No discussion of nutrition or holistic living would be complete without addressing alcohol. Booze has been used since the beginning of time for religious, medicinal, and recreational purposes, but like any elixir, there is a fine line between its benefits and its potential to cause damage. Some drinks, like wine & beer, contain antioxidants and may lower stress levels and contribute to heart & vascular health. But one man’s healing elixir can be another man’s poison. Because we are all so biochemically different, food and substances affect us all differently.
Alcohol is tricky because at a basic level, it is a simple sugar that spikes the body’s blood glucose levels immediately. This is one reason why people often get tired after they have a drink (blood sugar spike & crash), or why they end up hungry and making careless food choices, or why they eat too much after drinking (3am pizza, anyone?).
Here’s the thing. Alcoholic beverages are fermented and contain yeast, sugar, and whatever other ingredients they were made from (grapes, grains, potatoes, etc). Fermented drinks can provide health benefits, but some people are sensitive to the sugars and yeast that alcoholic beverages contain. These sugar sensitive folks may not be able to tolerate the alcohol (may suffer adverse reactions), or conversely, they may be predisposed to binge drinking because the sugars in the alcohol temporarily relieve the blood sugar instability or hypoglycemia to which they are prone. They feel better when they are drinking. The sugar and yeast in booze can cause intestinal inflammation and imbalance in the delicate gut ecology, causing candida infections (yeast overgrowth), which can cause health problems over time, from digestive issues to sugar cravings to hormonal problems to cognitive issues. Also, alcohol contains a lot of calories and breaks down as sugar. Sugar is your body’s main source of fuel, and when it gets what it needs, the remaining sugar is stored as fat. So yes, booze has the potential to make you fat if consumed in excess.
If you have normal alcohol chemistry, meaning you have no tendency toward binge drinking or dependence, alcohol can certainly be a part of a healthy lifestyle. After all, we equate it with special occasions and celebrations. Red wine especially is high in a potent antioxidant called resveratrol, which can slow signs of aging. The hops in beer can promote relaxation, and both can improve cardio health, according to research. I’m not an advocate of liquors, but vodka is low in sugar, and the potato-based vodkas are grain free if you avoid gluten, sugar, or other grains. Most guidelines assert that one drink per day is acceptable for women, two for men. While I don’t think anything should be used every day, it’s certainly fine in moderation. My philosophy is that you shouldn’t be addicted to or dependent upon anything, whether it be coffee, marijuana, cigarettes, chocolate, or booze, so if you *have* to have a drink every night to relax, you need to focus on the underlying reasons why you need it.
Abnormal alcohol chemistry ranges from allergic-addicted alcoholics to those who have low feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine, GABA, or serotonin, or even low levels of fatty acids. The feel-good chemicals in booze literally plug up the receptors and give these types of people a high that brings them to homeostasis. These are the people that can’t stop at one drink and tend to binge on four or more, then wake up the next morning and are able to do it again that night (or day, for that matter). Normal alcohol chemistry means that you are not compelled to binge and if you do, you wake up the next morning feeling truly crappy and may not drink again for a while. Despite potential health benefits, alcohol is a poison and must be detoxed by your liver. If you are binging or getting drunk regularly, you are putting enormous stress on the liver and causing inflammation throughout the body. When the pendulum swings this direction, you are no longer reaping health benefits from booze, and you are actually prone to damage.
With that said, there are a few guidelines to follow to use alcohol in a proper manner. Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Drink water in between alcoholic drinks. Booze is very dehydrating and disrupts the body’s delicate electrolyte & mineral balance. If you are using alcohol every day, even in moderation, ask yourself if you can go a few weeks without it. Try it, even. You might be amazed at how different you feel without it. Alcohol can be a depressant and an energy drain.
If you have alcoholism in your family, use it with caution. It is true that alcoholism in a genetic disease. The deficiencies and imbalances that alcoholics carry are passed along through generations. It’s the same with food addiction & depression issues–these are all biochemical disorders and not an issue of willpower. If you feel you have an addiction issue, realize that the issues can be corrected by addressing the underlying physiology, whether it be low neurotransmitters, a sugar sensitivity or hypoglycemia, a food allergy (gluten intolerance goes hand in hand with alcoholism and cravings), or a fatty acid deficiency.
Drink with care!
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