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How damaging is alcohol?

health-and-fitness Updated: Oct 17, 2012 19:10 IST
Dr Anjali Mukerjee
Dr Anjali Mukerjee
Hindustan Times
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Alcohol, or ethyl alcohol (ethanol), refers to the intoxicating ingredient found in wine, beer and hard liquor. We all know that excessive alcohol consumption adversely affects our health. Among healthy adults, one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men would be considered moderate consumption. One drink is defined as five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or half an ounce of 80-proof distilled spirits such as vodka.

Excess alcohol can increase your risk of:
Liver disease
High blood pressure
High blood fats
Heart failure
Fetal alcohol syndrome
(if you’re pregnant)
Certain cancers
Injury, violence and death

And, of course, drinking too much alcohol piles on the calories, which can lead to obesity and a higher risk of diabetes. are some effects alcohol has on your body:

Stomach: From the mouth, alcohol passes down the esophagus and into the stomach and the small intestine. At each point along the way, ethyl alcohol can be absorbed into the blood stream. On an empty stomach, alcohol passes directly into the bloodstream, but when the stomach has food in it, the rate of alcohol absorption is slowed but not stopped.

Excessive alcohol consumption stimulates the flow of gastric juices in the stomach, and when these are combined (alcohol and gastric juices), it causes irritation to the lining of the stomach, resulting in ulcers. When the concentration of alcohol and gastric juices becomes high enough and irritation to the lining is increased, the reflex action of vomiting is triggered as the body’s way of relieving some of this irritation. Circulatory system: Once in the blood stream, alcohol is quickly distributed evenly throughout the body. Alcohol dilates or widens the blood vessels as it enters the blood stream, causing greater flow of blood to the skin surface. Also it gives a temporary feeling of warmth, there is increased heat loss and a drop in blood pressure is observed.

Brain: The ethanol in alcohol acts as a drug and its behavioural effects are a result of how it affects responses in the nervous tissue. Alcohol suppresses certain brain functions as it is a depressant.

Liver: The liver is the primary site for alcohol metabolism; this is why liver problems occur from consuming too much alcohol. In a healthy liver, alcohol is detoxified and removed from the blood through a process called oxidation. This prevents the alcohol from accumulating and destroying cells and organs.

The liver can metabolise only a certain amount of alcohol per hour, regardless of the amount that has been consumed. The rate of alcohol metabolism depends, in part, on the amount of metabolising enzymes in the liver, which varies among individuals and appears to have genetic determinants. Since the metabolism of alcohol is slow, consumption needs to be controlled to prevent accumulation in the body and intoxication. Therefore, moderate use of alcohol can be an enjoyable, safe experience if used with caution.

Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and the founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre