Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
20 Nov

Alcohol: The Good and the Bad

alcoholWhat do we make of alcohol? In sufficient amounts, it’s a poison. It’s incredibly addictive. It destroys entire communities. It tears families apart and compels otherwise reasonable, upstanding individuals to commit terribly senseless acts. On the other hand, it’s a powerful social lubricant. The good stuff tastes great and can enhance the healthfulness of certain foods while inhibiting the unhealthfulness of others. It’s fun, it’s pleasurable, and it brings real (if chemically enhanced) joy to people. Moreover, we have a long and storied history with alcohol; it’s been an integral part of human culture and society for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years.

So, what’s the deal? Is it good, or is it bad? Is it poison, or is it a gift? Let’s take a look at both sides of the story, which, as is often the case, isn’t exactly black and white:

First, the downsides.

It’s toxic.

Our ability to break alcohol down into less toxic metabolites didn’t arise because of our tendency to seek out fermented fruits. Over the course of an average day, the average human digestive system produces about three grams of ethanol just from the gut flora fermenting the gut’s contents. If we didn’t have the ability to metabolize and detoxify ethanol, those three grams would add up real quick and represent a huge toxin load on our bodies. After alcohol is consumed, a number of enzymatic reactions ensue. In the liver, an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase converts the ethanol to acetaldehyde, an incredibly toxic compound that’s been implicated in causing many hangover symptoms. An enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase converts the acetaldehyde into acetic acid, or vinegar (which is harmless unless you’re a cucumber). From there, you’re good to go. Sounds simple enough, right? Just let the enzymes do their thing. As long as you make those enzymes, the alcohol will be safely and effectively metabolized into table vinegar which can then be extracted to form a delicious salad dressing (that last part isn’t true).

Unfortunately, not everyone produces the same amount and quality of detoxifying enzymes. Many people of East Asian descent possess a dominant mutation in the gene that codes for aldehyde dehydrogenase, making it less effective. While they’re less likely to be alcoholics, folks with the mutation (characterized by a “flushing” upon ingestion) are at an elevated risk of liver damage and esophageal cancer.

It can give you fatty liver (and worse).

Around these parts, we usually talk about non-alcoholic fatty liver, a disease associated with sugar and fat intake coupled with inadequate choline to support the liver’s function. But notice that we have to qualify it with “non-alcoholic.” That’s because the most-studied type of fatty liver is alcoholic fatty liver. The mechanisms behind alcoholic fatty liver are myriad and multifaceted, but it ultimately comes down to the fact that you’re bathing your liver in a known toxin. Liver alcohol metabolism increases the NADH/NAD+ ratio, thereby promoting the creation of liver fat cells and a reduction in fatty acid oxidation; the result is added fat in the liver and impaired fat burning. Acetaldehyde, especially if it lingers for too long, also induces inflammation in the liver, which can ultimately progress to full cirrhosis and liver failure.

It can be carcinogenic.

Excessive alcohol intake is an established epidemiological risk factor for several cancers, including stomach, liver, and colon cancer (to name just a few; more than a dozen cancers are linked to alcohol abuse). In the stomach and liver, alcohol dehydrogenase converts ethanol into acetaldehyde, which is inflammatory and toxic. Alcohol that makes it through the stomach into the small intestine is also oxidized into acetaldehyde, this time by gut flora. While the liver produces the necessary enzymes to break down acetaldehyde into acetic acid, our gut microbes aren’t so well equipped and the acetaldehyde is allowed to linger longer.

It’s addictive.

While I’d argue that being addicted to anything will have a negative effect on your life, if not your physical health, being addicted to alcohol is particularly harmful because of how toxic it is – especially the more you drink. To get an idea of just how addictive it is, check out the results of this study: alcohol is less addictive than nicotine, crystal meth, and crack, but more addictive than heroin, intranasal amphetamine, cocaine, and caffeine. One’s susceptibility to alcohol addiction is often hereditary, too, meaning some people will be far more likely to become addicted than others.

It disrupts sleep.

A nightcap is a misnomer. Sure, it’ll help you fall asleep, but your sleep won’t be any better. In fact, as plenty of people reminded me in the comment section of last week’s post on sleep, alcohol is a serious disrupter of sleep quality. It increases the incidence of sleep disruptions, and it perturbs the healthy sleep cycles.

It affects judgment and perception.

