What alcohol does to you – by Harold Gunatillake

What alcohol does to you.

It is the season we all indulge and drag into excess drinking. This video is for us to be cautious.
Yes, it is for us to think twice before getting intoxicated during this holiday season. Alcohol is also called ethyl alcohol or ethanol. It is made from grains, fruits or veggies through a process called fermentation- when yeast or bacteria react with the sugars in such food and the by-product is ethanol and carbon dioxide.

Sri Lankans in the villages drink a fermented product from potatoes and other fruits called “Kasippu” very toxic to the liver. One gram of alcohol has 7 calories, which is more than one gram of carbs having 4 calories, proteins -4 calories and fat has 9 calories.

A 12 ounces regular beer has 14 grams of pure alcohol. What this means is that one beer drink puts on 14 into 7 calories- amounting to 98 Cals.

This is how you could account for the beer bellies, seen in the way-side pubs.This is all empty calories from beer drinking which is stored in the belly as visceral fat.

A standard drink of alcohol is defined as 12 oz. of regular beer, 5 oz. of wine and 1.5 oz of spirits. What this means is that a standard serving sizes of all alcoholic beverages- beer, wine, and liquor- are equal in alcohol, strength and effect on the body.  So habitual drinking does put on weight which will affect your health and wellbeing. Alcohol enters the blood stream from the mouth and rest of the gut without burning extra calories. So, alcohol provides empty calories which is stored without the body using extra calories to break down.

On the other hand, the food you eat has a ’thermic effect’ meaning that energy is used to digest our food in the gut, and no energy is used for any breakdown of alcohol you drink. Did you know that drinking cool water uses about 5 calories to make it warm in your stomach?

So, if you are thinking of maintaining a healthy weight, it is advisable to drink cool water more than warm water.
How the liver treats alcohol?
When digested food and alcohol enters the liver through the portal veins, the latter being a toxic molecule, the liver seem to prioritize metabolizing alcohol first, before metabolizing the food you eat. Liver can only metabolize and clear alcohol at the rate of an ounce liquor per hour. In a standard drink of alcoholic beverage contains 14 grams of pure alcohol, equivalent to 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol, which is about ½ tablespoon.

What this implies is that if you drink more than two drinks of alcoholic drinks you will feel tipsy within the first hour.
Your brain feels the alcohol within thirty seconds after the first sip. This will slow down the chemicals and pathways your brain cells use to send messages.

This will alter your mood, slow down your reflexes and may feel unsteady. It will affect your driving and your reflex actions may not be prompt in an emergency.

Alcohol drops your blood sugar

Insulin in your blood stream couriers the sugar to its destinations like the liver, muscles and fat cells for storage and produce energy for metabolic activities. Liver stores the sugar as glycogen. It also controls the blood sugar level. Alcohol consumption causes an increase in insulin secretion, which can lead to lowering of blood sugar.

It is also observed that moderate amount of alcohol may cause blood sugar to rise,as beer and sweet wine contains carbs, though excess alcohol can decrease your blood sugar level.

Uncontrolled diabetics should be very careful in drinking alcoholic beverages, as they may cause your blood sugar to either rise or fall, in addition to adding calories to affect your body weight.

What this means is that people with diabetes can have an occasional drink if your blood sugar is well controlled with medication.

You need to check with your doctor to see if drinking alcohol is safe for you. Drinking alcohol stimulates your appetite, which can cause you to overeat and may affect your sugar control.

Alcohol can affect and interfere with the positive effects of oral diabetes medicines or insulin.

Alcohol tends to increase your blood pressure.

Do not drink more than two drinks of alcohol in a one-day period if you are a man, or one drink if you are a woman. (Example: one alcoholic drink = 5-ounce glass of wine, 1 1/2-ounce “shot” of liquor or 12-ounce beer).

Drink alcohol only with food.
Drink slowly.
Avoid “sugary” mixed drinks, sweet wines, or cordials.
Mix liquor with water, club soda, or diet soft drinks.

Alcohol affects your brain cells

If you drink heavily regularly your brain cells gets smaller and shrink the brain. Shrunken brain may influence your thinking, memory, learning, and affect your control of body temperature.

Should you drink alcohol to sleep?

After a hard day’s work, you may feel okay to have a small drink to wind down.Alcohol’s slow-down effect on your brain can make you drowsy, so you may doze off more easily. It will unwind you, but you won’t sleep well.

Your body processes alcohol throughout the night and when the effect goes off, you may toss and turn in your bed and keeps you awake. Your mouth would be dry by morning after even a small drink. Keep a bottle of water with you and sip it every time you wake, and you may feel fresh in the morning.

Alcohol on the stomach

If you suffer from indigestion, be cautious of drinking alcohol. Alcohol irritates your stomach lining, and you may feel nauseated and you may throw up.

