I wish I had learned the following information years ago. While I do believe it is common knowledge that alcohol is not particularly good for us, I don’t believe very many of us know just how bad it is. I myself was shocked to learn that it is a known carcinogen, and was further surprised to discover that regular alcohol consumption actually inhibits the body’s natural ability to produce crucial vitamins.
Considering alcohol is a depressant, this information makes clear how negatively it can impact both mental and physical health, often leading to a vicious cycle of self medication. Let’s take a look at some of the long term negative effects of alcohol on the body.
Many studies clearly correlate alcohol consumption and cancer development, linking moderate to regular alcohol consumption to the following types of cancer: head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and more.
“Based on extensive reviews of research studies, there is a strong scientific consensus of an association between alcohol drinking and several types of cancer.”
– National Cancer Institute
Decreased Vitamin B12 Production
Studies have shown that drinking alcohol in excess compromises your vitamin B12 levels; if you are already or become deficient in this crucial vitamin and then indulge in alcohol, your health may suffer greatly. Recent studies have also concluded that even regular, moderate use of alcohol can impact your B12 levels.
Decreased Vitamin D and Calcium Absorption
Alcohol interferes with the pancreas and its ability to absorb calcium and vitamin D. Alcohol also affects the liver, which is important for activating vitamin D, which in turn is necessary for proper calcium absorption. This cascade of effects can lead to difficulties with bone regeneration.
Liver Damage (Cirrhosis)
Liver cirrhosis occurs when the liver becomes scarred, and while a number of things can cause liver scarring, a common culprit is alcohol abuse. Cirrhosis of the liver can be very serious, even fatal, and often the only way to reverse it is through surgery.
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As appealing and even empowering the feelings of lowered inhibitions and increased confidence can be, alcohol is a depressant that lowers serotonin levels in the brain. Many people turn to alcohol to alleviate depression, but many actually develop it because of alcohol, hence why this can become a vicious cycle for some people.
Consuming alcohol slows down processes in the brain, often resulting in memory loss. Excessive drinking, moreover, can result in complete “black-outs,” causing you to forget where you were, what you did, and even who you did it with. Over time, this can make it difficult to remember events that happen even while sober.
What Happens to the Body Right Away and Especially the Next Day?
Alcohol irritates the stomach and intestines, resulting in an inflamed stomach lining and delayed stomach emptying.
It also makes you dehydrated. Consuming 50g of alcohol in 250 millilitres (mL) of water (approximately four drinks) causes the elimination of 600 to 1,000 mL (or up to 1 quart) of water over several hours.
Alcohol inhibits glutamate production, a stimulant whose job it is to keep us awake. However, when our alcohol blood-levels reach zero (i.e., hangover time), our body reacts by overproducing this stimulant, which results in sleep disruption.
According to this research, a possible explanation for alcohol-induced hangovers is that alcohol affects “several neurotransmitters and hormones that are implicated in the pathogenesis of headaches, including histamine, serotonin, and prostaglandins.”
How Much Is Too Much?
According to the Canadian Centre For Addiction and Mental Health, women should drink no more than 10 drinks per week and no more than two drinks in a day. Men should drink no more than 15 drinks a week and no more than three drinks in a day. And you are not supposed to drink daily. I don’t know about you, but when I go out with the intention of drinking, it’s rare that I would consume only two drinks. For instance, in the U.S., one out of every six adults binge drinks four times a month with an average of eight drinks per binge.
Some Personal Thoughts on the Matter
Learning how detrimental alcohol truly is for our health really made the “truthseeker” in me wonder why it is promoted so heavily in mainstream media. It’s not often you see a TV show or a movie where the characters aren’t regularly consuming copious amounts of alcohol, and both these characters and those in alcohol advertisements are portrayed, to varying degrees, as sexy, cool, spontaneous, and fun. In fact, an estimated $8 billion in advertising was spent on alcohol promotion between 2002-2009. While knowledge of alcohol’s dangers is nowhere near as common as that of, say, smoking, that still leaves the question, why is it kept in the dark? A lot of information is coming forward these days about how sugar is the tobacco of the 21st century and so on, but it seems the truth about alcohol’s dangers are largely being ignored.
Even many popular alternative health blogs don’t seem to pay too much attention to the idea. Is this because so many people enjoy alcohol and the way it makes them feel and would rather turn a blind eye? Or is there a vested interest in keeping this information quiet? Not to be a total Negative Nancy, but this all reminds me of George Orwell’s 1984 and how the deprived characters of the story were just given alcohol as a way to keep them happy and help them escape their otherwise miserable existences.
Please don’t get me wrong — I enjoy alcohol as much as the next person, or maybe even more, as it can be a great way to let loose, have fun, or even just relax, but this information has really got me thinking lately. Especially after abstaining from alcohol for the month of February, realizing how much better I felt on a day-to-day basis and seeing how much more I was able to accomplish, I think this is something we could all benefit from examining more closely.
What Do You Think?
If you are someone who enjoys the occasional glass of wine or a couple of beers every now and then, you can pretty much disregard this article. It is likely that if you are living an otherwise healthy lifestyle, these negative effects won’t have much of an impact on you. But if you are someone who drinks regularly, or who uses alcohol as an escape, this information is really worth taking into consideration. Why not take a break from alcohol and see if your mood improves? If you find you are using alcohol as a means to deal with stress, consider an alternative, like going for a run or walk, spending a few minutes in a sauna, or even meditating. Try doing something positive to deal with the stress rather than escaping it with alcohol.
Some Benefits of Cutting Back or Quitting Alcohol
- Improved mood
- More savings
- Fewer or no hangovers
- More time to get things done
- Not regretting doing something stupid or embarrassing while intoxicated
- Better memory
- Healthier lifestyle
If you are looking for resources to assist you with cutting back, controlling, or even quitting your intake of alcohol, there are a number available to you. Please see the links posted below.
Have you given up alcohol, or made a conscious effort to cut back? What has your experience been? Please share in the comments section below!
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