10 Things You Might Not Know Alcohol Is Doing to Your Body
Most of us enjoy the occasional drink without thinking too much about it. After all, a little bit here and there doesn’t cause any real harm. Consuming large amounts on a regular basis, however, is a cause for concern. What might start as a way to cope with stress could lead to dependency.
Alcohol is a drug restricted by law and people must be at least 18 to buy it. The national guidelines advise that we consume no more than 14 units a week in order to keep our risk of alcohol-related disease low.
Most of us have gone a little too far and had a little too much alcohol at some point with the night usually ending at the bottom of the toilet bowl and a promise to ourselves never to do it again.
However for some, alcohol forms part of their weekly diet, accompanying every meal and social event. Thinking about the ways in which alcohol affects our bodies, we usually think of a bad headache and nausea, however alcohol can cause much more damage. We run through a list of ten things you might not know about alcohol.
Alcohol shrinks your brain
Researchers found that moderate alcohol consumption actually shrinks areas of the brain associated with learning and development1. Although the brain tends to shrink with age, alcohol can speed up that process.
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Drinking large amounts over a long period of time can eventually lead to brain damage and increase your chances of developing dementia. A firm reminder that alcohol consumption today can have devastating irreversible effects in the years to come.
Alcohol might lift our mood for a moment, but it can never be a long-term solution to improving mental health. Alcohol is a depressant which means it actually slows down the processes in your body (alcohol reduces your heart rate and breathing as well your brain and reaction times).
Researchers found that there is a link between alcohol and depression in that increased alcohol consumption heightens the risk of having poor mental health2.
Makes you infertile
Studies also suggest that an increase in alcohol consumption decreases your chance of becoming a parent. Researchers found that habitual alcohol consumption actually decreases sperm quality. This decrease was found in men consuming as little as 5 units a week - that equates to a large glass of red wine and a pint of beer every seven days.
Alcohol also causes irregularities in female menstruation and ovulation reducing a woman's chances of falling pregnant4.
Makes you fat
Alcohol is calorific, and if consumed in large amounts, it can contribute to weight gain. Drinking alcohol also lowers inhibitions and can lead to excess eating.
For example, you’re more likely to grab a kebab or pizza on the way home if you’ve had a couple of beers. Alcohol, in itself can be fattening and people who drink heavily are often overweight.
Makes you accident-prone
Drinking can make you more prone to having an accident. Studies suggest that you are at a higher risk of injury if you are a regular drinker5. Alcohol is also responsible for 13% of traffic related deaths. Although different countries have varying limits, even the smallest amount can have an effect on how quick you can react behind the wheel.
Makes you lazy
It’s perfectly acceptable to have a relaxing glass of wine after a long hard week at work. We’re also guilty of enjoying alcohol in abundance, particularly when there’s something to celebrate. What begins as a wild night out often results in a sore head on Sunday morning. The persistent fatigue that comes with a hangover usually makes us vow to never do it again.
Alcohol is a sedative but it also causes disrupted sleep. This pattern of irregular rest creates long-lasting tiredness that prevents us from getting on with our day. If you’re a regular drinker, you may find yourself feeling quite lazy as your body tries to recoup and recover.
You may be aware of the fact that alcohol causes liver cancer but did you know it actually contributes to seven different cancers in total? The most common types aside from Liver cancer are breast, bowel, mouth, throat, larynx and esophageal cancer.
Alcohol is toxic and inevitably causes damage to our cells. You might be mistaken for thinking that only binge drinking contributes to cancer but that’s actually irrelevant. Whether you down seven pints on a Saturday or a single drink each evening, the risk of cancer is still the same.
Can damage your bones
Drinkers are at a greater risk of developing bone disorders such as osteoporosis. This disease is characterised by bones with reduced mass and this weakness puts you at a greater risk of breaking or fracturing your bones.
Research suggests that heavy drinkers are at an increased risk of developing Osteoporosis but the jury is still out as to whether or not moderate drinking has any effect. Either way, alcohol prevents the reabsorption of calcium, which helps keep our bones healthy and strong. Taking that away can only be a bad thing.
Serious digestive problems
Alcohol irritates the lining of your stomach and intestines. As a result, you might find that that heavy drinking session will leave you sat on the toilet for a while. This might be a short term inconvenience but prolonged drinking can also lead to irreversible damage.
Alcohol causes an increase in stomach acid production which contributes to why you might feel nauseous after one too many but if you’re violently sick, you could cause real physical damage to your throat. Repeated inflammation can also lead to inflammatory bowel disorders.
Changes your personality
Not only does regular heavy drinking change your body but it changes who you are as a person. Alcohol consumption is a major contributory factor in many domestic abuse violence cases globally.
With fewer inhibitions, people overstep boundaries, say things they don’t mean and can cause a lot of verbal and physical abuse. Alcohol has profound effects on mental health and can turn you into somebody you or your family no longer recognise.
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1) Topiwala A, Allan C L, Valkanova V, Zsoldos E, Filippini N, Sexton C et al. Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study BMJ 2017; 357 :j2353 doi:10.1136/bmj.j2353
2) Boden, J. M., & Fergusson, D. M. (2011). Alcohol and depression. Addiction, 106(5), 906-914.
3) Jensen TK, Gottschau M, Madsen JOB, et alHabitual alcohol consumption associated with reduced semen
quality and changes in reproductive hormones; a cross-sectional study among 1221 young Danish menBMJ
Open 2014;4:e005462. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005462
4) Van Heertum K, Rossi B. Alcohol and fertility: how much is too much?. Fertil Res Pract. 2017;3:10. Published
2017 Jul 10. doi:10.1186/s40738-017-0037-x
5) Rehm, J., Room, R. and Taylor, B., 2008. Method for moderation: measuring lifetime risk of
alcohol‐attributable mortality as a basis for drinking guidelines. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 17(3), 141-151.