What Alcohol Really Does to Your Body

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By Cayla Clement

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 3 of VARSITY News.

 

As students, a vast majority of us do drink- and often to excess. We’ve all had those drunken nights that we regret the next morning when we have to avoid the sunlight, chug water, and spend the day bedridden. We all know alcohol has its ups and downs, but what exactly does it do to our health- positively and negatively? Let’s face it, we aren’t going to quit drinking, so this article explores the health effects as well as how we can enjoy our buzz and still be able to function the next day.

 

 

The negative short-term effects that one might experience from excessive binge-drinking can include impaired motor and mental functioning, memory loss, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. These usually subside by the morning when the alcohol leaves your bloodstream, leaving you feeling hungover. However, there are long-term health effects of alcohol abuse that could be permanent. Some of these effects are:

 

  • Heightened symptoms of mental illnesse– Alcohol is a depressant and it often counteracts any anti-depressants taken when drinking, leaving you feeling even more depressed or anxious in the long run.

  • Problems with the liver – Alcohol is processed by the liver: it can overwork it and lead to liver failure, jaundice, or liver cancer.

  • Cancer – those associated with the liver, mouth, throat, colon and oesophagus are more likely to occur in frequent binge-drinkers than non-drinkers.

  • Increased risk of heart attack, high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat.

  • Reproductive health issues – Pregnant women who drink can harm their unborn babies, leading to birth defects, foetal alcohol syndrome, or even a miscarriage.

  • Weight gain – Beer bellies are a thing, as alcohol contains lots of empty calories and increases hunger.

  • Dehydration – Alcohol is a diuretic which means it makes you urinate more often, leading to dehydration. Dehydration is one of the main causes of those killer hangovers the next morning, especially the migraines, sensitivity to light, dizziness and nausea.

 

After reading all of these risks, you may ask yourself, “Is there a healthy way to drink alcohol?”. The answer is yes. When consumed in moderation (3 alcoholic units maximum per day for women and 4 for men), alcohol can be safer and even beneficial. Some of the health benefits that come with drinking alcohol in moderation include:

  • Lowered risk of cardiovascular disease – The School of Public Health at Harvard University found that “moderate amounts of alcohol raises levels of high-density lipoprotein, HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol” which protect against cardiovascular disease, as well as finding a link between moderate alcohol drinking and insulin sensitivity changing for the better, preventing blood clots that block arteries in the heart, neck and brain that are commonly associated with stroke.

  • Improved libido – drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can increase your libido.

  • Lowers the chance of diabetes – A Dutch study showed that adults who did not drink any alcohol were more prone to developing Type 2 diabetes compared to those who drank in moderation (especially red wine)

  • Increased antioxidants are found in red wine, which when consumed in moderation, can lead to overall better health.

 

The key to enjoying the benefits that alcohol has to offer is to choose the right alcohol and drinking it in small amounts. When out for the night, try to drink one glass of water for every glass of alcohol. Stick to low-calorie clear coloured alcohol, like gin or vodka, and incorporate wine into your diet rather than beers, ciders or sugary-mixed drinks. Lastly, try to space out your alcohol intake throughout the week rather than bingeing on the weekends.

 

The two studies are found here:

Cardiovascular: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/drinks-to-consume-in-moderation/alcohol-full-story/#possible_health_benefits

Diabetes: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/28/3/719.full

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