Let’s talk about alcohol. Or to be more precise, ethyl alcohol, or ethanol. If you can remember the first time you drank an alcoholic beverage, you probably remember how you didn’t like it. Beer is bitter. Vodka tastes like Listerine (or vice versa, and for obvious reasons). You can acquire a taste for alcohol, but chances are you never liked it originally. So why do we drink it? That’s obvious as well: people like the high they get off of it and how it loosens their social inhibitions. We also drink it because it has become a socially accepted thing to do (i.e., peer pressure). Dionysus would even say that we need alcohol in order to help us unwind. I don’t know about that. I also don’t know how great the high is when there’s the healthy alternative of getting high off exercise. Not surprisingly, alcohol doesn’t help you at all in the realm of athletic performance and general health.
Alcohol Lowers Testosterone Levels in Men
… And Boosts it in Women. Not Cool.
No doubt you’ve heard of all the negative implications of drinking, but did you know that alcohol lowers your testosterone levels? That is, if you’re a man. This means fewer muscle gains. Fewer muscle gains means less muscle, which means a lower metabolic rate. A lower metabolic rate means more fat gain and/or less fat loss . Suddenly drinking doesn’t seem so “manly,” now does it? That’s why real men drink BLAND, BORING, UNFLAVORED WATER.
How does alcohol affect women? Does it still increase testosterone? Actually, it does not appear to. Acute alcohol consumption seems to increase testosterone in women . This helps contribute to the “beer goggles” effect that makes drunk women more prone to engaging in sexual behavior that they would normally not agree to. The same thing happens to men, but heavy drinking over time decreases men’s testosterone levels and increases their estrogen, which can even cause them to take on female physical attributes, such as breasts. It also can decrease male libido and cause related problems . You get the idea. You’re getting a plethora of bad crap, just to get a temporary buzz going.
Twice as Many Calories as Protein & Carbs
Drinking alcohol provides seven calories per gram, which makes it second only to fat in regard to its ability to provide calories. However, unlike macronutrients such as fat, protein, and carbohydrates, calories obtained from alcohol are empty calories, or calories that provide no nutritional value whatsoever. Further compounding upon this problem is the fact that alcohol is the first fuel the body uses when combined with fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, which postpones the fat-burning process and promotes greater fat storage.
|Food component||Energy density|
|Ethanol (drinking alcohol)||29||7|
|Polyols (sugar alcohols, sweeteners)||10||2.4|
As you can see from the chart above, alcohol provides nearly twice as many calories as protein and carbohydrates, which are the two macronutrients that most likely make up the majority of your diet. At least, those are the two macronutrients that should make up the majority of your diet. The third macronutrient in your diet is fat, which you need, but not in excess .
Alcohol Loosens Your Inhibitions
This is obvious – it’s the reason people get wasted at parties. Unfortunately, while it may help you in certain social situations, it does nothing for your health. While some advocates of drinking may support the idea of moderate drinking having health benefits, drinking to the point of intoxication does nothing to help your health.
Furthermore, something that people often do not consider is how drinking alcohol can indirectly cause you to loosen up on your diet. If you’re an athlete or are trying to lose fat or gain muscle, this means it can cause you to screw up your diet plan. Thus, not only does alcohol directly cause an increase in calorie consumption by taking in empty calories, but it also may make you more lenient in regard to what you’re eating with your alcoholic beverage(s).
Conditions That Alcohol Can Cause or Worsen
Everyone knows that excessive alcohol can cause a host of health problems – it can damage your stomach, kidneys, and liver. However, “Alcohol does all kinds of things in the body, and we’re not fully aware of all its effects,” says James C. Garbutt, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and a researcher at the university’s Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies. “It’s a pretty complicated little molecule.”
Drinking heavily can cause the amount of oxygen-transporting red blood cells to become lower than normal. This is a condition called anemia, and it can cause other problems including fatigue, becoming lightheaded, and getting short of breath.
As Jurgen Rehm, PhD, says, “Habitual drinking increases the risk of cancer.” Rehm is the chairman for the University of Toronto’s department of addiction policy, and he is also a senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
The increased risk of cancer is most likely due to fact that the human body converts alcohol to acetaldehyde, a known and strong carcinogen. Cancer due to drinking has been known to occur in the mouth, throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), esophagus, breast, colorectal region, and liver. People who both drink and smoke tobacco are even more at risk of cancer.