Even though alcohol destroys a person’s ability to safely maneuver a motor vehicle, one in three car accidents that result in death involve drunk drivers. Everyone knows that you shouldn’t drive drunk, but why does it keep happening? A recent study even showed that just a single drink caused subjects to find “intentionality” in other people’s actions (PDF). Subjects who got the alcohol were less likely to view simple actions as accidental, rather than intentional. Thus, when you’re under the influence of alcohol, you’re more likely to take personal offense at the guy bumping into your shoulder, the lady stepping on your shoe, or the person “staring” at you from across the bar. Because, after all, they “meant” to do it, right? The title of the study sums it up quite nicely: “‘There’s No Such Thing as an Accident,’ Especially When People are Drunk.”

It promotes bad eating.

Everyone who’s ever gotten at least a buzz from a glass or two of wine or a mixed drink has felt the often irresistible urge to snack, to order something salty, crunchy, and sweet from the menu, to beg the driver to swing by the greasiest nastiest fast food drive-thru. This is a well-documented phenomenon. Alcohol affects both active overeating and passive overeating. Active overeating describes the conscious decision to “get some grub.” Passive overeating describes the amount you eat once the food is in front of you. Both are enhanced by alcohol. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if you’re drinking at a Primal meet-up, where you’re surrounded by relatively healthy food, but that’s not where most drinking occurs.

It gives hangovers.

What’s worse than a bad hangover? I’m unaware of anything, at least on a physical scale. Sure, you can mitigate the damage, but the fact that a hangover even exists tells us that whatever we’re ingesting that gave us the hangover is bad for us (in the amount we ingested, at least).

But what about the positives?

It improves endothelial function (with a catch).

Impaired release of nitric oxide from the endothelial cells is strongly associated with cardiovascular disease. Ethanol actually increases the production of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels, regulates blood pressure, induces vascular smooth muscle relaxation, and basically improves endothelial function. If you want good cardiovascular health, you want good endothelial function. However, it’s important to note that large doses of ethanol seem to decrease endothelial function, so caution is obviously warranted.

It can reduce stress.

A lot of people use a glass of wine or beer to “wind down” after a hard day. This sounds bad on the surface – “you’re relying on alcohol to stay sane!” – but really, if you have to choose between stewing in your stress hormones all day and night and having a drink or two to settle yourself down, I think the drink can be a better option for some people – particularly if the stress is going to impair your sleep and affect your relationships. You’ll want to identify and deal with the original source of the stress, of course, but some people may find a net benefit from having that drink.

It promotes socializing.

Humans are social animals, and we are happiest and healthiest when we have friends, loved ones, and spend quality time with them. Social isolation is a consistent and strong risk factor for increased mortality and morbidity (meaning it’s linked with earlier death and worse health in the days up until that death). You shouldn’t base your socialization entirely on drinking alcohol, but it can certainly be a powerful enhancer of your social life, and if you’re having a couple of glasses of wine as you host dinner parties, hang out with friends, enjoy a candlelit dinner with your significant other, or throw a BBQ with your social circle, it will likely have a net positive effect on your health. Of course, this isn’t to say that alcohol is any way needed to have a good time in a social setting.

It can reduce post-prandial blood sugar and lipid peroxidation (when taken with a meal).

Just like it says above, drinking alcohol (like wine, for example) with food can reduce postprandial blood glucose and the susceptibility of blood lipids to peroxidation (PDF).

It can lower iron absorption if you’ve got iron overload.

Although the conventional push is to increase the intake of iron from foods (especially via fortified grains), some people don’t actually need the added iron. If you have hemochromatosis, a genetic condition that probably arose in Europeans as a survival response to the bubonic plague, you are a hyper-absorber of dietary iron. Luckily, ethanol seems to inhibit the absorption of heme iron, the kind you find in red meat. Red wine is also effective at reducing non-heme iron absorption, an effect most likely due to the polyphenols present. That said, the entirely non-alcoholic black tea also inhibits iron absorption and has even been shown to reduce the frequency of blood-draws required in patients with iron overload. Coffee works, too.

If you’re going to drink:

Have it with food.

When you eat a meal, and your stomach is “full,” the pyloric sphincter – which controls the passage of food and drink from the stomach into the small intestine – closes up until your stomach can break down its contents. Any alcohol added to a full stomach will also spend more time being broken down by the relevant enzymes. If you drink on an empty stomach, the pyloric sphincter is wide open, and a greater proportion of alcohol will make it to the small intestine for immediate absorption. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, drinking alcohol with food can reduce postprandial blood glucose and the susceptibility of blood lipids to peroxidation (PDF). Keeping your drinking around meals will let you take advantage of these benefits.

Focus on alcoholic drinks with greater fluid content.

