for the guilty-pleasure food, and the alcohol washes away the guilt. A 2013 study found that men ate 433 more calories (264 from alcohol, 169 from food and other beverages) and 9 percent more fat on days they drank than on days they abstained.
Having food in your stomach can help slow the absorption of alcohol by as much as 57%. That means your lard furnace may remain more active. Drink only after you've started eating a meal. When dinner's done, you're done.
That can also help you avoid the weight-loss witching hour. When you're tired and drunk, you risk an appetite meltdown with no "off" switch. So try the old trick of chasing each drink with a glass of water. The water adds volume so your stomach feels full, and it helps slow the absorption of alcohol so you're less likely to end up drunk and eating garbage. Also, decide what and where you'll eat afterward before you start drinking. Having popcorn or hummus with vegetables handy when you arrive home means you're less likely to raid the kitchen for cookies or chips.
On the Wagon
If you do want to feel sociable at parties, try drinking a highball glass full of ice, soda or sparkling mineral water with lime. Make up a story, if you need to, about why you’re not drinking; a medical reason is always a good one that people generally can’t argue with. Or drive. Or set a date with your personal trainer for early the next morning!