Nutrition

Alcohol's Effects on the Body and Brain

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Samuel Anthony
Sep 11, 2022
Bottles of alcohol on a white background

Alcohol harms the mind and body. [1]

After all, it's a toxin, so our liver removes it.

If alcohol is harmful, should we drink it?

Unfortunately, the advice does not align.

Some falsely advise drinking red wine for heart health. [8]

Others urge you to go alcohol-free.

Screenshot of a quote that finds gains in stroke risk caused by alcohol.

Heavy drinkers are 39% more likely to suffer a stroke. [5]

Over 600,000 people in the UK are dependent. [7]

"Alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death [and ill health] among 15–49-year-olds in the UK." [7]

If alcohol can cause harm to our body and mind, how much is safe?

A screenshot of a reply to my newsletter asking if alcohol is safe when drank less often.

Drink less often, or go alcohol-free?

Which is the best approach to toxins?

Avoid or reduce?

Alcohol changes your body when consumed.

At the same time, your body changes the alcohol.

Our liver transforms alcohol into a substance we can excrete.

We tend to urinate more after drinking for this reason.

Changing and discarding is how your body deals with many toxins.

The danger occurs when the liver can't clear the alcohol fast enough.

In other words, when you outdrink your liver.

Internally, it's disastrous.

Let's look at the effects on the immune system, heart and gut.

Even those who drink once a day see issues.

The long and short: "even those who [drink smaller amounts] have a modestly increased risk". [1]


Is alcohol good for the heart?

Too much alcohol can cause damage to your heart. [1]

Be it too much in one go or too much over many years, it can cause your heart to stretch, droop or beat irregularly.

False claims have arisen that drinks like red wine or small amounts of alcohol are helpful for heart health.

According to Harvard, evidence that red wine is good for your heart is "pretty weak". [6]

Some of the compounds in red wine are good for us but also exist in cocoa, olives and other foods.

They're polyphenols and in no way offset the harm of drinking.

The heart is "extremely vulnerable" to the effects of alcohol. From raised fat content to increased blood pressure. [5]

On top of that, high blood pressure is one of 60 ailments linked with alcohol. [7]

The BHF states that alcohol can strain the heart muscle and lead to CVD (a heart disease). [18]

A 'no' to 'is alcohol good for the heart' is fair given its death figures, track record and study results. [7]

But what about drinking less often?

Less frequent drinking will reduce the effect of alcohol on your heart but will not offset them.

No study has concluded that any amount of alcohol is proven safe for your heart, and it is best to avoid binging at all times.


Alcohol, The Microbiome and Gut Health

Your gut is home to bacteria. [10]

Trillions of them.

While bacteria can harm us, they can also help us.

As we are their host, gut bacteria are interested in helping us.

After all, we feed them the foods we eat each day.

If gut bacteria killed us, they would lose their food supply.

If we are too sick to find food, they will die.

So to gain health of their own, they turn our food into something useful that can keep us energetic and thriving.

This way, we can keep finding food and keep them alive.

What has any of this got to do with alcohol?

The microbiome and gut affect immunity, lung health, and cognitive disorders. [10][14][11]

Thus, it's worth getting to know the impact and harm of alcohol on the gut and the microbiome. [9]

According to P. Engen et al. in The Gastrointestinal Microbiome: Alcohol Effects on the Composition of Intestinal Microbiota, "alcohol-induced changes in the [microbiome] may contribute to the well-established link between alcohol [and disease]". [9]

While alcohol can harm the microbiome, those wanting to get the most from their gut health should avoid or at least limit alcohol.


Alcohol and the Immune System

Alcohol can limit our body's immune system and cause inflammation and multiple health risks. [17]

Sarkar et al. note a link between "adverse immune-related health effects" and alcohol. [12]

Screenshot of source that finds alcohol impairs the immune system

Alcohol may leave us at risk of infection from bacteria and viruses. [15]

It can also harm the gut wall and let toxins flow straight into the blood.

What's more, drinking can help 'bad' bacteria make a home in our gut and even reduce our body's count of immune cells. [17]

A weak immune system can take a long time to respond.

A disease has more time to develop, and symptoms will increase as it has the time to take hold.

Even small amounts less often can be a problem for our health. [16]

The effects can build up long-term, and frequent drinkers will be worse off than those who limit it.

While it's true that less often is better than a binge, no alcohol at all could be your best option.


Conclusion: Avoid Alcohol or Consume Less Often?

Alcohol can cause harm to the heart, immune system, gut, lungs and brain, to name a few.

Two people will not have the same experience, so the risk is not easy to know with any certainty.

While those who drink less are not at the same risk as frequent binge drinkers, any amount can cause harm.

I would limit or avoid alcohol as a nutritionist.


Alcohol's Effects: The Literature (sources)

  1. Alcohol's Effects on the Body | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) (nih.gov)
  2. Alcohol and the Brain: An Overview | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) (nih.gov)
  3. ALCOHOL'S DAMAGING EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN (nih.gov)
  4. Alcohol and the brain | Alcohol Change UK
  5. Effects of Alcohol on the Body and the Brain - Alcohol Rehab Guide
  6. Is red wine actually good for your heart? - Harvard Health
  7. Alcohol statistics | Alcohol Change UK
  8. Dr Michael Mosely: The Clever Guts Diet
  9. The Gastrointestinal Microbiome: Alcohol Effects on the Composition of Intestinal Microbiota - PubMed (nih.gov)
  10. Microbiome (nih.gov)
  11. Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain-Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders - PMC (nih.gov)
  12. Alcohol and the Immune System - PMC (nih.gov)
  13. Evidence for vagal involvement in the eating elicited by adrenergic stimulation of the paraventricular nucleus - PubMed (nih.gov)
  14. Gut-Lung Microbiota in Chronic Pulmonary Diseases: Evolution, Pathogenesis, and Therapeutics - PMC (nih.gov)
  15. How alcohol can lower your immune system | The Recovery Village
  16. Alcohol's Effect on Host Defense - PMC (nih.gov)
  17. Alcohol Alert Number 89 Alcohol's Effects on Immunity—Increasing the Risks for Infection and Injury (nih.gov)
  18. Alcohol and your heart - your questions answered | BHF

Sources & References

Plant-Based Nutritionist & Fitness Coach
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