Ok, let’s get really real for a minute. We all indulge in a glass of wine every now and again. We are not talking about huge amounts of alcohol, we all know that is not good for us! Studies have shown that most healthy populations consume moderate amounts of alcohol. However, there are those that believe that any alcohol is toxic and is to be avoided at all costs. But which is right?
Well, turns out that both have a modicum of truth. However to understand this logic, we need some basic definitions. Hang with us, it will make this easier to understand!
We are talking not about the alcohol used in the medical profession but the drinkable liquid that beer, wine and liquor falls into. Ethanol is the active ingredient in these liquids and is the “alcohol” we are referring to. Ethanol is what is responsible for the symptoms of intoxication and the potential harmful effects, and occasional bad decisions, stemming from consuming this liquid.
Is Alcohol Toxic?
First we need to define what a toxin is. More often than not, “toxin” and “poison” are used interchangeably, however, there is a difference. “Toxin” is not a clinical definition but more of a classification. When we talk about toxicity, it is the dose that makes it poison. Take, for example, a spider bite, snake bite or cyanide. These are things that are deemed “poisonous”. However, almost any natural substance can be toxic or safe, depending on the dose.
Not convinced? One atom of plutonium (highly dangerous substance) is NOT fatal. Yet 3 gallons of water (vital for life) consumed in a short amount of time can be fatal!
This is why toxicity is defined by the level of the substance in the body, not the actual substance itself.
So, by definition then, alcohol is not in fact “toxic” by itself but if consumed in a large enough quantity, it can be. Research has proven that moderate amounts of wine actually has a health benefit!
Is Alcohol a Drug?
In short…yes. Alcohol is a drug but, so is sugar, according to research. The dictionary defines a drug as :a substance used as a medication or in preparation of a medication.” Based on the rate we humans self medicate, both alcohol and sugar would be defined as drugs.
Scientifically, a drug is “a medicine or other substance that has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.” Again, both alcohol and sugar can be defined as drugs.
The Human Body Produces Alcohol Daily
We produce small amounts of ethanol daily. This occurs via the normal process of digestion of carbohydrates. Our bodies metabolize and remove this minor amount and we do not feel the effects.
However, there are rare cases of overproduction of this alcohol in what is known as gut fermentation syndrome. If you have an overproduction of brewers yeast in the body creates a high amount of alcohol after carb consumption. Some sufferers have been been charged with a DUI without drinking because of their high levels of blood alcohol content.
Based on the information above, we know that alcohol does have an effect on the body. Reserach on the positive benefits are focused on moderate consumption of alcohol. Moderate consumption is defined as 1-2 drinks in a day or less. We are sure that we do not have to point out that at high levels of consumption, alcohol is harmful and has no benefit. At high levels, we are sure that everyone can agree that alcohol is considered toxic.
Alcohol and the Liver
The body organ that is directly affected by alcohol consumption is in fact, the liver. As we drink, the liver creates an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase and it converts the ehtanol to acetaldehyde. This aceteldehyde is responsible for many of the symptoms of a hangover. The enzyme called acetalhehyde dehydrogenase converts the acetaldehyde into acetic acid (aka-vinegar) and renders it harmless.
When we consume more alcohol than the liver can handle in a short amount of time, acetaldehyde can build up. This will make you feel intoxicated and the next day can lead you to experiencing a hang over. Over time if you continue to consume these large amounts of alcohol it will cause you liver to become inflamed. On the more extreme end you can cause cirrhosis and advanced liver problems. So the take away here should be that regular consumption of large amounts of alcohol will harm the liver where moderate consumption can be helpful to the liver.
Alcohol and the Brain
Excessive alcohol consumption affects the brain several ways. Short term, you will experience drunkenness or blackouts. Long term, excessive drinking will lead to impaired brain function and dementia. On the other hand, moderate consumption is associated with improved brain function and less risk of dementia.
Alcohol and the Heart
This relationship is complicated. This area is one that researchers don’t immediately consider alcohol toxic. In some circles, moderate drinking is associated with better heart health. While excessive drinking with decrease heart health. Moderation is the name of the game once again. Moderate consumption will improve the cholesterol ratio, reduce stress and anxiety and reduce fibrinogen in the blood.
Alcohol and Sleep
Sleep is vital for health and alcohol can reduce the quality of your sleep. Too much drinking will interfere with the sleep cycles. If you look deeply into this subject you will see that the affects of drinking too much has the most dangerous effect on your sleep.
At the end of the day the answer is: it depends on the person based on a variety of factors. In large amounts it is safe to say that yes, alcohol is toxic. On the other hand, it has been proven that there are benefits to moderate alcohol consumption, especially wine. We do wish to point out that those that are prone to addiction may wish to avoid alcohol as it may be harder to stick to moderation.
We at Bella Nani do not advocate drinking in excess and wish to convey that a single glass of wine after a long day is about where we fall with our alcohol consumption. If you or someone you know battles with alcohol addiction then we suggest you reach out to our local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. For more information click here. If you are looking for more ways to unwind and find relaxation be sure to check out our spa services!