Drinking alcohol for a long time can cause stomach ulcers. If you suffer from heart burn, drinking alcohol relaxes the muscles that prevent acid juice refluxing into the gullet, and you may suffer from worse heart burn. You may not absorb all the nutrients you need for your wellbeing and health, drinking regularly for a long time.
You may become malnourished.

Your small gut and colon also get irritated. Your food may not be digested properly and may lead to lose motions.

Alcohol leads to liver damage

A drink of alcohol may take the liver 6 hours to get rid of it from your blood.Your second drink meanwhile remains in your blood waiting to enter the liver.Your third drink may be in queue after the second and may take over 12 hours to enter your liver from your blood to break down.

Now you can understand why RBT is on action, the morning after, to catch that third drink, and inevitably you will be over the limit. Heavy drinking causes a fatty liver and become hard or fibrous. That limits blood flow, so liver cells don’t get enough oxygen required for the liver cells to survive. Liver cells can get scarred and lead to a disease called cirrhosis.

Are you a poor methylator?

Alcohol you consume needs to be detoxified in the liver through a biological process called, ’methylation’ A gene called MTHFR plays a key role in methylation.

If this gene is deficient in your body detoxification of alcohol is slow and you may
have a severe hang over the next morning
To combat that holiday hangover, MTHFR activity can be enhances by taking-
• Eating veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels
• Taking Vitamin D, E and B
• Supplementing melatonin
Stay well hydrated after drinks. Alternate between having alcohol and water
Pick low calorie alcohol alternatives:
Red or white wine: 5 ounces | Calories; 125, Carbohydrate: 4g
Light beer: 12 ounces | Calories: 100; Carbohydrate: 5g
Champagne: 5 ounces | Calories: 100; Carbohydrate: 1g
Vodka, whiskey, rum or gin: 1.5 ounces | Calories: 96; Carbohydrate: 0g

Holiday cocktails like eggnog, punch and champagne can also add sugar and calories
to your body, and diabetics should be careful not to over-indulge.
Try not to overindulge in sugary drinks. One trick is to avoid the highly sweetened mixers, where most of the sugar sneaks in. Your best bet is to stick with beer, wine and low-sugar mixers like soda water or a splash of fruit juice.
Alcohol damages your pancreas Pancreas manufactures insulin to maintain your blood sugar level, also other chemicals help intestines breakdown food.
Alcohol causes inflammation of the gland, which can lead to serious damage.
Think of all these detrimental factors when you take the first sip of any alcohol.

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Alcohol what it does when consumed


Few weeks back I wrote an article on the beneficial effect of alcohol to prevent dementia. Let us delve deeper into alcohol nutrition and discuss what happens to that glass of alcohol you enjoy, in your constitution.

It is a fact there is no social event without alcohol flowing. It relaxes the participants and brings mates together for a relaxed enjoyable evening with conversations, at a party or celebration.

When, even taking two small drinks a day has its added health benefits, but the negative consequences that it brings when taken in excess has problems to self and family.

Alcohol is not an essential food like the carbs, protein fat, vitamin, minerals and water you consume daily. Alcoholic drink primarily consists of water, alcohol and sugar. The calories come from alcohol and sugar are referred to as, ’empty calories’ because of the lack of any nutrients.

Though in most countries people drink alcoholic beverages, the percentage of addiction seems to be small, as most drink only on occasions. People below the poverty line seems to drink more than the affluent.

Alcohol is made through a process of fermentation when sugar breaks down into ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide. At the next stage carbon dioxide gas bubbles escapes into the air, leaving alcohol and water. Then, through a distillation process water is separated from the alcohol.

When we talk of just one drink, we mean a 12-ounce glass of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, and a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor and all contain a half ounce of pure alcohol.

Metabolism of alcohol

Alcohol unlike carbs, protein and fat is not stored in the body. Hence the liver metabolises alcohol as a priority in preference to any food you consume.

20 per cent of the alcohol you consume is absorbed directly from your stomach into the blood stream and goes directly into your brain. The rest of the alcohol enters the small gut and is absorbed with the other food. Alcohol is then metabolised in the liver and is excreted through your sweat, saliva, urine and your breath.

Metabolism of alcohol solely occurs in the liver and those who indulge in excess cause liver problems. Alcoholic fatty liver is quite a good example, and with further daily indulgence makes the liver harder (cirrhosis) and lead to failure of functions.

Alcohol is made less toxic through a process of detoxification in the liver, is removed through a process called oxidation.

Excess alcohol damages your liver

One of the severe side effects of alcoholism is liver damage, may lead to death.

Alcohol is converted into acetaldehyde a toxic enzyme that can damage liver cells and cause fibrosis (scarring). It is also a carcinogen. Alcohol dehydrates the body and the liver requires water to function correctly. When the body lacks it, the liver requires to force to pull in water from other sources.