Shots of plastic bottle vodka (or even the best vodka) are concentrated sources of ethanol, and as long as we’ve been nibbling on fermented fruits and brewing up Paleolithic moonshine from mushrooms and honey, consuming concentrated, distilled ethanol in the form of rum, gin, whiskey, vodka, and other hard liquors is a relatively recent practice. Some accounts suggest that the Chinese were distilling rice liquor in 800 BC, while others say it wasn’t until the 12th century AD that distillation became commonplace across the “known” world. At any rate, one could certainly argue that alcohol with a low fluid content is an evolutionarily novel food item. Less fluid means less “stuff” in your stomach, which means a more open and allowing pyloric sphincter, which means faster absorption through the small intestine. More fluid means more “stuff” in your stomach and a more restrictive pyloric sphincter and slower absorption. You could even make like the ancient Greeks and water down your wine, which some people seem to think actually improves the wine.

Choose your drinking companions wisely.

Even among voles, peer pressure-induced binge drinking is a reality. If that super cool vole with the sweet facial hair is double fisting acorn shells filled with dandelion wine, you’ll be subconsciously drawn to do the same. If your group of friends gets absolutely obliterated every time you go out with them, you’re more likely to join in on the “fun.”

Drink moderate amounts.

All the research suggesting health benefits to drinking revolves around “moderate drinking,” which is one, two, or three drinks a day. They’re not talking about pounding shots, or drinking Long Island iced teas, or doing Jello shots (although the gelatin might help matters). They’re talking about a glass or two of something.

Have everything else in line.

If you want to drink and remain healthy, you should strive to eat healthy, exercise well, reduce stress, walk a lot, experience nature, hang out with friends and loved ones, get sun when available, avoid nighttime light exposure as much as possible, and every other lifestyle prescription I recommend. In short, alcohol can augment (or at least fail to impact either way) an already healthy lifestyle, but it probably won’t make a bad situation better.

Full disclosure: I drink. My drink of choice is red wine, and I might do a glass or two most nights, but I never get drunk. Heck, I don’t even really get “buzzed.” I’d never recommend that people take up drinking or continue drinking, but I also don’t see it as a great evil in and of itself. The dose and frequency make the poison; it’s just that depending on a number of factors, the dose that makes alcohol a poison might be lower or higher for you than for me. If your sleep is affected or you are the least bit “off” the next day, you probably surpassed your ability to effectively process it and you should factor that in to your choice and approach to drinking again. And remember, alcoholism is a serious issue for some people and I am in no way suggesting there is any “workaround” or excuse herein for someone with those issues, or that drinking, even in moderation, is necessary or optimal for healthy living.

Okay, that’s about it for me. Let’s open it up to you guys, now. I want to hear your thoughts on alcohol, especially whether it’s had a positive, negative, or neutral effect on your life and the life of those you care about. I want to hear how you’ve integrated alcohol into your otherwise healthy lifestyle (or not). Thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Good post Mark. We have a pretty bad binge drinking culture here in New Zealand. I’ve never had a drink in my life though and from my perspective I didn’t miss out on anything (except hangovers, unwanted pregnancies etc. haha)

    I think even the positives you’ve listed aren’t really ‘good’ enough reasons to drink…I’m sure if alcohol never existed our society wouldn’t be any worse off (much better off in fact)

    Isaac Warbrick wrote on November 20th, 2012
    • But we create the finest pinot noir (Central Otago) on Earth. Blasphemy not to enjoy it, IMHO.

      kem wrote on November 20th, 2012
      • Agree 100%, that would be totally unholy

        WildGrok wrote on November 20th, 2012
    • I think on an individual basis, the choice of whether to drink or not can make a difference. Many people just don’t do well with alcohol. But on a societal level, I can’t see that it makes a bit of difference. Many cultures/countries are basically alcohol free but are far from being blissful utopias. And conversely, some of the safest and most peaceful countries have liberal alcohol laws and a tradition of social drinking without peer pressure.

      Mark A wrote on November 20th, 2012
  2. My husband and I used to drink more beer but have cut back a lot since going primal. We do enjoy splitting a bottle dry red wine with dinner once or twice a week. I too have found that I crave something crunchy and salty if I have wine in the evening so I try to reserve my wine drinking for meal time.

    Stephanie wrote on November 20th, 2012
  3. This is very informative, thank you. I’m a light drinker, although once I get started on French martinis, I lose control. Then comes the hangover. I will think of this article every time I buy, order, or make a drink for myself.

    Tania wrote on November 20th, 2012
  4. Thanks Mark. So alcohol is “more addictive than heroin, intranasal amphetamine, cocaine, and caffeine.” I remember a class I had many years ago where the instructor explained that alcohol was the most destructive “drug” used throughout history because of all the damage it did to the people who are close to the drinker. It is hard to fully understand how something socially acceptable can be more addictive than heroin which I can’t stand to even hear said out loud. It’s good to see it put into that list and ranked.

