Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

Tell Me More
Stay Connected
November 20 2012

Alcohol: The Good and the Bad

By Mark Sisson
157 Comments

What 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!

Subscribe to the Newsletter

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

157 thoughts on “Alcohol: The Good and the Bad”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. I am interested in what you said about “flushing.” When I drink even one glass of wine (and it gets worse if I drink more than that) my cheeks get hot and I feel like I am blushing. Is that what you are referring to and does that mean I am at higher risk?

    Thanks,
    Emma

    1. Emma,
      I started getting a similar reaction at the end of college. At first it was after more drinks than I should’ve had, but it progressed to where I would get flushed, with red splotches from my chest up to my head after just a few drinks. Did some reading in a few medical journals, and believe I found that an increase in taurine can upregulate the production of acetaldehyde dehygrodenase. From almost the day I started a taurine supplement, the effects are non-existant now. I’m not a medical professional though, so take it for what you will.

    2. I get a terrible flush from wine. Feels like my skin is getting pricked while it’s burning. I am very sensitive to sulphites though. I can have agave tequila with no problem though. BTW, I don’t drink very often anymore and don’t miss it at all. I find food and drink to be mostly habitual.

    3. All alcoholic beverages cause dilation of the capillaries, which causes flushing. It’s why people are fooled into thinking alcohol will warm them up on a cold night, when in fact it will cool you down because more of your blood is exposed to a larger surface area.

      Red wine is also high in histamines, which can cause this flushing reaction in people who are sensitive to it. If you only experience flushing when you drink red wine, you could switch to something else and see how it goes.

      1. That would explain why my nose acts up when I drink red wine. Actually it happens whenever I drink. It didn’t used to when I was younger but now all it takes is one drink and instant clogged nose.

        1. Me too, I feel like someone fill my head with a complete pillow when I drink. Sinus full blocked…

    4. Be aware also that the gene that codes for alcohol metabolism is also deficient in people of Finno-Ugric descent/genome. I.e., it’s not just “Asians.” Though arguably many boreal/arctic Finno-Ugric people have steppe ancestors (to whom we also owe our magnificent almond-shaped eyes). 😀

      This is one reason that alcoholism is so bad in Finland and Russia: people with genetic alcohol dehydrogenase (enzyme) deficiency can drink much more alcohol before “feeling it.” We may flush, but even a five-foot-three Finn like myself can drink just about anybody under the table. In fact I used that to my advantage as a cub reporter in my 20s, and to get myself out of dates that were shaping up to be icky.

      I never understood why I was “that way” till learning about this enzymatic pathway. Some of us Finns can quite literally drink ourselves to death, and only feel the woozy relaxation that others apparently feel after a drink or two when we have had seriously toxic amounts of alcohol. This is why I rely on sauna, dietary fat, winter sports, snuggling, and Sibelius for my endorphin rushes.

      1. Mmmmmm, sauna, fat, snuggling, and Sibelius. Sounds wonderful. I’ll try to package that here in the southern US.

      2. Celts must also be like Finno-Ugric peoples! Takes a lot (or it used to, lol!) to put me “under the table”…. except in my case it involved drinking lots of army blokes under the table- who didn’t believe a girl could do it…. the things we do when we think we are bulletproof 🙂

  2. I am in the 20th day of a 21 day challenge to give up alcohol completely. This experience has given me some great perspective on drinking. I didn’t realize how much I was drinking until I stopped. I was probably going to two happy hours a week, drinking wine with a steak once a week and having a bottle with a lady friend on the weekend. That is 4 times a week which is more often then I need and led to poor food decisions the night of drinking as well as the next day I would crave junk food. I have been pleasantly surprised of how accepting people were of my choice not to drink even at happy hours and night out at the bar. It also saved me a lot of money, many bar tenders wouldn’t even charge me for a soda water with lime. Once my challenge ends I will go back to drinking but I will be doing it less often and I will try to limit my drinking to one or two glasses per occasion.

    1. Right one Wayne.

      I too have been surprised how accepting friends have been since I stopped drinking.

      I was worried about the peer pressure, awkward social situations, etc. Most of my social groups are heavy drinkers, but even hanging with them in bars, while I don’t drink has been fun.

      I might go back to having a glass of wine now and then, but for now, I like what I’m doing.