It is very important to hydrate yourself by drinking plenty of water or any sweet drinks after a heavy session of drinking alcohol.

Your liver can become fatty, or cause inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis) and end in cirrhosis with regular excessive drinking.

In a fatty liver there is infiltration or build up of fat in the liver cells when you drink too much of alcohol more than the liver can cope. Fat infiltration causes inflammation of the liver cells and results in alcoholic hepatitis.

Alcoholic hepatitis is caused by excessive drinking alcohol for a long time. Ultimately the liver cells are replaced by scar tissue (fibrosis) and the term cirrhosis is used.

When you are diagnosed with cirrhosis you need to stop alcohol totally and the liver cells may repair and attempt to function normally. If it is in the irreversible phase unfortunately stopping alcohol may not help.

Generally, it is important to eat a healthy diet to lead a healthier liver. Avoid eating processed foods, sugars and saturated fat to ease the burden on the liver.

Most people drink less as they grow older, as the hangovers they experience day after could be a misery. Some people tend to drink more as they get older due to loneliness, losing a loved one, reduced income and so on.

As you get older the ability of the liver to metabolise alcohol declines. Older people drinking the same amount of alcohol as younger people, the blood concentration of alcohol seems to remain longer among the old, as the elimination is slower.

Age related changes and alcohol

Age related changes like your eyesight, hearing and reflexes may get accelerated with chronic excessive alcohol consumption. These changes will make you feel dizzy, unsteady on your feet and alcohol related falls, automobile accidents and so on.

Your medication that you take for your age-related illnesses including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, among others may have deleterious effects on your body. Please do not mix medication with alcohol. It is advisable not to drink alcoholic beverages when you are on any medication.


Those who drink excessively do not seem to eat nutritious food, because alcohol replaces foods. You may get ill-nourished or malnourished when the essential nutrients do not get into your body. It brings vitamin deficiencies like B1, folate, B12, A, and minerals like calcium.

Amino acid absorption

Proteins you eat in your food is broken down into amino acids and absorbed in the small gut. Alcohol can disturb the normal digestion of food and amino acids may not be absorbed from the proteins in your food.

In situation of a chronic failing liver this can lead to complications, like decreased albumin in your blood causing ascites (fluid in your abdominal cavity, swelling of legs called oedema.

Portal hypertension

Cirrhosis of the liver also causes obstruction to the flow of blood from the gut through the portal veins. The veins get distended and we call the condition as portal hypertension.

Veins in relation to the lower oesophagus and the stomach can get distended and varicosed. These delicate veins can rupture and cause vomiting of blood (haematemesis)

This is an irreversible stage of cirrhosis that causes the veins feeding the liver to distend and rupture.

Fluid collects in your abdominal cavity (ascites), and varicosed veins are seen on the abdominal wall. Legs start swelling and your life is in danger.

How much alcohol can you drink to avoid complications.

For healthy men up to age 60- no more than four drinks in a day and no more than 14 drinks a week.

For healthy women and healthy men over 60-no more than three drinks ina day or seven drinks in a week.

Asians being smaller made should restrict to two drinks a day.

New research, which was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual conference, has found that moderate drinking is linked to a longer life. Drinking about two glasses of wine or beer a day was linked to an 18% drop in a person’s risk of early death—an even stronger effect than the life-preserving practice of exercise, according to the researchers.

A 2015 study of people with mild Alzheimer’s, found that moderate drinkers were less likely to die during the study’s follow-up period than teetotalers. A large 2017 study also found that light and moderate drinkers were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those who never sipped. Red wine, in particular, is often singled out for its anti-aging benefits, usually because of a compound called resveratrol — though that explanation may be a little oversimplified, and more research is needed.

A large 2017 study looking at alcohol and heart health, however, was designed to eliminate the possibility of abstainer bias. It still found that moderate drinking may protect against heart attacks, strokes, chest pain and fatal heart disease. (ref: TIME HEALTH-by Jamie Ducharme).

New findings: No healthy level of alcohol consumption, says major study
Governments should consider advising people to abstain entirely, say authors. Article appears in The Guardian-written by Sarah Bosely.

The article states, “Even the occasional drink is harmful to health, according to the largest and most detailed research carried out on the effects of alcohol, which suggests governments should think of advising people to abstain completely.

The uncompromising message comes from the authors of the Global Burden of Diseases study, a rolling project based at the University of Washington, in Seattle, which produces the most comprehensive data on the causes of illness and death in the world.”

Conclusions: If you understand the word ‘moderation’ you are qualified to have a drink or two, daily. Abstaining would be better. Then, studies show that people who drink moderately live longer. Take your pick.
Ref: Alcohol and Nutrition by Betty Kovacs Harbolic

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