Debbie J., MS, RD contributed this article –
It seems that many people tend to overlook the ramifications of consuming large quantities of alcohol. In addition to the many major safety issues it can cause, it can also significantly impact your health.
First, let’s define what qualifies as a “binge”* since the quantities may vary in measurement based on the contents of each drink and other variables depending on the person. Let’s define a binge as 4 alcoholic drinks within two hours for women, and 5 drinks within two hours for men.
See the table below for our objective definition of what constitutes the measurements for one full alcoholic drink.
Standard Drink Equivalents containing 14 grams Ethanol*
DID YOU KNOW that a single occasion of binge drinking can cause damage, distress or harm to the body in a variety of ways?
YOUR DIGESTIVE TRACT takes a hit as the microbes in your mucosal lining of your gut process ethanol to acetaldehyde (a carcinogen) but can’t eliminate it well. This contributes to the accumulation of acetaldehyde in saliva, stomach acid and intestinal contents, which can add to the risk of cancer^ in the upper digestive tract.
YOUR BLOOD acts as the medium for alcohol passage from the gut throughout the body’s systems. A high level of alcohol in the blood can raise blood pressure and increase risk for a stroke.
Caution: Blood alcohol levels rise as drinking continues and can lead to alcohol poisoning, a dangerous life-threatening emergency.
YOUR LIVER can process about 7 grams of ethanol (half a drink) per hour, producing carcinogenic acetaldehyde of which it eliminates 99 percent. A bottle of wine’s ethanol content takes about 12 hours to eliminate, exposing the body to harmful acetaldehyde during this time.
YOUR BRAIN uses an enzyme to process ethanol to acetaldehyde. As the concentration of this compound rises, drowsiness, hallucinations and delirium may occur. Alcohol ingestion impairs cognitive function, decision-making and lowers inhibition which can mean indulgence eating and lots of extra calories, sugar and fat.
YOUR FAT STORES around your belly increase ever so slightly with each binge. A European study of almost 30,000 adults showed that those who repeatedly binged had larger waists by 2.3 inches for men and 4 inches for women, than people who consumed the same total volume of alcohol over each week. Also, contributing to fat deposition, the calories in drinks add up — there are 7 calories per gram from the ethanol alone. That’s nearly the 9 calories per gram from fat and almost twice that of carbohydrates or proteins!
YOUR METABOLISM becomes impaired with increased insulin resistance. Researchers found that occasional binge drinking raises the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Even after the alcohol is cleared, the body experiences elevated insulin levels and impaired glucose metabolism which promote fat building. Additionally, ethanol directly impairs your ability to burn fat.
Fear not, an occasional drink or two can actually be a part of a healthy diet! Red wine contains polyphenols and resveratrol which are known for their beneficial cardiovascular effects and dark stout beer contains antioxidant compounds (similar to those found in fruits and vegetables) that protects cells. Remember to account for the calories in each drink and amp up your exercise accordingly.
*The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binging as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dL or above. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes that researchers define “risky single occasion drinking” as 40-60 grams of ethanol for women or 60-70 grams of ethanol for men per drinking session.
^The International Agency for Research on Cancer has listed acetaldehyde as a Group 1 carcinogen to humans. It is damaging to DNA and also causes abnormal muscle development as it binds to proteins.
“Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health” by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
“Alcohol Facts and Statistics” by NIAAA, March 2015. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AlcoholFacts&Stats/AlcoholFacts&Stats.htm
“Beyond Hangovers” by NIAAA, National Institutes of Health, publication No. 13-7604, September 2010
“Binge Drinking: Terminology and Patterns of Use Analyzing Internal and External Partnerships” by SAMHSA, September 2015. . . http://www.samhsa.gov/capt/tools-learning-resources/binge-drinking-terminology-patterns
“Alcohol Drinking” Volume 44 IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, by International Agency for Research on Cancer 1998.
“Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages” IARC Monographs 100E, by International Agency for Research on Cancer 2012.
“Reported findings (abstract 3535) from Martin Bobak of University College London at the European Society of Cardiology Congress held in Barcelona, Spain, Aug. 29 – Sept. 2, 2009.
“Binge Drinking Induces Whole-Body Insulin Resistance by Impairing Hypothalamic Insulin Action,” C. Lindtner, et al. 2013. Science Translational Medicine. Vol. 5, 170ra14.