      PS. A Jack In the Box about a half mile from my house was my downfall on many a drunken night.

    2. I was thinking of doing this same 21 day challenge as I do drink along the same lines as you did before starting. I’m down to about 8 or 9 percent body fat and want to make that final jump into the 5 or 6 percent range. I feel like alcohol is what is separating me at this point. Have you noticed any fat loss or other effects in your 21 days?

      1. I’m just at the end of a paleo 60 challenge and gave up alcohol as part of that. I’ve noticed I’ve dropped almost 2 dress sizes esp around my waist, lost 6lbs, and have improved fitness at Crossfit, improved sleep, improved skin texture. Not missed it at all these last few weeks – although it was hard at first. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain – give it a go!

  3. Plastic bottle vodak is a clean source of alcohol though Everclear is probably better.

    1. I too get a terrible migraine the next day if I have any alcohol other than good vodka (Grey Goose or Belvedere). A few months ago I thought I’d make the switch to a more Paleo choice, Patron. Boy was that a mistake. The subsequent two day migraine taught me not to stray from my safe choice.

      1. However, I only drink a few times a year on social occasions and do have between 3-5 drinks each time. It feels good to cut loose every once in a while.

        I am much more likely to go out for a long walk or take an Ativan than I am to have a drink. I wonder if occasional benzodiazepene use is worse than an occasional few glasses of alcohol. Any thoughts?

        1. Certain alcoholic drinks give me terrible headaches the next day, too. Still haven’t figured it out, but a lot of times it’s cheap wine.

        2. Try one of the vodkas out there made from potatoes, sweet potatoes or grapes.

        3. I believe that occasional benzo use is safer. And I’ve taken benzos before so I’m not just speculating. Especially if not used regularly. I, too, noticed the difference from drinking Grey Goose as opposed to cheaper vodkas! However I’ve tried to eliminate alcohol completely as I really think, on the whole, it’s more detrimental than beneficial.

  4. The toxicity of alcohol may actually belong on both sides of the ledger. Because of its toxicity, alcohol activates heat shock transcription factors, upregulating the production of heat shock proteins, which help to repair and/or clear away misfolded proteins.

    1. Because of this, and because of a family history of neurological illness, I’ve been trying to drink more wine, but I just don’t like it. I may be the only person in the world whose drinking problem consists of not drinking enough.

      1. I’d be real careful about extrapolating from molecular biology to organismal biology! What happens in a multi-well dish in the lab does not necessarily translate to the human neurological system…

      2. Could you give us a few brands you chose and what about them you hated (too sweet, too bitter, etc.)? I have tried MANY, though I do lean toward the lesser expensive variety. Might be able to suggest one to you.

  5. I hate drinking anything and everything. Makes me feel like total crap no matter what kind it is or how much I consume.

  6. I love both of these shimilar posts and wanted to be sure Wayne was here early again
    gnight

  7. I recently quit drinking. It affected me several ways, but sleep was one of them.

    I would have trouble sleeping up to a full 24 hours after drinking. If I drank a lot on a Saturday, I slept horribly on Sunday night, affecting my Monday.
    I hated drinking on worknights, so I rarely went out. Now that I don’t drink, I go out more often.

    1. Im with you I sleep awful if I drink (which is pretty rare)….If im drunk oh lord were talking three day hangovers. Cutting it out really does helps you gauge how much it affects you!

  8. I’ve never been much of a drinker. I mean I’ve had my nights of getting pretty damn drunk now and again but they have been very few and far between. These days I pretty much never drink unless I’m out of town and then only if can find a good cider. Cider is really the only alcoholic drink I actually LIKE.

    I’ve found that I can quite comfortably hang out at a bar or party with friends and just drink water or a soda or iced tea and have just as much fun (or more!) then if I was drinking. And as a bonus that means at the end of the night I can insist on driving my more indulgent friends home so they don’t end up in my ambulance (I’m a paramedic, part of the reason I never drink when I’m home!).

    That said, I don’t seem to be particularly sensitive to alcohol and generally don’t have too much in the way of symptoms from drinking it. Unless I drink Budweiser or coors beer. 😛 Then I get a headache about halfway through the first can.

  9. You mentioned that alcohol is implicated in one of three car accidents resulting in death. Alcohol is also the most violence-causing drug, merely from its use. According to government statistics 49% of all murders and attempted murders are caused by people who were drinking before committing their crime. That figure goes up to over 60% in large metropolitan areas.

