Alcohol: The Good and the Bad
Mark’s Daily Apple
by Mark Sisson: Dear
Mark: Wheat and Asthma, Minimalist Winter Shoes, High-Fat Rat Cognition
Study, and Sun Exposure Timing
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.
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:
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).
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).
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
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.
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
hereditary, too, meaning some people will be far more likely
to become addicted than others.
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.
judgment and perception.
alcohol destroys a person’s ability to safely maneuver a motor
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.”
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.
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).
the rest of the article
to Lew's recent podcast with Mark Sisson
November 23, 2012
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