    Vanessa wrote on November 20th, 2012
  5. I recently made the switch from beer to the Norcal Margarita and have noticed a significant difference in how I feel the next morning and throughout the night. One noticeable difference is a feeling of “levelness” throughout the night as opposed to your typical downward spiral that accompanies an overindulgence in boozing. Obviously I feel best when I don’t drink at all, but where’s the fun in that?!

    Mike wrote on November 20th, 2012
  6. Very thorough post, Mark!

    I was doing research for a book about 4 months ago and I discovered that alcohol actually increases certain phases of sleep. It changes ‘sleep architecture’ but I’m not so sure that our sleep architecture needs changing. And I think most people would agree that sleep quality gets compromised after drinking.

    Victor Dorfman wrote on November 20th, 2012
  7. I’ve been eating paleo for over two years. Since about six months, red wine no longer tastes good. It tastes like it has “cork”. White wine and spirits taste OK. I can’t explain it. Can you?

    David wrote on November 20th, 2012
  8. Agree w/ Shary. Drinking is a social thing. When I’m at home, I’m fine drinking a glass of wine and calling it a night. But when I’m out on weekends with friends and I have no obligations the next day, that’s when I’ve had a tendency to have a few too many drinks. This often leads to feeling guilty the next day … especially when I miss a workout or have a drunken eating binge the night before. I have found that these types of nights happen less and less the older I get (I’m 31). Sometimes I think I should just give it up entirely … but the social pressure looms.

    Scott wrote on November 20th, 2012
  9. I can’t believe this was the post today on MDA. I’m about 3 days into a “I’m not going to drink” experiment. It started because my bottle of rum ran out and I decided to not buy another one the next day. If it’s in my house it’s essentially impossible for me to not drink it at night. I was never really a huge drinker but once I discovered rum and cokes (diet cokes now) I have had a really tough time not drinking. I love it. I’m not sure what the deal is with rum but it hit’s me a certain way and I just love it. I feel like that means I should probably stop….but, I feel like I can’t. Work it so stressful and the kids, house, etc…..by the time 8:30 roles around I want nothing more than to pour a drink and watch some TV. Breaking that habit is proving to be essentially impossible. The drinking does disrupt my sleep a little sometimes and some mornings I’m slightly foggy.

    Does anyone have any tips for overcoming this? Being 100% honest I REALLY enjoy it. Which kind of scares me a little. I just do not really know what to do.

    Eric

    Eric wrote on November 20th, 2012
    • I hope someone with sound, empathetic advice gets back to you Eric..Best of luck.

      Donna wrote on November 21st, 2012
    • Hi Eric. Good luck with your experiment! I’ve found having something hot, like herbal tea or broth, can help in the evenings. If you’re still having cravings you could try walking around the block or doing something physical. Having something low carb to eat just before bed should help you sleep through the night, particularly if the alcohol affects your blood glucose. My husband cut his nightly 2-3 drinks out and his sleep was still disrupted for about 30 days.

      maddieaddie wrote on November 21st, 2012
    • Eric, I quit drinking when I went very low carb and at first I thought I would go nuts because I didn’t get the “reward” of a drink. I started drinking sparkling water in the same glass in the same spot and found that what I really needed wasn’t the drink — it was that the drink signaled that I could turn off and offer myself some peace after a long and challenging day. It was a ritual with great meaning to me. Make yourself a fake cocktail, turn on that TV, and give yourself a break.

      Also, I can fit into my pants again which should be on Mark’s chart as more addictive than alcohol.

      Now that I fit into my pants, I’m drinking again, but it’s a lesson learned. Take care.

      Juli wrote on November 21st, 2012
    • Eric, I hear ya. I just finished taking a 4 week time off the booze after ending up in the emergency dept twice in a month with what they believe was panic attacks. Both times were during the day after I had had what I now understand was way more drinks than so-called “moderation” allows (what the hell is moderation anyway? if i used to drink a bottle of bourbon or vodka every night, surely a 6 pack of beers each night instead is moderate?? WRONG!!).

      I started off like you, and loved the feeling I would get from alcohol, but when I ended up in emergency and was told that they regularly have 40 year olds come in who have irrepairably damaged vital organs and dont have much time left (I am 35 with 2 kids and a baby on the way in a couple weeks), I decided it was time for a massive re-think of my life and priorities. For the pre-ceeding 2 years I had been paleo, however still had what I now know to be a massive alcohol intake.