    As to the ancient Greeks, anyone who didn’t water his wine was considered an alcoholic. Biblical wine of the Hebrews was supposed to be 1 part wine and 3 parts water. But I imagine the ancients had sweeter wines and so adding water wouldn’t hurt. And the Hebrew priests were prohibited from using “strong drink” in a blessing. Since they didn’t have distilled spirits, strong drink could only refer to undiluted wine.

    1. What a crock. Alchohol does not cause violence, being a violent person causes violences. That statistic is stupid.
      100% of all crime is committed by people who were breathing at the time. Does that equate to oxygen causes crime? Of course not. I am weary of people being excused or their culpability being diminished due to other factors. “Oh, the alchohol made me do it.” Really? alchohol is inanimate, how exactlydoes an inanimate thing MAKE you do anything? You did it because you’re a jerkoff with poor self control. Alchohol does not even cause drunkenness. You drinking it does. Whatever you do after is your fault.

      1. Alcohol lowers inhibitions. If one is a violent, confrontational person by nature, they will become much more so with alcohol in their system (this describes my Ex to a tee). I know of several easy-going, nice people who become “happy drunks”…not violent at all. So, I agree with you: “Alcohol does not cause violence, being a violent person causes violence.”

        1. “Alcohol does not cause violence, being a violent person causes violence.”

          to which I would add:

          “…especially when they add alcohol” 🙂

        1. Actually, if the Libertarians are out, that generally means the sun is shining brightly!

        2. I was not aware that the ability to distinguish between causation and correlation corresponded solely with political beliefs. I thought it was a fundamental precept of experimental research and Popperian logic.

  10. I used to drink about 2 glasses of wine per night (sometimes more, rarely less) and I quit completely two months ago. I’ve noticed positive changes in my cycle which indicate to me that the alcohol was having a serious effect on my hormones. I cut it out to try and have a baby but regardless of what happens, this experiment has convinced me that alcohol is more poisonous than I knew, and I won’t go back to drinking at that level again.

  11. Before going primal sometimes when I drank red wine it would cause me to experience what felt like a “closing” in my throat (some kind of swelling i assumed). After going primal 10 months ago I’ve never experienced that since and drink red wine nearly every night for dinner.

  12. Thanks, Mark! Great summary as always. I’ll continue my practice of having a small glass of red wine about four times a week, with dinner.

    I would add that IF is very important in giving the liver recovery time, and that choline (e.g. from egg yolks) is great for liver health. I often fast until noon, then have eggs.

  13. I regularly drink a glas of red wine, but I have at least 2 days a week without it. Every day seems a bit much to me, especially since it is addictive.

  14. Up until 2months ago, I was drinking a bottle of red wine every day to help me unwind from the stress of life, including being in a very high pressure sales position. In the process, I gained 40 or 50 pounds. Then I retired. My doctor told me my cholesterol levels were “trending” higher, and wanted to put me on a statin drug. Instead, I declined and quit the booze altogether. The liquor store still calls my name when I drive by. I miss it.

  15. I just wanted to say that this is one of the most well-balanced analyses of alcohol consumption I’ve ever read. I’m a recovered alcoholic, so alcohol is not an issue in my diet (or my life!). One of the (many) experiences I had that made me aware of my problem was a day when I hadn’t had a drink for months, and I read an article about the health benefits of drinking a single glass of red wine with dinner as well as eating a little dark chocolate–it was a very superficial blurb in one of those mainstream fitness magazines, and the hook was something like “A little vice might actually be nice”–or something like that. So…on the way home that day, I bought a good bottle of wine and two Dove dark chocolate bars. By the time I got home–20 minutes by subway–I had already eaten BOTH chocolate bars (did I mention I’m also a compulsive eater?), and by the time I went to bed, I had polished off the entire bottle of red wine, gone back to the corner wine store, purchased two more, had a beer on the walk back home, a beer in the elevator, and finished one and a half of the two extra bottles of wine. If one GLASS is healthy, just think how healthy it was for me to have two and a half bottles! I was the absolute picture of physical fitness! Anyway, alcohol is a long-gone part of my life, and the Primal Blueprint has proven to be a God-send when it comes to eating. It is simply the most logical approach to food I’ve ever encountered–eat the way we were meant to eat. Thanks Mark!

