Love it or leave it, these days most social occasions involve alcohol in some form or another. Alcohol plays a role in our society as a powerful ‘social lubricant’ that lowers inhibitions, helps us leave our cares behind and enables ‘fun’. It’s because of this that it’s become heavily ingrained in kiwi culture as we know it.
While some research links moderate alcohol consumption (such as red wine) to wellbeing and longevity, other experts take a tee-total approach, touting that any amount of alcohol is too much alcohol.
It seems the one thing we can all agree is that alcohol and our health is a complex conversation where a whole range of variables and emotions come into play.
Everything in moderation—right? Or wrong? Let’s discuss...
As you’re probably aware - it’s a huge load on your liver
The fact that alcohol is processed by the liver probably isn’t anything new to you.
However, believe it or not, your liver doesn’t just hang out between glasses of pinot gris, waiting to work its magic. These days our livers are generally pretty flat out as it is, detoxifying excess hormones, dealing with environmental toxins, converting nutrients into forms that can be used or stored, and regulating blood sugar levels.
When you drink alcohol, all of these things are put on hold until the alcohol has been dealt with; because hey, accumulating oestrogen probably won’t kill you but alcohol might.
If you’re not supporting the liver with the nutrients and hydration it needs to do its job, it can quickly become taxed, and less effective at its job; even when there’s no alcohol for it to deal with. In which case, when alcohol is added to the equation, it’s just adding additional weight to a donkey whose back is already hurting, if you will.
It’s also a bit of a downer..
As tempting as it might be to curb feelings of anxiety and general low mood with a drink or two, alcohol is technically a depressant.
Serotonin, the ‘feel-good; neurotransmitter is closely linked to mood, memory, social behaviour and sexual desire & function. Shortly after consumption, alcohol actually boosts serotonin levels, temporarily boosting all of the above as well.
The problem is, heightened serotonin in the short term generally leads to serotonin depletion in the longer term. If you’ve ever felt unusually down, or ‘not yourself’ after a night of fun, this serotonin-depletion arm of your hangover is probably why.
This is also why it can be easy to slip into a pattern of self-soothing with a wine to feel better after a tough day. Then feeling even more stressed or down the next day so leaning on a drink to feel better… and the next day, and the next…
Alcohol robs you of a good night’s rest
Alcohol and deep, sound sleep simply don’t mix.
While a few vinos might make you fall asleep in record time, and you might feel like you slept deeply, but in fact alcohol causes the quality of said sleep to take a real hit.
Alcohol directly lowers REM sleep—the restorative kind that generally happens about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. Disrupted REM sleep can make you feel drowsy and tired during the day, even if you get your 8 hours.
Another way that alcohol affects sleep quality is through unstable blood sugars. When the liver is busy metabolising an influx of ‘toxins’; stabilising blood sugar levels takes a back-seat.
If you’ve ever woken in the middle of the night with the sweats after a few too many, that’s your blood sugar crashing. You’re welcome.
It can make you more susceptible to PMS…
Clinical studies have shown that drinking alcohol increases oestrogen and can decrease progesterone levels.
(For all our low oestrogen women out there; no we don’t recommend alcohol as a good way to boost your levels!)
This increase can drive hormones towards the ‘oestrogen dominant’ picture that’s linked to PMS-type symptoms such as:
- Mood swings, anxiety & insomnia;
- Painful and/or heavy or long periods;
- Bloating, fluid retention and tender breasts;
- Weight gain over time.
The same studies also show that the hormonal effects of alcohol are more pronounced in women closer to menopause.
For example, at 40 years old, your body may not be able to handle alcohol as well as it could when you were 20 (but you probably didn’t need a study to tell you that).
It also depletes your magnesium stores - our favourite nutrient for hormones.
Magnesium is involved in hundreds of biochemical reactions that take place in the body, many of which are directly related to the nervous system, hormones and detoxification processes; specifically phase 2 liver detoxification.
Making alcohol a regular occasion, or drinking a lot in one night, takes a hefty toll on your mineral stores; especially magnesium.
Mineral stores directly affect electrolyte balance, which is exactly why you might wake up after a big night feeling thirsty, puffy and bloated—all at the same time.
The bottom line is this...
In all honesty, we’re humans, not the fun-police. We’ll be celebrating with a bubbles or two this Christmas and New Years, too.
However, there’s a big difference between sipping a glass of wine on the weekend or a special occasion, and a habit of hitting the booze 2-3 times a week (or more).
The research around moderate alcohol consumption is conflicting, and it’s likely the overall lifestyle of our mediterranean friends that has the greatest impact on their longevity, rather than their pinot noir habits alone.
All that we suggest is that you consider the why behind your alcohol consumption, and take a moment to ask yourself, ‘do I really want this drink?’ before you reach for a glass on autopilot.
Basically, drinking consciously every so often to celebrate with loved ones? Awesome.
Drinking to wind down, to numb feelings, or to treat yourself? There are better ways.
To answer our own question, yes, you can drink alcohol and be healthy; when it’s mindfully and in moderation.
Too much and it doesn’t matter how many green smoothies you have or how often you hit the gym - your body is still going to struggle.