      It was seriously hard for the first 2 weeks to completely cut it out, and I had some pretty bad headaches for those few weeks (went off coffee at the same time), however by the end of the 4 weeks I was feeling much better mentally, and could realise just what a bad effect it was having on me.

      Like you, I would use it to help escape the stresses of the day, however I noticed while not having it that I actually interacted with my wife and kids MUCH better and in more socially acceptable ways – I always thought the booze dulled my ADHD/aspbergers and sociopathic ways to the point where I was able to be normal, however I have learnt this to definately not be the case.

      After 4 weeks I went back to having just a couple drinks every now and then, rather than every night. I specifically only put in the fridge the number of beers that I am going to drink in total for that day, which allows me to make that decision BEFORE I am no longer competent to do it. This didnt work a couple times, but for the most part it has worked for me.

      I also no longer drink at night if possible, or at least 2 hours or more before going to bed – instead, if I feel like a drink at night and its not too late, I will do some high intensity exercise which kills the craving almost immediately.

      A couple of things I did while I was off everything;

      – drank sparkling mineral water when i wanted a drink – it had bubbles in it and was something different which satisfied whatever was going on in my brain
      – im big on beer, so i found a good alcohol free beer from germany that tasted pretty good. i would still drink a 6 pack of alcohol free beer in a session until i realised that was just plain stupid, so limited this to only hot days after i had done some hard physical work, and then only had 2 or 3. tried alcohol free wine, however they add grape juice to it and its disgusting – only almost drinkable one was a champagne, but still WAY too sweet for my taste
      – work out what you are going to do and tell yourself as soon as you get cravings, so that you have already planned on a course of action.

      Anyway, thats what I did. In the last 6 weeks (4 of which I was off booze altogether), I went down 2 belt notches, and my mental health has improved out of sight, with no further trips to the emergency ward as yet.

      If at any time in future I realise I am relying on alcohol to get over/through day to day life, I will be immediately taking a break from it again for at least a month to reset everything, as I NEVER want to get to where I was beforehand.

      Wylie wrote on November 21st, 2012
  10. Like Nathan, I am a tee-totaller. One time when I had a sip, it was awful. I agree with Nathan.

    Amy Hagerup wrote on November 20th, 2012
  11. I was my 4th day into the primal diet. I was invited to a diner by a good friend and white wine was on the menu. I had 4-5 glasses during the evening. I felt so bad the day after and a little the day after that: pain all over the body, sluggishness, brain fog. And when I think that I used to binge a few years back without much consequences … Alcohol has become a nogo for me!

    James wrote on November 21st, 2012
  12. I quit drinking 18+ months ago at the age of 30 after being a binge drinker (not everyday but 2/3 days heavy s week). The change has been remarkable in how I feel and my positivity. Any intermittent depression I felt has gone and I am way more in tune with myself.

    I wouldn’t tell people who like Mark Sisson drink sensibly and enjoy it to quit but like me if you are feeling completely bummed out for days after drinking, you should definitely quit. Your motivation towards life will literally double.

    Andy wrote on November 21st, 2012
    • Andy, I seem to be in this boat as well. It is a vicious cycle for sure.

      paleodude wrote on November 22nd, 2012
  13. Andy, your comment hit home for me as I have struggled with depression in the past. I continue to have a 2/3 drinks a few times per week and the occasional Saturday night binge. However, I do notice my depression worsens for many days following the binge. I eat healthy, work hard, and train 5x’s per week, but perhaps, alcohol is sabotaging my efforts physically and mentally. Is there a try balance for “moderate” consumption or should I abstain altogether? Also, any articles/links on alcohol and
    depression would be appreciated. Thanks!

    Christine wrote on November 21st, 2012
    • You can google alcohol and depression, and you will be very surprised at the huge amount of information available. I dont have any specific articles, but I remember reading one where people had depression for a week after a binge, and by the time they were just getting over it, they would hit the booze again (hate to admit it, but that was probably me until recently, and that was on a 99% strict paleo lifestyle).

      The other BIG issue I have is with the term moderation – what is moderation to one person (and what one persons body appears to tolerate), can be COMPLETELY different to the next. For instance, I could drink a 6 pack of full strength beer in just over an hour, and still be legally allowed to drive (would be just at the .05 limit), whereas that would have put most other people way over the legal driving limit.

      Moderation, in Australia at least, is now defined as 3-4 standard drinks per day for a male and 2-3 standard drinks per day for a female, with at least 2 alcohol-free days per week. In my opinion (which has recently been revised), this is WAY too much for most people on a long term basis, but if it doesnt affect you then do what works for you I say.