    1. Wow Bob quite the story man, glad to hear you no longer battle alcohol congrats that’s a tough hurdle to overcome. As a personal trainer I always recommend to my clients to cut alcohol out for 30 days just to see what kind of affect of hold it has on them. Alot of people don’t realize how much of a pull it has on them. The more is better analogy is where its easy to get in trouble

      1. Thanks, Luke. That is a great approach you’re taking with your clients. Whether or not they have a problem, it can’t hurt, and they will definitely learn something about their relationship with alcohol–good or bad. It’s a no-lose policy.

    2. Bob your comment made me laugh so hard, in a good way. Because I understand. Mark labeled a section “Drink Moderate Amounts” and I immediately thought, “Moderation? What’s that” lol. To me it’s either all or nothing, so today (one day at a time) it’s nothing. And it feels SO good :]

  16. I’m on the fourth week of an elimination diet — alcohol (red wine for me most nights) is not on the list. I’ve been using a glucometer to check my reactions to food for about a year now. Before starting the diet, my morning glucose was rarely below 100 (tho not over 110) — now it’s running around 90 every morning. I have read that alcohol can increase blood glucose — and that certainly seems to be the case for my X of 1. Though it could be the dairy I’ve cut out…, we’ll see. I didn’t do much dairy, but had a glass or two of wine most nights.

  17. Good well-balanced article! I drink 2 glasses of red wine every night. But I also run, life weights, eat 100% primal, sleep well and get lots of play time. For me, wine is a pure pleasure and I balance it with everything else.

    1. Your experience is very similar to mine. I typically drink 1 to 2 glasses of red wine each night and may have some dark chocolate as well. Otherwise 90% primal plus yoga, some mid level heart rate running, lift weights and sprint. Feel amazing, body fat at 10%. The wine and chocolates are pure pleasure and luckily don’t seem to have a negative effect.

  18. There’s an interesting elephant in the primal room that’s been as far as I can tell ignored completely by the paleo world:

    When will there be an article on Cannabis? Surely it’s at *least* as primal as alcohol if not more so and it has many of the benefits of alcohol without the downsides.

    There are supposed to be no “sacred cows” here are there?

    1. I quit smoking pot almost 2 years ago, and while I doubt the consumption of cannabis itself would be all that contrary to a paleo lifestyle, I can comfortably say I will never willfully ingest any smoke ever again—I would potentially be open to eating it in a sugar/grain free vehicle at some point, however…

      1. Anyone know where Animarchy is? Surely there are so many kick-off points for a mind-bendingly wayward tale from this post…

  19. “…acetaldehyde, an incredibly toxic compound that’s been implicated in causing many hangover symptoms.”

    Many things have been “implicated” wrt hangovers, but I know of one that gets overlooked. Consistently.

    I had “hangovers” for years, especially on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Strangely enough, I DID NOT DRINK ALCOHOL. (I did get drunk once, when I turned 21, and it was such an awful experience that I can’t understand why anybody would deliberately do it a second time.)

    I had a severe case of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (currently treated, and much less severe due to substantial weight loss).

    Sleep apnea can be caused by ingestion of even moderate amounts alcohol, even in people who do not normally suffer from the disorder. One of the more obvious symptoms is irregular snoring, but that is not always present.

    Sleep apnea will give you EXTREME headaches, especially if you try to sleep an extra hour or two (e.g., Saturday and Sunday mornings), because the last sleep cycle tends to be the deepest (at least if you have OSA).

    1. Whoa. Really? That could be the explanation for my Saturday morning headaches! Back when I was SAD-ly pre-Primal, I’d get these horrible day-long headthrobbers on Saturdays, and could never figure it out! At the same time, I was having lots of apneatic sleep (which is what got me started Primal), But I had no idea they were linked! Since two years of 95/5 Primal living, thirty pounds of fat loss, and fifteen pounds of muscle gain, my apnea has all but disappeared, and I haven’t had one of those headaches in well over a year. Thanks for the info, Howard. Wow! I’m still shaking my head, here. Never would have made that connection on my own.

  20. I have heard that drinking also can cause depression. I drink a lot less than I used to and feel happier and healthier because of it.

