In a previous blog post, I told you all the ways that alcohol impacts the body, from damaging the lining of the stomach to creating oxidative stress and acidity in most cells of the body. The list of negative impacts is long and could be somewhat depressing, if you’re like me and you want to be healthy while also enjoying a glass of delicious bubbles! Ugh!
To try and make up for my role in any new angst you feel about your G&T, I want to tell you the ways that you can help your body deal with alcohol, should you choose to imbibe.
Now, before we get started, I want to repeat that I do not condone alcohol consumption by those for whom doing so would be detrimental to the physical, mental and/or emotional well-being of themselves or someone else.
As well, the below is meant for people who are capable of enjoying low to moderate amounts of alcohol and is not intended for those who are heavy drinkers or have an addiction to alcohol. If you have a destructive relationship with alcohol, I urge you to ignore this information and contact a healthcare professional who can help you heal your body and spirit.
Factors in the Alcohol Consumption Decision Tree
I thought about creating an actual decision tree for you to use as you decide if and how much to drink. But I quickly realized that creating such a tree for you (or anyone other than myself) is absolutely impossible!
You see, there are about a bijillion things that need to be considered for a person as it relates to alcohol consumption. The simplest factors are age, location, transportation requirements / availability and pregnancy status. Even using just those four would create a decision tree that is bigger than I can put into a graphic and fit on this webpage!
So, rather than outline e-v-e-r-y-thing that you need to consider, I’m going to assume that you are an intelligent and conscientious alcohol consumer who is looking for increased awareness to apply to your drinking choices. As such, consider the following factors when making a decision about alcohol consumption:
- Do you have a compromised digestive system? This might be a result of gastric bypass or a sensitivity to stomach acid. No matter what it is, many gastrointestinal issues will be exacerbated by alcohol consumption and/or allow for faster absorption that will result in greater intoxication.
- How does your choice of beverage behave in the body? Remember, bubbly drinks are absorbed more quickly; beer and wine are linked to heartburn; high alcohol content beverages will intoxicate you more quickly at the same volume as low alcohol drinks.
- Do you have a condition that may be exacerbated by drinking alcohol? If you’re not sure, ask your healthcare provider if alcohol can make you feel worse. The following is a partial list of conditions to be considered:
- Compromised liver function as seen with fatty liver, hepatitis, liver injury and cirrhosis
- High blood lipids / hyperlipidemia
- Poor blood sugar control including hypoglycemia and diabetes
- Leaky gut
- Skin conditions such as rosacea and porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT)
- Neurological conditions such as seizures, epilepsy and depressive disorders
- Autoimmune disorders such as psoriasis, autoimmune hepatitis and Graves’ disease. (Although interestingly, alcohol consumption seems to help Hashimoto’s thyroiditis!)
- Are you a good detoxifier? Or are your enzymes responsible for the transformation of alcohol, acetaldehyde and/or acetic acid compromised in some way? For example, wWomen and those of Asian descent tend to have less alcohol dehydrogenase, but anybody may have a genetic polymorphism that renders one or more of their detoxification enzymes less effective than it could be.
- Do you have a high toxic burden and/or are you taking one or more medications that require the same detoxification pathways? As I mentioned, most of the steps of alcohol detoxification are not unique to alcohol. Therefore, anything else that needs these same enzymes will be impacted by your choice to drink.
- How much do you weigh? The more a person weighs, the more tissue there is for the alcohol to disperse itself in. As such, bigger people tend to be able to drink more than smaller people. Of course, this should not be considered an endorsement for weight gain in order to drink more!
- How is your ratio of fat mass to lean body mass? When a person has a higher percentage of fat, there is less tissue for the alcohol to distribute itself in, since alcohol is not fat-soluble. The result is that any alcohol consumed is more concentrated in the lean body tissues, as are the metabolites of the detoxification process. This is one of the reasons that women tend to become more easily intoxicated than men, as even at healthy weights, a woman’s body fat percentage tends to be higher than a man’s.
