Alcohol: Friend or Foe?

 I know, I know…Its Christmas time. There are just so many social gatherings. Top that off with Christmas in Australia is during summer…Who wouldn’t want to celebrate?!Firstly, let me start by saying that this article is not suggesting in anyway you become a complete teetotaller and not enjoy the celebrations. In fact as many of you will have heard me say around the clinic, the whole point of being in complete health is being able to enjoy life! This guide is to help make sure you make smart, well informed decisions. Its to help you navigate the known and sometime unknown negative effects of what for some can be an entire month of living the rock and roll lifestyle. This article will especially speak to those with health and fitness goals and will aim to help them not completely derail those efforts that they have been working on all year and set them up for those they have for the upcoming 2017 ‘Resolutions’.

Look lets start with the well known and obvious fact. Alcohol is a poison. We might like the effect that poison has on our brain but the simple and unwavering fact is that the moment it enters our mouth our bodies are trying to get rid of it. When we think about it, its quite astonishing that we may regularly, knowning try to poison ourselves. It is a social and cultural norm though, some would argue even part of the ‘Straya” fabric. So lets try and find ways to ensure we can minimise the deleterious effects.

  1. Know the numbers.
    You may have heard that alcohol is ‘empty calories’ before. That is, that the calories you body derives from alcohol has zero nutritional value. This is correct. The raw calorie intake of 1 gram of alcohol is 7.1 calories. This is higher than proteins and carbs which are 4 calories/ gram. However the good news is that alcohol has a thermogenic effect. This means that energy is required to process the alcohol which brings the net calorie intake down to around 5/gram. This is still energy that needs to be burned without providing any nutritional benefit to the body. The cells of our muscles, organs and tissues derive no value from this energy thus why it is called ‘empty”.A typical beer or wine can range anywhere from 80-250+ calories. So when we add 1, 2 or 8 drinks to this total we can see that these nutritional devoid calories add up. A solid night out of 8-10 drinks can bring empty calories up to a whopping 2500 calories!! Completely nutrient devoid, and not accounting for anything else consumed that day. If the average healthy calorie intake for a woman is around 1700/day and 2000/day for a man we can see how damaging this can be towards healthy and fitness goals. One night of solid drinking might erode an entire week of efforts  with training and as we will continue to explore, the negatives do not just end with that.
  2. Loosens Inhibitions.
    Before you think it, no, this isn’t about hooking up with that co-worker at the office Christmas party. Although that may be an effective from this topic too. What I want to explore here is how the ingestion of alcohol affects the control centres of the brain and how that can lead to behaviours and choices that are deletarious towards your health and fitness goals….and maybe the occasional awkward Monday meeting at work ;).We have all heard the terms, “liquid Confidence” or “getting loose” and quite frankly this response from alcohol can often bring some hilarious and memorable times as well as some devastating outcomes. Keeping all other personal choices aside and focusing again of health and fitness, the trouble arises when alcohol starts to affect our prefrontal cortex in our brain. That is the part of the brain right behind the forehead and is responsible rational thought. Is that’s little voice in your head that when you come up with a great idea to jump a motorcycle over a car goes “Wait a minute….is this really a good idea?”. Interestingly the prefrontal cortex is only half developed by the age of 18 years ( the legal drinking age) so if you ever wonder why we continue to see those news stories of kids climbing balconies at schoolies 25 stories up. Heres why. This part doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25 which already put those between the ages of 18-25 at a disadvantage in dealing with the consequences of prefrontal cortex effects from alcohol.So besides making us hilarious on the dance floor or attempt death defying stunts this prefrontal inhibitions removes lowers the cause and effects decision factors in our brain. This can lead to perhaps drinking more than we originally planned, it also brings with it bad food decisions. How many of us will admit that that midnight night kebab is ALWAYS a great idea!  These will no doubt be the high calorie, highly processed, high carb, high sodium, high trans fat, poor nutritional value foods. So when we add the calories form point number 1 and now the added unexpected calories form poor and most likely excessive food decisions we are starting to get some astronomical numbers of calories, toxic food intake and major impact of our health and fitness goals.
  3. Liver alone!
    Your liver, the power house of detoxification in the body. This vital organ goes into overdrive when you consume alcohol. Long terms effect of chronic alcohol can lead to a range of sometimes lethal conditions effecting the liver. This is not new news. What some people may not know is how it can affect your fitness gains immediately. The liver can take up to 48 hours to process alcohol. The body sees alcohol for what it is, a toxin. It prioritises the metabolism of alcohol ABOVE ALL OTHERS. What this can mean is that the metabolism of proteins, carbs and fats with be shut down until all of the alcohol is processed. This has 2 effects,Very little healthy fuel for your bodies cells with be absorbed in this period- leaving us deficient. If you are trying to build muscle then very little protein synthesis is going to occur in this period and can in fact lead to more catabolic ( destruction) of muscle tissue.The utilisation of fats is slowed or halted. i.e NO FAT BURNING! That right those with weight loss or body composition goals are going to be do little to know fat burning in that 48 hour period, let alone process and utilise all that excessive food calories eaten the night before. This will lead to a lot of those excess calories and the toxins they contained being stored as excess fat ( increased fat!!) and when those fat cells are eventually burned they will be releasing those toxic components quarantined in the fat cells. This can be why a detox and weightloss can some times make us feel ill as these toxins are release back into the bodies systems.So if you are having alcohol a few times a week and not getting any gains…. This might be something to seriously look at
  4. Testosterone!
    This is simple, alcohol lowers the production of
    testosterone one of the main hormones responsible for muscle production. Studies have shown at after 4 drinks in men the testosterone levels are reduced by 6.8% and after 8 drinks they are reduced by 23%. It also increases the production of Aromatase. An enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen!
  5. Decreased minerals and vitamins
    The liver uses the Vitamins B1,B3,B6 Folate and C to process alcohol as well as depleting some of the fat soluble vitamins A, E and K1. This means that any readily available sources of these are used up leaving the cells deficient. This contributes the the immediate ‘hangover” effects of decreased motivation, energy and overall well being as well as longer term leading to some serious mineral and vitamin deficiency conditions.Making healthy choices is key…but above all, have a Merry Christmas!!!!