  21. I drink wine with dinner nearly every night (6 nights out of 7). I lived in Europe for a long time; there, wine is considered a normal part of the evening meal. I probably have 2 or 3 glasses. I make sure to eat saturated fat with my meal (it protects the liver somewhat from the effects of alcohol), and otherwise I eat & live 100% primal. (And I’m a slender, fit, 40ish mother of three.)

    1. “Eat some lard before you go to drink.” – that is what I used to hear from my grandmother. Could she be aware of the intestinal mucasa damage induced by alcohol and the protective effect saturated fat can have? She died healthy at the age of 98.

  22. I work at a craft brewery and I used to have my free beer after every shift. Since going primal a year ago, even smelling alcohol is revolting and makes me gag. Wonder why? On the plus side, in the event that I need to drink for a social occasion, I make it through half a drink and I’m done for the night. Much cheaper than when I could pound several shots and a few beers and just barely feel buzzed!

  23. For most people alcohol is more of a social thing than a physical one. We drink because other people around us are drinking and, presumably, having a great time. It loosens us up and relaxes the inhibitions; wallflowers become instant social butterflies. Sometimes too much so, as in, “OMG, did I really do that last night?”

    Booze and I don’t mix well. I’m a cheap drunk because I usually get sick after a drink and a half of anything. Then I’m in the loo throwing up. Call me a killjoy, but that’s not my idea of a good time. White wine gives me a stuffy nose, and red wine gives me a headache AND a stuffy nose. Once in a while I’ll sip a G&T, but it’s gotten to be too sweet-tasting since I’ve gone paleo and eliminated sweets from my diet.

    Because of these things I rarely drink anything alcoholic and can’t say I miss it. I much prefer a glass of tea on the rocks or just water with a slice or two of lemon. Then I can sit and chuckle as I watch the OTHER people losing their inhibitions.

    1. I am with you on that entirely, Shary! I rarely drink, anymore, after I discovered how negatively it was affecting my sleep and health…and, I was a pretty conservative drinker before, with the very rare binge. I don’t like the drunken feeling or the subsequent hangover. I’m also quite the lightweight. One glass of wine and I’m toast!
      Yes, it is much more fun to sit back with my glass of Perrier water (w/twist of lime) and watch everyone else…Haha!!

  24. One of the MANY benefits I’ve noticed since going primal about 6 weeks ago is that I no longer crave alcohol. I used to feel the need to always have several drinks when out with friends, and now I’m perfectly content with none, or just one. I think it stems in part from the fact that I feel so good on this diet, that I no longer like the loss of focus and clarity brought on by drinking large amounts. I also don’t tend to have anxiety like before, and therefore no need to use alcohol to calm myself.

  25. “Is it poison, or is it a gift?”

    “Gift” is the German word for “poison.” Ach…

  26. This is SO timely and a really good analysis! I do think that the main thing is that everyone reacts differently so it’s really important to figure yourself out.
    I have often felt like i drink too much but it’s never really THAT much (maybe 2-3 glasses of red wine max/night). Fact though is I live alone and sometimes, after 2 glasses, my judgement does get impaired and i am more likely to get that last glass or more dark chocolate etc. What i have noticed though (like last night) I poured a small 3rd glass, but then ended up pouring it back in the bottle! That’s a new one. Not sure if it’s because i am newly primal (3 weeks) or what but an interesting turn.
    My goal now is 3 nights booze free and come Jan 1 i’ll do a 30d no booze challenge. I really want to get over this thing in my head that keeps telling me to ease up…

  27. Since being primal, I’ve found that I am more susceptible to alocohol effects. This is also true for my girlfriend. Any thoughts on this?

    1. I think this is the same for me, I get terrific hangovers now! But maybe I just think they are worse because I am drinking less often? I don’t know…

    2. I’m just the opposite. I’ve found that since I stopped eating grains and sugar, if I do overindulge in alcohol, I don’t feel as bad the next day. I might wake up with some slight dizziness, but none of the all-day “Irish flu.” Some eggs and berries for breakfast and I feel pretty good.

    3. Drinking alcohol I feel nauseous more quickly when eating primal (low-carb). If I want to drink more, eating a banana and potato chips before/while drinking seems to fix the problem.

