13 Apr How alcohol effects metabolism and fat loss
Before we jump in, I want to be super transparent. I’m a holistic nutritionist. I live in wine country in Niagara and happen to love wine, tequila and any unique cocktail created from fresh, natural ingredients. I also help women balance hormones, shed fat and boost their metabolism. I drink alcohol – sometimes more than I should, sometimes not for months at a time. So, I want you to know that I walk the line with you. And I won’t be recommending that you stop drinking alcohol all together (unless, of course you want to – that’s cool!).
I would, however, like to explain how alcohol impairs many biochemical processes and let you decide for yourself when and if it’s worth it.
I’m sure we all know how alcohol can affect your mood, judgment, and energy levels. But we don’t often talk about how it can affect your nervous system, hormones or metabolism.
First, let’s look at some basic biology and understand what metabolism is. Like an engine in a vehicle, metabolism is the mechanism in our bodies that keep us alive. It’s a catch-all term describing the role of a complicated and intricate process of turning the food you eat into energy for your body. The things we eat and drink are turned into substances that fuel everything in your body – from your heart beating, lungs pumping, muscles moving to thinking. Every cell in your body plays a role in metabolism. Numerous chemical reactions take place at a cellular level simultaneously and are all regulated by the body to keep cells working and happy. Very specific proteins are required to control these chemical reactions and each chemical reaction is then coordinated with other body functions. Several hormones are involved in controlling the rate and direction of metabolism too!
How alcohol affects our metabolism
You see, alcohol is a neurotoxin that has no nutritional value. Our body cannot store alcohol and views it as a threat and works immediately to flush it out. When we drink, alcohol it is quickly absorbed through our small intestines and ends up in our bloodstream. Our metabolism and digestion are on high alert after ingesting alcohol, using all resources to process and eliminate this deemed threat. It goes to the front of the queue to be dealt with by our liver.
Although our livers play a big role in helping us process alcohol, our stomachs, pancreases and even our brains are involved in this process too. Effectively, drinking alcohol puts every other digestive process on hold, which can lead to the build-up of fat in the liver, plus it stalls digestion, metabolism and fat burning.
Although you are taking in plenty of fluids when you drink alcohol, you’ll typically find yourself urinating more frequently as your kidneys are working overtime to flush the alcohol out of your body. This leads to dehydration, which in turn depletes your level of energy as an overabundance of vital minerals and nutrients are flushed away.
It’s also worth noting how alcohol reduces the level of melatonin in your body, which is a critical element in regulating your circadian rhythm, therefore your internal sleep-wake cycle. And without an adequate amount of rest, your endurance, stamina and ability to remove harmful toxins will decrease if your body is unable to adequately recharge, which by default inhibits any fat burning and zaps your energy overall.
How alcohol affects fat loss
Even when you have just one drink, your blood sugar levels raise initially, then as insulin is released into your bloodstream to distribute the glucose to your cells, fat storage is promoted from circulating insulin, then your blood sugar level rapidly decreases from this corrective measure, making you feel weak and tired and yearning for another pick me up like a drink or something to munch on. So this can be a double whammy. First, by promoting fat storage and halting fat burning but also has you searching for more things to ingest to get back to feeling “normal”.
This biochemical response is important to understand if you are attempting to lose fat, balance your hormones or boost your metabolism. As your body’s natural biology is dealing with removing the harmful substance that was just ingested, all other digestive processes are halted to deal with the perceived emergency. So fat loss is stopped in its tracks. In fact, drinking alcohol, even if it’s just one drink, can stop fat loss for up to three days depending on how you metabolize it. On top of that, fat storage is promoted because of the release of insulin (the fat storage hormone).
How you can drink responsibly and still achieve your fat loss goals
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach – it irritates your digestive system, and results in more rapid absorption of alcohol. Instead, eat high-protein foods (cheese, meats, nuts, etc.) along with alcohol before and when drinking, and you’ll avoid getting too drunk.
- Drink plenty of water when consuming alcohol to help your body flush the harmful substance and to avoid over-drinking.
- Choose organic or biodynamic spirits and wine when possible. There’s a substantial difference in what’s found in conventional versus organic, biodynamic and natural alcohol options. Conventional wines, just like food grown conventionally, generally contain pesticides, fungicides, insecticides or herbicides. And spirits often contain artificial colours, sweeteners, flavourings and preservatives like sulphur dioxide, plus synthetic chemicals that are used for cleaning the wine-making equipment. Ewww!
- Consume alcohol in moderation. This approach is recommended for overall health and even more important if your goal is fat loss. If you may think that your one glass of wine every night is not a big deal, it may help to know this daily habit will put your metabolism (and hence fat burning ability) in neutral for up to 3 days depending on how well you metabolize it. Plus you may notice that overtime, that your ability to metabolize alcohol has decreased, affecting your level of intoxication, night sweats, sleep, etc.
- Plan in advance when and how much you’re going to drink. This simple practice involves engaging your prefrontal cortex in the decision making process in advance, so you’re not left to rely on your primitive reptilian brain that is focused on acquiring more, more dopamine and probably more alcohol.
Alcohol is a big topic and a very large part of our culture. I’m just skimming the surface here in regards to how it can affect your metabolism, hormones and fat loss goals.
We haven’t addressed the psychological, emotional or social motivates but it’s worth mentioning that a recent analysis of hundreds of studies about alcohol and health concluded that no amount of alcohol is safe or healthy.
I can honestly say that I prefer to drink less now more than ever, because I just can’t metabolize it well and I prefer feeling amazing when I wake up than how I do when I drink even one glass of organic wine. And I don’t need the guise that it’ll boost resveratrol for my heart health.