- Is there anything going on in your life right now that would make you a less efficient detoxifier and/or make drinking a bad idea? These things include, but are not limited to:
- Fatigue (The liver is less efficient when the body is fatigued.)
- The phase of your menstrual cycle (Women tend to detox alcohol slower in the first half of the month.)
- Stress, depression or other unhappy feeling (Alcohol changes the levels of cortisol, serotonin and other neurotransmitters, which may make anxiety, stress and other bad feelings worse.)
Nutrients Required for Alcohol Handling
Presuming you got through the above and decided that you can responsibly enjoy an adult beverage, ensuring you have sufficient amounts of the a few nutrients in your body can help you handle the alcohol more effectively. After all, the ability of your detoxifying enzymes and antioxidant reactions to work depends on your nutritional status. Admittedly, I thought this list would be a lot longer when I started writing the previous blog post! In any case, these are the nutrients required for alcohol handling:
- Antioxidants, especially:
- Glutathione (or its precursors: methionine, serine, cysteine, folate, and vitamins B6 and B12)
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
- Water (to keep alcohol and its metabolites moving through the body toward elimination)
Helping Your Body Handle Alcohol
Besides simply drinking less (if any) and drinking slower (if you choose to drink), there are steps you can take to help your body handle alcohol:
- Stay hydrated before and while drinking. Some people suggest alternating a glass of water with one alcoholic beverage. But you can find what works for you… just stay hydrated!
- Consume food (especially protein) before drinking. Some people say to consume fat before drinking to “coat” the stomach. I couldn’t find any research to support this.
- Know how much alcohol is in your beverage. A “serving” of alcohol is very specific, so measure, if you must, so that you don’t accidentally overdo it. Examples of serving sizes are:
- Beer: 12 fluid ounces (355 mL)
- Wine: 5 fluid ounces (148 mL)
- Distilled liquor (80 proof): 1.5 fluid ounces (44 mL)
- Make a plan for how much to drink before you start drinking and stick with the plan. For your awareness, “moderate” drinking is considered one serving of alcohol per day for women and two servings of alcohol per day for men. And, no, there’s no such thing as “rollover drinks” and that should not be considered an average.
- Drink herbal teas or hot water with lemon to boost your liver’s detox capabilities. Teas include roasted dandelion root, burdock, mint and milk thistle. Also, consider grating the lemon rind into your lemon water to get d-limonene, a phytonutrient found only in the peel that supports the liver.
What to do if You Accidentally Drink too Much
You’re out with your friends; the food is amazing; the wine is flowing. And you get home and realize you are messed up! It’s happened to many of us (me included, so there’s no shade being thrown).
The best thing you can do is to drink as much water as possible before going to bed. Maybe drink something with electrolytes in it (like coconut water), since alcohol has a diuretic effect and likely pulled minerals out of your body with all the pee.
If it’s the next day and you’re not feeling great, find a way to break a sweat. Sweating is one of the ways our bodies detoxifies, so do some exercise and/or use a sauna to boost this detox pathway.
Finally, you can take some magic pills. Okay, they aren’t really magic, but I am astounded at how well they work at preventing a hangover when I or someone else has accidentally consumed too much alcohol. Take 2 glutathione capsules and 1 vitamin C capsule before bed. (By the way, there may be other versions of those antioxidants that will work; I can only vouch for these, as these are the ones I use and recommend.)
As always, do not take a supplement without consulting with your healthcare provider. If he/she says it’s okay and you want to order the supplements I recommend, use the Nutrition QED – Hangover Supplement Ordering Instructions which will take you to the partner that I have chosen for order fulfillment.
— Kazakevich N, Moody MN, Landau JM, Goldberg LH. Alcohol and skin disorders: with a focus on psoriasis. Skin Therapy Lett. 2011 Apr;16(4):5-6.
— Mayo Clinic Staff. Alcohol use: If you drink, keep it moderate. In Nutrition and Healthy Eating. February 11, 2014. Accessed on June 20, 2016.
— Shield KD, Parry C, Rehm J. Focus on: Chronic diseases and conditions related to alcohol use. Alcohol. 2013 Jun 22;85:2.