  28. I’ve never had an alcoholic drink. I never saw the point in the first place.

  29. I have a glass of red almost every night. Occasionally two :o, but any more than that gives me a headache so its easy to limit it.(no white, too much sugar and not enough of the good resveratrol)

    Maybe its just me, but a small glass ( again, of red)helps curb my appetite and keeps me from wanting to eat sugar/snacks, etc….anyone else feel this way?

  30. The gift to me is my total non tolerance of alcohol. I think it has kept me out of trouble. If I just have a few sips, my arms go numb, the top of my head feels dizzy and I feel like I am going to fall over. I did drink a full glass of wine once and then up-chucked an expensive dinner.

    As a consequence I have never been drunk. I have noticed my non drinking makes some people uncomfortable. I try not to make a big deal out of it but sometimes they keep pushing. I have never been much for going along with the crowd so it doesn’t bother me other that I don’t like to make the host of a party uncomfortable.

    I am now an old person and what I want to know is, where is all the money I have not spent on alcohol?

  31. Years ago my husband worked with the chemical solvent Trichloroethylene. Within a few weeks of starting that job he began to experience fire red flushing of his cheeks neck shoulders and splotches across his forhead and back anytime he would drink more than one or two beer. We were young and nieve then and thought it was crazy but he made for an interesting conversation piece at the parties we went to. It got to the point where one beer would do this. The job only lasted 4 or 5 months and later we learned the previous man who held that job for many years of his life had died of liver cancer. Once away from that chemical the flushing reaction to beer stopped completly… until several years later when sucrolose became the new sugarfree sweetner. We switched all our sugar-free stuff to sucrolose containing products and within a few weeks my husband began having the same flushing reactions to beer. This continued a little while until we associated the two. We stoppped using sucrolose sweetened products and the flushing stopped. Both chemicals are chlorocarbons.. I have no idea and maybe there are several other chlorcarbons we come into contact with all the time but I’d say these two did something to his liver enzymes during those times when he had a higher exosure to them!

  32. I’ve always diluted wine with water. I think it makes it taste better. People get on my case about this, but apparently I’m not the only one: the NY Times article confirms it.

    1. Whaaat !!! (initial knee jerk reaction)
      Reset.
      You know what: this is a very good idea, I will do this from now on (actually I just did it to my remaining half cup of red wine)
      Thanks

    2. How much are you diluting? Does it taste the same?

      I love wine but really need to cut down as it seems to be sabotaging my weight loss.

  33. Mark, I have noticed myself that the effects of alcohol are so much more pronouned now. Not just sensitivity to it while drinking, but also the augmented hang overs the next day or two after drinking only a moderate amount (ie 2 glasses). I used to be an inconsistent drinker but when i did, it was often 4+ glasses a night. Whereas since the primal transition, my alcohol toerance has gone to almost zero regardless of whether its wine or spirits. I’ve noticed other readers making the same observation on previous posts you have logged on alcohol. It would be great if you could write a post to address why this might be the case and the possible physiological reasons underpinning it? Thanks!

  34. I use the financial software app, “Mint”, which is tied to my credit card. Every Saturday Mint sends an email that contains a pie chart infographic mapped to your spending. Many-a-emails the pie chart looked like pacman. The majority area being alcohol and bars. Good times.

    1. Ditto..

      I would get many “Over Budget” alerts from Mint.

      “You’re $350.05 over budget for Alcohol & Bars” -That was from last year.

      ~Lars

    2. What – you use a credit card? I assumed you would be on the gold standard!

      1. I would if I could. There are visa debit cards linked to gold. Euro Pacific Capital International offers one. The catch is only non US residences can use it. Bitcoin is catching on. I think word press now accepts bitcoin.

  35. I actually find that I cope with day-to-day stress better when I don’t drink. If I go a little overboard, I feel very anxious the next day and have some trouble dealing with (what should be) seamingly minor issues. Could be that alcohol really disrupts my sleep. I do enjoy wine but I stick to the occasional drink amongst good company and to accompany a great steak. That’s when it’s most enjoyable. I will try the dilution thing. As a side-note, it’s estimated that 25% of drivers in Ontario on a weekend evening have at least some alcohol in their system. Very scary considering that as of July 30th, there had been 202 road deaths in Ontario.

  36. Bourbon, either neat over over a big ass ice cube. I’ll have one after work, whilst sitting on the couch with my shoes off. I enjoy it thoroughly. Now I could post links to the health benefits of Bourbon, and I think Mark himself has even mentioned them in prior posts on spirits, but whom am I kidding? I don’t drink it because of its health benefits. I drink it because I enjoy the taste, and how I feel afterwards.

