A glass of wine or pre-dinner aperitif may signal the start of a relaxing evening after a long day at work. Research suggesting that moderate drinking may have health benefits, including decreasing the risk of heart disease, adds to the appeal of enjoying a drink. Moderate consumption of alcohol is currently defined as up to one drink for women and two drinks for men. While drinking can provide an atmosphere of relaxation and camaraderie with friends, drinking too much alcohol may prematurely age you. The following are 11 ways that alcohol affects your health and can leave you looking and feeling older than you are.
11. Alcohol Is Dehydrating
One reason a night of heavy drinking is followed by the headache of a hangover is due to the dehydrating effects of alcohol on your body. Research suggests that alcohol causes you to lose water stores by either speeding up the production of urine or decreasing the production of antidiuretic hormones. Whatever the cause, drinking too much alcohol deprives your cells and body tissues of the water necessary to carry out normal functions. Dehydration contributes to dry skin, mental confusion, and sluggish performance. Not exactly the picture of youth and vitality!
10. It Makes You Look Older
The diuretic effects of alcohol divert water away from your skin in order to provide your organs with the highest possible levels of hydration. This can leave your skin looking dry, wrinkled, and saggy. In addition to drying out your skin, alcohol abuse can damage the capillaries in your face, making it appear red and blotchy. The facial puffiness and bloating associated with sugary, high-calorie drinks also contribute to the appearance of premature aging. Nix the extra drinks and pamper your skin with clean, pure water to retain a youthful glow.
9. Alcohol Can Damage Your Organs
Excessive amounts of alcohol place undue stress on many of your body organs and systems. While a glass of red wine may impart some heart benefits, too much alcohol can increase the risk of heart disease. Substantial amounts of alcohol can damage your heart muscle, raise your blood pressure, and cause irregular heartbeats. The stress of alcohol on your liver can cause cirrhosis, fatty liver, and alcoholic hepatitis. Additionally, the National Institutes of Health warns that alcohol increases the formation of toxic substances in the pancreas that can cause pancreatitis.
8. It Shrinks Your Brain Cells
Alcohol has a pleasurable effect on your brain by releasing feel-good endorphins and decreasing inhibitions. However, alcohol can have a negative effect on brain health by causing brain cells to atrophy. Excessive quantities of alcohol can cause slurred speech, decreased motor skills, and blackouts. Drunkenness has an obvious effect on short-term mental functioning. However, one study suggests that even drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can lead to a decline in memory, understanding, and brain function. A separate study found that brain scans of heavy drinkers showed increased brain degeneration when compared with those of moderate drinkers.
7. It Suppresses Your Immune System
Excessive amounts of alcohol can prevent your body from mounting a proper immune response when confronted with infectious diseases. Studies suggest that alcohol not only leaves your body open to attack by infection, but it also prevents your body from repairing cells and tissues damaged by illness. Alcohol disrupts the normal flora of your digestive tract, leaving you susceptible to gastrointestinal illness. It may also weaken your respiratory system, allowing you to fall prey to respiratory diseases such as pneumonia or RSV.
6. It Interferes with Healthy Heart Function
Drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol can be damaging to your heart. The heart-healthy effects of the antioxidants in red wine are surpassed by the dangers of overindulging in alcohol. According to the American Heart Association, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can cause high blood pressure and heart failure. Alcohol can also raise your cholesterol by increasing the amount of triglycerides in your bloodstream. Furthermore, excessive drinking is often linked to obesity and the increased risk of heart disease caused by inappropriate weight gain.
5. Alcohol Can Worsen Other Medical Disorders
Alcohol can present a barrier to the proper treatment of other medical disorders and conditions. Since alcohol can raise blood sugar levels, those with diabetes are at risk of decreased blood glucose control. The stress alcohol places on the liver can contribute to liver damage. Alcohol can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression when used by those with mental health conditions. Finally, sleep disorders can be aggravated by alcohol, which can disrupt the body’s normal sleep-wake cycle.
4. It Can Interact with Your Medications
Alcohol can interact with many prescription and over-the-counter medications by either decreasing their effectiveness or increasing dangerous side effects. Combining alcohol with certain antibiotics can decrease the potency of the antibiotic, delaying your recovery from infection. Certain heart medications are increased in effect by alcohol and can lead to dangerous drops in blood pressure. Alcohol can decrease the effectiveness of diabetic medications, resulting in poor insulin control. Pain medications can interact with alcohol to produce extreme drowsiness and loss of the mental and physical control needed to drive a car or operate machinery.
3. Alcohol Can Contribute to Accidents and Injury
Alcohol acts as a depressant on your central nervous system. The loss of mental sharpness, motor control, and balance can result in falls, accidents, and injuries. Diminished inhibitions can lead to unwise decisions, such as engaging in an argument, provoking a fight, or getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated. One wrong decision can lead to years of pain, regret, and disability. According to the CDC, drunk driving is a factor in 28% of all traffic deaths in the United States.
2. It Interferes with Restorative Sleep
The relaxing effects of alcohol make it seem like an appropriate way to wind down and prepare for sleep at the end of a long day. However, the National Sleep Foundation reports that drinking alcohol at bedtime can have a negative impact on restorative sleep. The National Sleep Foundation lists disruption to your normal circadian rhythm and interruptions in REM sleep as negative consequences of alcohol consumption. Additionally, an increased need for nighttime bathroom trips and difficulty breathing due to overly relaxed breathing muscles mean your slumber is not as restful as it should be.
1. Alcohol May Increase Your Risk of Cancer
Alcohol may not just leave you dried up, worn out, and sickly. It can also increase your risk of certain types of cancer. In its Report on Carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classifies alcohol as a carcinogen. Alcohol can contribute to head and neck cancers, liver cancer, breast cancer, esophageal cancer, and colorectal cancer. According to the National Institutes of Health, alcohol may cause cancer when it is metabolized into acetaldehyde in the body. Alcohol may also prevent the absorption of necessary nutrients and increase the body’s production of estrogen.