Binge drinking makes platelets clump into blood clots more readily. This increases the risk of heart attacks or strokes. Furthermore, heavy drinking can cause cardiomyopathy, a potentially fatal condition that causes the heart muscle to weaken and ultimately stop. It can also cause heart rhythm problems such as ventricular or atrial fibrillation. Ventricular fibrillation is a chaotic twitching of the heart’s ventricles, or main pumping chambers. This condition causes a rapid loss of consciousness and – if not treated immediately – death. Atrial fibrillation is when the hearts atria, or upper chambers, twitch chaotically instead of normally, which can cause blood clots that may trigger a stroke.
Cirrhosis is a condition that can be fatal, in which the liver so damaged due to the toxic effects of alcohol that is unable to function properly. While it is hard to determine when or if drinkers are in danger of this condition, it seems that women are more vulnerable.
The human brain shrinks at an average rate of 1.9% as we age. However, drinking heavily can speed this shrinking in certain parts of the brain, which can result in memory loss and other types of dementia. It can also affect a person’s ability to make judgments, plan, and solve problems.
Drinking is related to depression, as is commonly known. Alcohol is in fact classified as a depressant, because it slows your breathing, reaction time, and relaxes your muscles. People who drink because they are depressed are only making the problem worse – they will become dependent on alcohol and their problems will increase. Furthermore, drinking itself can lead to depression.
Drinking heavily can bring about epilepsy and even cause seizures in non-epileptic people. Furthermore, it can disrupt drugs used to treat seizures.
Gout is a build-up of uric acid crystals in joints. It can be very painful, and while often hereditary, alcohol and diet seem to also play a role, and can make pre-existing gout even worse.
High Blood Pressure
Heavy drinking, especially binge drinking, can make the blood pressure rise. Over time, this can become a chronic effect. This is because alcohol disrupts the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for such things as controlling the constriction and dilation of blood vessels in response to stimuli. Having high blood pressure leads to other problems, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and more.
Drinking heavily suppresses the human immune system, which makes it more susceptible to infection such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted disease. To make matters worse, drinking alcohol can increase the chances of engaging in risky sexual encounters.
Alcoholic neuropathy is nerve damage due to alcohol that can result in a painful feeling of pins-and-needles or numbness in the extremities as well as weakness of muscles, erectile dysfunction, incontinence, and other health issues. This condition may come about due to alcohol being toxic to nerve cells. It may also occur because heavy drinking causes deficiencies in nutrition that compromise the proper functionality of nerves.
Gastritis and Pancreatitis
Drinking can inflame and irritate the stomach, a condition known as gastritis, as well as the pancreas, a condition known as pancreatitis. Chronic pancreatitis disrupts the process of digestion and causes intense pain in the abdominal area, as well as reoccurring diarrhea. It is not fixable. While it may be triggered by gallstones, up to 60% of cases are due to the consumption of alcohol .
A drink once in a while won’t kill you. However, getting wasted every weekend is going to have implications, period. So, the next time you’re at a party, either drink moderately, or be a real man and just say hell with it. Tell your buddies that you’re more concerned about your health and packing on muscle, while they’re busy packing on flabby man-boobs and beer-guts. The same goes to ladies… kind of.
1. “Alcohol and sex.” Wikipedia. 22 March 2012. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 6 April 2012 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_and_sex>.
2. “Food energy – methods of analysis and conversion factors.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 6 April 2012 <http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/Y5022E/y5022e04.htm>.
3. Freeman, David. “12 Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking.” WebMD. 6 April 2012 <http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/alcohol-abuse/features/12-health-risks-of-chronic-heavy-drinking>.
4. Husted, Amanda. “Alcohol may raise testosterone in women.” The Atlanta Constitution. 30 Jun 1994: D6. Constitution Pub. Co. 6 Apr 2012.
5. Robson, David. “Alcohol’s Effects On Body Fat. Can We Have It Both Ways?” Bodybuilding.com. 10 Aug. 2006. 6 April 2012 <http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/drobson194.htm>.