      Wylie wrote on November 21st, 2012
  14. Well done, Mark.

    Alcohol affects us all differently. Self-awareness is key. So is self-experimentation. They’re the only means by which we can to figure out whether drinking is something to include or jettison from our lives.

    Denial, for sure, can hinder the analysis.

    A few years ago, I stopped drinking as a 30 day experiment. I was amazed at how much better I felt. Better sleep (and more of it), way more energy, increased productivity, better mental clarity (the list goes on).

    I found I like NOT drinking better than drinking. I couldn’t have found that out had I not done the experiment.

    Susan Alexander wrote on November 21st, 2012
  15. Great post, Mark!

    Anyone have experience with using the primal diet as a “treatment” for alcoholism? Most alcoholics I know are also sugar addicts (riding the blood sugar roller coaster), and Kathleen DesMaisons talks about a connection between the success rate of recovery from alcoholism and managing massive blood sugar spikes and drops. Basically, alcoholics are self-medicating a state of hypoglycemia with a nice ol’ glass of wine (or whatever). When you put them on a diet that levels out insulin they are much less likely to fall off the wagon. I think this is absolutely revolutionary. Would love a post about it one day!

    Taryn wrote on November 21st, 2012
  16. I love my 1-2 glasses of wine per night. Not that I put strict rules around it, per se, but I don’t usually pour my first glass until 8pm (once I get home from work, the gym and get all my household chores done and can finally chillax) and I don’t have any past 10pm.

    The quantity of pure pleasure that lovely, mellow wine brings me at the end of a looooooong day is one of my favourite things in a hectic life. Plus, it’s my only vice, so I think I can afford it.

    Erin wrote on November 21st, 2012
  17. Solid post again Marks. Thank you!

    If anything, I think that all of these comments show how split people are regarding their views on alcohol despite the fact that we are all here to view MDA, therefore all somewhat like minded in our ideas on health and lifestyle.

    I am a bartender by occupation, and work in a beautiful restaurant. After a long evenings shift, and after having seen couples/families/friends having such a great time over a glass of wine, it does encourage me to take that glass after my shift. I’m definitely in that 1 or 2 glasses of wine group, and occasionally but rarely go past this. In past years, when over indulging I was definitely one of those that felt guilt and anxiousness the next day, even occasionally to the verge of depression for the day (for no reason), and that was enough for me.

    Decided to experiment, and didn’t touch a drop for the whole of October. It felt good and an achievement but overall I didn’t feel much difference. Definitely a good challenge now and again, but I agree with those guys that a nice glass of red in the evening, is a real luxury, and helps to bring balance to my routine. Something I really enjoy, and therefore is actually something quite important to me.

    Everybody is different!

    Ian wrote on November 21st, 2012
  18. Mark wrote: Less fluid means less “stuff” in your stomach, which means a more open and allowing pyloric sphincter, which means faster absorption through the small intestine.

    Does this mean that less meat (“stuff”) in the stomach during a meal has less time in contact with the hydrochloric acid which helps ensure its complete digestion?

    David Marino wrote on November 21st, 2012
  19. The increasing hunger thing is interesting. I don’t find that drinking makes me hungry at all. It definitely disrupts my sleep, which is reason enough to do it sparingly.

    Jen wrote on November 21st, 2012
  20. Is butt-chugging primal? If you dont know what that is, you will be surprised what kids are up to these days.

    Bobert wrote on November 21st, 2012
  21. A plus side I’ve noticed with beer and wine is after a heavy night of drinking I consistently hit personal records picking up heavy stuff. My last two back squat PRs in which I added 10 lbs to my previous PRs were after drinking a whole bottle of two buck chuck the night before.

    Michael wrote on November 22nd, 2012
  22. I used to drink 2 glasses of red wine with dinner most nights, and occasionally beers or margaritas.

    The “bad” thing about the Primal diet and low-carb, at least for me, is alcohol affects me in much worse ways than it used to. Perhaps the carbs I was eating buffered the alcohol in some fashion.

    Even in small doses (2 glasses of wine per week), alcohol seems to just really mess up my system.

    I stopped drinking alcohol completely about 3 weeks ago and have seen enormous health benefits:

    – no more post-drinking hunger spikes
    – rapid fat loss
    – far more energy and mental focus
    – no hangovers / being tired the next day
    – Acid reflux + heartburn : virtually eliminated
    – less asthma symptoms
    – greater energy leads to greater desire to exercise consistently which has its own health benefits

    The downsides are:
    – my friends give me hell about it :)
    – my sleep has gotten worse (sleeping about 1 hour less per day the last 2 weeks).