  37. I phased out the beers after my primal conversion, it was not unusual for me on a weekend on the beach to have a 6 pack. Now the few times I have beers it is never more than two in a day (and only on the weekend). I may have an average of 2, 3 cups of wine a week with food.

    But … almost daily I have one or two shots of whiskey (or brandy or gin) when having a good time at night banging my keyboard. It just feels right and my music sounds much better 🙂

  38. One trick I’ve started using is to cook a huge primal roast (or something big) on Fridays. That way, when I come home after a night of drinking I’m sure not to punctuate my night with munchies because my meal is already cooked and waiting for me.

  39. 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)

    1. But we create the finest pinot noir (Central Otago) on Earth. Blasphemy not to enjoy it, IMHO.

    2. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

  43. 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?!

  44. 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.

  45. 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?

  46. 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.

  47. 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

    1. I hope someone with sound, empathetic advice gets back to you Eric..Best of luck.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

  48. 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!

  49. 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.

  50. 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!

    1. 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.

  51. 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.

  52. 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!

  53. 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.

  54. 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!

  55. 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?

  56. 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.

  57. Is butt-chugging primal? If you dont know what that is, you will be surprised what kids are up to these days.

  58. 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.

  59. 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.

  60. 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.

  61. 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.

  62. 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 ….

  63. Wnat to get loose without alcohol? Two words: Piper Methysticum AKA ‘ava root. It’s even primal

  64. 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.

  65. 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.

  66. 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

  67. 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.

  68. how about Kombucha beer? anyone have opinions on that??? It’s gluten free… lots of carbs though

  69. 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.

  70. 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?

  71. 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 !

  72. 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.

  73. 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.

    1. 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.

  74. 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!

  75. 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

    1. 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!

  76. 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.

  77. I and several of my mother’s family members suffer from the “Asian Flush”, although we are predominantly of European descent. As far as I know all of my distant relatives were Caucasian with only strong European roots. But one thing I do know is that it is rampant in our gene pool. It is decreasing through the generations, but my mother and 2 of her 3 siblings react when having at least one drink. I am the only 1 of my mother’s 4 children who reacts this way, and it is about the same 1 in 3 or 4 ratio across the rest of my cousins.

    Until recently, I didn’t even know what it was. My family always thought of it as an allergic reaction. Until I found primal/paleo and my health awareness was raised, did I really look into what happened to me when I drank. I found similar literature describing the mutation my gene pool obviously has.

    I think you should patent a Primal blueprint alcohol flush remedy Mark! Think of the potential outreach, $$$.
    just kidding.

    I’ve wised up and realized I should just lay off booze permanently. On top of the head-to-toe flushing, my heart rate also redlines as a reaction to the acetaldeyde poisoning that occurs. Too bad this came a few years post collage..where I found that if I would just pace out my drinking over the life of the festivities and sneak in a glass of water (or five) the flushing would eventually go away, along with all the “dude did you get wind burned or sun burned today? Or, “OMG!! What’s wrong with your face?!?!” Comments.

  78. Can you supplement acetaldehyde dehydrogenase to help break down acetaldehyde? I did a quick google search and found one product that had mixed reviews. Does it not pass through your stomach well?

  79. I’ve been primal for around 10 years, look better, healthier than in 20. I love red wine, but HATE the fact that it makes me sleepy. Is there any way around this. I’d like to enjoy my wine and still be away enough for DVR’d Walking Dead after the kiddo goes to bed.

  80. Does anyone experience an “after glow” effect after a night of drinking?

    After a night of drinking with friends (for reference I am 115lb, 5’4″, female, 24 years old that can tolerate alcohol well so I will usually have around 7 drinks if it’s a long night out followed by food — sidenote: I know that is more than I “should” have but I don’t do it frequently. The amount is enough to be “drunk” but not sick or unable to remember the night’s events…) I wake up the next morning feeling REFRESHED, HAPPY, and RELAXED… much better able to make decisions, feel more satisfied with my life, and better able to stay on and complete tasks.

