The Effects of Alcohol on Your Health

Like most professional and conscientious personal trainers in London, I take a holistic approach to my clients’ health and fitness. One key aspect of promoting your health is to minimise the consumption of substances that harm the body.

When I first meet a new personal training client, I ask them to complete a health questionnaire. One of the questions concerns alcohol: How much alcohol do you drink each week on average? The answers range from zero to 30 units a week. Those who drink the most, generally have the most health problems.

Alcohol and the Brain

Even moderate consumption of alcohol over a long period (1-2 units per day) leads to neuro-degeneration, the slow destruction of grey matter (neurons, or brain-cells) and white matter (axons and synapses, which transmit electrical impulses between neurons).

Alcohol is toxic to every cell and tissue and organ of the human body, including the brain.

When you drink a lot of alcohol in one evening, neurons in the prefrontal cortex that suppress impulsive behaviour shut down. This can lead to reckless behaviour and impaired voice modulation. The capacity to assess the consequences of your words and actions is severely impaired, which can lead to conflict and violence, damaged relationships, and accidents.

Over time, if you drink regularly, the damage to the brain extends beyond the period when you’re under the influence of alcohol, and impairs your mental capacity when you’re sober too.

When you become drunk, the body tries to expel the poison by vomiting, hence the scenes outside bars and pubs between 11pm and midnight on Friday and Saturday nights throughout London. If the alcohol stays in your system, it does neurological and physiological damage in multiple ways.

Being drunk is a sure sign that damage to the brain is occurring.

Alcohol and Mental Health

Heavy alcohol consumption over time leads to poor mental focus, reduced ability to deal constructively with problems as they arise, chronic anxiety, decreased performance and productivity at work, damaged relationships with friends and loved-ones.

How the Body Processes Alcohol

The form of alcohol that is found in all alcoholic drinks is ethanol, which is broken down in the body into acetaldehyde, a substance which is even more toxic than ethanol. Acetaldehyde is then broken down into acetate to generate energy in the form of ATP. However, heavy drinking causes a build-up of the highly toxic acetaldehyde in the liver, where alcohol is metabolised, which can lead to permanent liver damage.

Alcohol and Fat Loss

Alcohol is highly calorific, and the body makes it a priority to metabolise alcohol in order to neutralise its poisonous effects. So for as long as there is alcohol in your system, the body shuts down the fat-burning process in order to burn off the alcohol first.

Some alcoholic drinks are higher in sugar than others, and those which are high in sugar such as wine, can lead to greater fat storage, as sugar which is not burnt off as energy is converted to fat and stored in the body.

I encourage my personal training clients in London to cut down on their alcohol consumption to give themselves a fighting chance of losing excess body fat and becoming more fit and healthy.

Alcohol and the Gut

Alcohol is toxic to your entire digestive system. It kills the good bacteria in your gut, which in turn decreases your ability to digest and absorb nutrients. It corrodes the lining of your gut, which can lead to ulcers of the stomach and duodenum, and leaky gut syndrome, which is the leaking of harmful bacteria from your gut and into your bloodstream.

Alcohol and Cancer

Alcohol increases your risk of all cancers, but particularly breast cancer in women. Cancer cells are killed in their early stages by your immune system all the time, but when your immune system is compromised by alcohol, cancer cells proliferate at a faster rate than your immune system’s ability to kill them, leading to tumour growth.

Alcohol and Sleep

Alcohol disrupts REM sleep and deep sleep, vital stages in the sleep cycle. For more detail on this, read Dr Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep.

(Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London and an online nutrition coach.)

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