    With regard to the sleep I believe there is an adjustment period where your hormones reset, since they no longer have to compensate for the alcohol, and hopefully in a few more weeks I’ll be getting full sleep again. But even with less sleep I actually have higher overall energy which is pretty amazing; I can’t imagine what it will be like once I get full sleep again.

    I wouldn’t say everyone should quit drinking. I believe for many people, moderate drinking is net positive, it just depends on your genes and many other factors, but it doesn’t appear to be for me and I’m fine with that.

    vegas wrote on November 22nd, 2012
  23. Excellent article, Mark. In addition to the direct toxic effects of alcohol and acetaldehyde, drinking more than 7g of alcohol (1/2 drink) hijacks our natural cellular antioxidants and temporarily depletes them, which makes alcohol a “pro-oxidant.” This is one way in which alcohol weakens our defenses and (indirectly) increases risk of DNA damage, the first step on the road to cancer. Alcohol is strongly associated with increased risk of numerous types of cancer. The studies suggesting that “moderate” alcohol use is beneficial for the heart are epidemiological studies, which should be interpreted with caution.

    As a psychiatrist I also agree with the many readers who noted a connection between mood and alcohol use. It is a known CNS depressant and a significant contributor to mood, attention, and sleep dysregulation problems. My patients who stop drinking always feel better in the long run. However, I also agree that everyone is unique and some people do much better with alcohol than others.

    Dr.Georgia Ede wrote on November 23rd, 2012
  24. Like Mark, I drink red wine. However, I’ve never been able to stand buzzed, warped reality. I usually don’t drink more than the equivalent of 1/2 a glass with a meal. It’s probably not enough to even be of chemical benefit. I enjoy the flavors and mouth sensations with my primal steak and salmon. Just good to know it’s not harming me.

    Keith wrote on November 23rd, 2012
  25. I find it a bit depressing to think of alcohol as an enhancer to one’s social life. I do feel a bit isolated when I go out for a drink and watch everyone get wasted, and subsequently loud and ‘sociable’ but I really don’t think I’d feel any better at the end of the evening if I’d had a couple of drinks. Plus no-one would remember anyway ….

    Tracy wrote on November 23rd, 2012
  26. Wnat to get loose without alcohol? Two words: Piper Methysticum AKA ‘ava root. It’s even primal

    Pete H wrote on November 23rd, 2012
  27. The effects of alcohol, measured in dollars, constitute the biggest health problem in the country. The cost of wrecked bodies, broken marriages, screwed up children, emergency room and hospital visits, police and social services, etc exceed cancer, heart disease and the usual cast of villains. I quit over 30 years ago before I ruined my life.

    Roddy6667 wrote on November 23rd, 2012
  28. Might I add one more thing regarding alcohol disrupting sleep? For years, I woke in the night with terrible leg cramps; either in the calves or around the ankles, which feels like my ankle bones are being twisted. It’s a most awful pain.
    I’d read a piece online some time ago about the cramps being caused by dehydration, and found that drinking a glass of water at the onset of the cramps made them go away rather quickly.
    I’ve since realized that when I drink alcohol in the evenings, I almost always wake with cramps in my legs.

    Cheryl wrote on November 23rd, 2012
  29. Hello Mark

    Had a question? If anyone else knows feel free to chime in:

    I was hoping to learn more about alcohol’s effects on the nervous, muscular (skeletal) and bone (matrix) systems.

    In the latter case, small amounts of alcohol causes silicon-aiding to the bone matrix, whereas large amounts of alcohol increases the generation of PTH (parathyroid hormone) which depletes the bone matrix.

    Other claims indicate the onset of both myopathies and neuropathies bon’t don’t indicate the mechanisms.

    Do you know? Thanks & best,
    Iluv

    Iluvatar wrote on November 24th, 2012
  30. Knowing how addictive sugar is for me personally and that the physiological effects are nearly the same as with alcohol I’m staying away from the later all together.

    Harold Crews wrote on November 25th, 2012
  31. how about Kombucha beer? anyone have opinions on that??? It’s gluten free… lots of carbs though

    Liz wrote on November 25th, 2012
  32. A very well written article.

    I don’t consume alcohol and do not support its consumption for any reason. Its health and stress benefits are achieved with other methods without the negatives of alcohol consumption.
    I don’t suffer maladies from the deficiency of alcoholic beverages, therefore I don’t use them for mitigation regarding my health.

    the sage wrote on November 26th, 2012
  33. I am surprised no one has commented on the affects of grain alcohol on their systems…
    For years I was a scotch and bourbon drinker. When I went 100% primal, bourbon and scotch started making me “loopy” after just one drink.
    Not putting 2 and 2 together, but not liking the feeling, I started drinking only wine, brandy (distilled wine) and tequila which did not have the same “loopy” affect.
    Eventually it occurred to me in may be the distilled grains that were causing it, as I no longer have any tolerance to them. Recently Dr. Mercola published an article supporting the same theory.
    I know I’m crazy, but could I also be correct?

