Alcohol – Counteract Toxic Effects
Whether you’re a regular tippler, or a once-in-a-while party animal, you’ve probably had at least one morning after the night before experience. When counting the cost of imbibing a little too much, be sure you’re able to handle the consequences of your behaviour – because besides the morning after pain and discomfort, there’s also the thinking you’re a skateboard guru, or the four-in-the-morning-ex-lover phone call that can get you into a lot of trouble.
We’ve possibly all uttered the words, “I really need a drink” for various reasons, from a really tough day to an occasion worthy of celebration, and the anticipation of the first sip of your preferred “poison” is often almost as satisfying as the sip itself – your expectancy of the results of drinking will affect your desire to drink. But, from the first sip to the next morning, alcohol’s journey can wreak havoc in your body.
From your mouth, it travels down your throat and oesophagus to your stomach and small intestine. Some is used by the gut (10%), a bit more (another 10%) goes straight from there to the brain, muscle and kidneys. The rest goes to the liver to be processed. If you’ve experienced that first buzz from a drink, then you’ll understand that alcohol doesn’t take long to reach the brain. The liver metabolises most of the alcohol consumed, if you’re not drinking at a rapid pace (your liver won’t be able to keep up if you are), to detoxify and convert it into energy for the body. However, this process produces some nasty by-products. What it doesn’t metabolise is excreted through your kidneys (when you urinate), your lungs (you can smell it on your breath) and your skin (by sweating). Each person’s liver can only metabolise a specific amount of alcohol in a given time period – this may be the reason why some people can drink more than others.
That’s what happens while you’re drinking. But what’s the insatiable thirst and pounding head the next day all about?
• Acetaldehyde: Is an organic chemical compound that naturally occurs in coffee, bread and ripe fruit and is produced by plants as part of their normal metabolism. It’s also produced by the oxidation of ethanol (alcohol) when alcohol is broken down in the liver. Too much of it has a highly toxic effect, which results in vomiting and headaches, increased cancer risk, inflammation and increased fat production by the liver (beer boep).
• Diuretic: Just four drinks cause your body to purge 600 – 1,000 ml of water over a few hours. It promotes urine production by inhibiting hormones which help the kidneys conserve water. The sweating, vomiting and diarrhoea that often accompany a hangover just worsen alcohol-induced dehydration, the symptoms of which are thirst, weakness, dizziness and dry mucous membranes (for example, dry nose and mouth).
• Stomach: The nausea that hits after too much is triggered by alcohol irritating the stomach lining, causing it to become inflamed. Excess can also lead fat compounds (triglycerides and free fatty acids) to accumulate in liver cells and be sent into circulation to increase fat stores, or be deposited in other organs.
• Blood sugar levels: Ever wondered why an alcoholic binge leads to a high fat, sugar laden food binge? Well, not only is your glucose production inhibited by alcohol, it’s common to forgo food for alcohol when in a party frame of mind, so your body needs to catch up.
• Sleep: You may fall into bed and think sweet oblivion is near, but alcohol can negatively affect your quality of sleep – certainly the relaxing effects of alcohol can cause sleep apnoea (interruption of breathing). Additionally, as most of us reach for a drink in the evening, our circadian rhythms (sleep/wake cycle) may be affected.
One study showed that intense hydrating before a session of drinking had a positive effect on the next day’s hangover – so if you’re going to indulge, be sure you drink a lot of water beforehand, as well as in between alcoholic tipples.
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