Somebody recently sent me this question: “Is alcohol really that bad for my health?”
I’m going to answer it from a nutritional standpoint – specifically, how alcohol affects nutrient absorption.
Consuming alcohol in very modest amounts is generally not a huge nutritional concern. By modest, I mean maybe one drink per week. For instance, a glass of organic wine with a Saturday dinner probably shouldn’t affect your health in any significant way.
But when you start to consume alcohol multiple times a week, or in quantities larger than one drink in a sitting, that’s probably the point at which you open the door to health consequences.
Even Small Amounts of Alcohol Will…
- interfere with your central nervous system
- cause inflammation
- damage your gut (digestive system)
- affect your sleep, which in turn can impact memory and healing.
- inhibit how your body absorbs vital nutrients.
Excessive Alcohol Has Devastating Health Consequences
It’s pretty much common knowledge that excessive alcohol consumption will damage your liver. Unfortunately, alcohol-related liver disease is on the rise among Millennials (that’s people born between 1981 and 1996). And they’re not even in their 40s yet!
Meanwhile, since 1999, deaths from liver cirrhosis have gone up 10% per year. Cirrhosis is a condition where liver disease has caused so much scar tissue that the liver stops functioning properly. It takes only 10 years of binge drinking to lead to cirrhosis. And just so you know, binge drinking is considered to be more than four or five drinks in a period of two hours, depending on your gender. So, if you start drinking in college or even in high school, cirrhosis could realistically hit between the ages of 26 and 30.
Of course, drinking heavily impacts your memory and overall brain function. And I’m not referring only to the time just after drinking, maybe when you’re drunk. I mean up to five days after the binge drinking.
Alcohol is not a source of any significant amount of nutrition. Of course, you know it’s not good for you. I mean, nobody drinks alcohol because they think it’s good for them.
Alcohol spikes your blood sugar, which nobody needs, and has this interesting “bonus” effect where it jacks up your insulin levels beyond what’s needed to handle the blood sugar increase. This can even cause hypoglycemia – low blood sugar – and further contributes to insulin resistance, which is the beginning of the road to just about every chronic disease.
Throw on top of that the fact that alcohol is often mixed with sugary drinks or juice. Combine all that sugar with the gluten from alcohol grains and you’ve got yourself a beverage that’s simply destructive to your health.
Alcohol Inhibits Nutrient Absorption
Chronic heavy drinking blocks B vitamins from being absorbed, and you really need these for several important reasons. Even worse, it encourages the excretion of certain nutrients, specifically the B vitamins, along with vitamins C, A, and D.
Alcohol affects the organs involved in blood production – your hematologic system – which includes your blood, spleen, liver, and the marrow in your bones. You need vitamin B1 to make hemoglobin that carries oxygen around your body. You also need it to metabolize proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. A lack of B1 is the major factor in causing alcohol-related brain disease.
Alcohol consumption compromises vitamin B12, which is needed for producing red blood cells and for your central nervous system to function properly. Without adequate amounts of B12, you open the door to neurological disorders, including depression, memory loss, even neuropathy where you experience pain and tingling in your arms and legs.
Alcohol lowers your levels of vitamin B9 (folic acid). B9 is involved with any kind of growth or repair in your body, so it is crucial for creating new cells. In fact, B9 is needed for every function that requires cell division. A deficiency in b9 can cause a type of anemia that lowers your oxygen carrying capacity and lowers your endurance. B9 also keeps your blood vessels healthy and helps protects you against heart disease.
Drinking alcohol also depresses your levels of vitamin C. A sustained deficiency of vitamin C can cause depression and fatigue. And because vitamin C is essential for helping you absorb other nutrients like calcium and iron, inadequate levels of C will deplete you of other minerals.
Because alcohol inhibits fat absorption, drinking alcohol regularly will tend to create deficiencies in the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E. That can cause problems with vision, bones, your brain, and nerves.
In true moderation, alcohol doesn’t seem to have a dramatic long-term effect on health. But binge drinking or frequent drinking opens the door to nutritional deficiencies, blood sugar problems, and neurological disorders.
So, I will be the stick-in-the-mud and say it… Whether it’s Saturday night or not, your body is better off without alcohol.