    Erik wrote on November 27th, 2012
  34. Hm, I am a HUGE martini girl and I don’t think I’m gonna stop. I drink 3-4 in any given week.

    Besides, who can argue with this? (*tongue in cheek*)

    http://www.bmj.com/content/319/7225/1600

    locogirlp wrote on December 7th, 2012
  35. I think the term “moderate drinking” is a vague term. There’s a BIG difference between a “light” beer and what I like (Russian Imperial Stout…9%-10% alcohol). I usually have one after work…. and two on a day OFF from work. If I ever have three, in retrospect, I see it as a mistake !

    Ted Harazda wrote on May 10th, 2013
  36. There are some advantages or disadvantages of drinking wine :
    Advantages: It is useful for reducing stress , Heart disease,
    If anybody drink too much wine then it will be harmful for his/her body.
    Disadvantages: Sometimes it gives hangover, disrupts our sleep.
    Thanks for sharing, keep updating.

    Rusty Solomon wrote on May 17th, 2013
  37. I’ve just decided (two days ago) to quit drinking AGAIN, so I went to search out MDA for some inspiration. I’m torn, because of course there are great upsides (the social aspect primarily for me) and terrible downsides. But once again I’ve reached the point where the latter outweigh the former. I am torn between leaving a mental door open for the OCCASIONAL drink at a special event…however that’s a door that in the past I’ve ended up swinging wide open all over again. So right now I’m thinking about setting a firm rule with a hard date – i.e. no booze from now to Labour Day – and then see how I feel once I get there.

    Poor sleep, low mood and bad eating decisions when I drink are all downsides for me, but the main one not mentioned in the posts above is that it aggravates my already-terrible IBS. A couple of drinks just completely sabotages all my other efforts to get my symptoms under control. Massive colon cramping and pain the next few days – pretty much a whole weekend wrecked for a few hours of escape on a Friday night. Just too large a tax on my life.

    Renee wrote on May 20th, 2013
    • OMG Renee!! I swear I can relate to poor eating decisions, poor sleep, low mood and aggravated GI symptoms after indulging in alcohol…especially after overindulging during girls-night-out sleepover on Friday. I totally get it regarding quitting drinking…”AGAIN.” Not to mention slowed weight loss; no weight gain, but still.

      Paulette Gordon wrote on May 20th, 2013
  38. I will usually have a glass or two of wine with dinner. That’s just what I do. I think it’s cultural, to have wine with dinner, that is.

    This article has taught me something about the empty stomach though. I will wait until I’m done cooking to pour a glass from now on!

    Kathleen wrote on November 20th, 2013
  39. I’ll be honest – I have an addiction problem with booze and can’t quit it. On a food level, I’ve been primal for two years – there have mainly been positive effects to my health:
    – less bloating
    – not as hungry
    – better skin
    – better energy

    However, it’s not surprising that I’ve not lost any weight as I’m eating low carb but droning almost every day – so this results in a high fat high carb diet.

    Does anyone have any tips on reducing alcohol consumption?

    D

    Dan wrote on November 20th, 2013
    • With friends and family, I have often said that carbs are addicting. When I have some carbs (crackers or sweets), I always want more. Same with having a drink. It’s hard for me to have just one drink too, though it’s not hard for me to stop after 2-3. (But then my insulin resistance kicks in, and I also get hungry…)

      People in AA will say that can’t have one drink without having many more. So the best thing is to just not have one. That’s what I try to do with carbs, and with alcohol on most days.

      I suggest this: Decide how many days/week you want to let yourself drink. Have drinks on just those days, and don’t overdo it just because it’s a drinking day. (I’m down to 3 days/week.)

      I know, it’s hard to go through the usual routine, when you normally drink, and then not drink. So it might also help to do something different. (Go to the store. Go for a walk or a bike ride. Do a craft or chore. In other words, do something affirmative. Don’t just avoid a negative.)

      At least, that’s what has worked for me. Good luck!

      Richard S. wrote on November 20th, 2013
  40. I’d like to see alcohol discussed from a hormetic perspective – in other words, as a stressor that – within certain bounds – promotes health as the body adapts to the insult.

    perelmanfan wrote on November 20th, 2013

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