    I’ve read that alcohol effects GABA and some think that could be contributing to the “after glow” some experience. Some say sleep depravation but after a night of drinking I will sleep around 8-9 hours (even though my sleep will be a bit more restless) but I do not think that is the cause…

    I’m extremely interested in hearing everyones thoughts. I’d like to try and figure out which mood chemicals are affected so I can try to better balance my diet to increase whichever could be making me feel so good.

    Thanks so much in advance! 🙂

  81. On alcohol and endothelial function, I think I can provide anecdotes for the good and the bad. If I’m buzzed, but not quite drunk (as in overtly clumsy), my cardio performance seems to get a boost. Occasionally I turn to moderate amounts of alcohol as a performance enhancer when going on a long bike ride or extended hike, such as leg-powered traveling. It also makes the experience more fun.
    On the other hand, one day I definitely drank more than I should have and had my SpO2 tested. It was at 91%. That’s the lowest I’ve ever seen it. Usually it doesn’t go lower than 98% and often sits at 100% so when I saw it at 91% I was horrified.

  82. I don’t know why but for some reason I can handle alcohol much better than everyone I know (including family) I’m an 18 y/o girl, 5’7″ and weigh 8st and can easily clear 9 double vodka lemonades and a few shots in one night, never thrown up from drinking and had about two hangovers in my life, both caused from week long binges. Also unlike others I don’t get aggressive when I have vodka. Could be because I’ve been getting drunk on vodka fairly regularly since I was 15? The only thing is I had a bout of depression a while ago, stopped the amount I drank (I was doing that 9 double vodka thing every single weekend) and now at 18 years old I stick to a few ciders and that’s me, much happier now and ready to begin the transition to a paleo diet!

  83. I see different people get different effects.. for me – I’ll say my charm goes up, after two shots one after the other, charm goes way up, I friggin become invincible. I can process and analyse situations much better – like a smooth criminal -in this case like an irresistible charmer. Now knowing people and the human psychology, I am already quite an expert at judging and smirking at all the dirty things people may exert on you depending on their issues. So socializing is amusing already, but with the addition of alcohol.. the experience is incredible. After two shots of whisky, I would feel smooth, at the peak my lips might feel soft and numb, and I might feel goosebumps on my face -thats the point I get invincible. No one in this world with the worst possible issues can put even the slightest affect on my mood.. instead I can observe.. and say or do something at the perfect time that can drastically change his mood in an instant. its like a shot -of paradise(for the other guy) and I can continue till he is so hyped up that he is laughing. same happens with girls..

    now..some observations.. I get a bigger buzz if I drink after a few days or a weeks gap. Also I get to the point if I drink shots all at a time. subsequent shots taken later on do not work. looks like my body got a resistance system going on.

  84. I have a weird desire now to make a false blog. What is a good blog site to do this and let people know that its not really my thoughts but of my characters thoughts?.

  85. Interesting article, and appreciate the honest feedback you have received. I really don’t care for any drinks except very cold Vodka on ice, with fresh lemon juice, and also like wine. I have this before a late dinner every night, and seem to have no real health concerns that are apparent. I love to exercise daily, love healthy food, and am naturally slender. I’ve had a lot of trauma in my life, and realize I am lucky to even be ALIVE!! Thus, I don’t try to resists alcohol, I accept that it is a part of my life. Just like I have desserts everyday, and then I hope I don’t binge, and don’t feel the need to. Would be interested, if other’s accept this part of themselves?

  86. Some cheap alcohol and liquors are OK. Vodka and tequila should be the only ones thrown out of the liquor store and any very expensive alcohol or wine as people will break in or raise one way or another to be able to purchase it

  87. Alcoholism in many cases if not in most cases is yearsi in the making . In my case about 15 years ago I started to have 2 glasses of red wine for the supposed health benefits. Gradually those 2 glasses became 3 then 4 . Finally when I decided to stop I was up to almost 2 bottles a day. Alcohol is very sneaky and addictive.

  88. It’s really interesting how you said that there are actual health benefits that come from drinking alcohol in small amounts. My husband and I aren’t big drinkers but we don’t mind one every once in a while. We live pretty far from town now though, so having some kind of liquor delivery service would be nice so we could have access to what we like, and the health benefits that come with it, without having to drive into town.

  89. Mark, you are my number one resource for anything health. Amazing how much knowledge and wisdom you possess. If I have a question about something that I think you may have an answer for I always check your website first. Thank you!!!