The festive season is in full swing, which for many of us means long lunches and dinner with plenty of alcohol.
But while having a polite glass or two is nothing to fear, health experts have warned of the dangers of over-indulgence.
Speaking on the Australia-based Elevate podcast, personal trainer and lifestyle/ nutrition coach, Sarah Hopkins, and yoga and Ayurveda teacher, Amanda Nog, broke down the impact heavy drinking has on your body.
The women, who both experienced binge drinking in their 20s, noted that booze can hit your blood sugar and hormones, as well as make you more likely to crave unhealthy foods.
The experts also shared the steps you can take to find more balance – including the best tipples to choose.
Amanda drinks on average once a month and it’s not in excess – maybe a glass or two of wine
EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL ON THE BODY
A moderate amount of alcohol elevates blood sugar, which can cause you to carry excess body fat.
But binge drinking or long-term excessive alcohol consumption also has issues as it lowers blood sugar levels, Sarah explained.
Alcohol consumption causes an increase in insulin secretion, which leads to low blood sugar (otherwise known as hypoglycaemia).
This causes light headedness and fatigue, and is also responsible for a host of longer-term alcohol-related health problems.
‘Some people call the gut the second brain – if it is not functioning in a healthy way then it’s really messing up everything, not just our digestion,’ Amanda (pictured) said
Alcohol impacts the body’s hormone systems and their ability to work properly, therefore impacting reproduction, energy levels, blood pressure, development and mood.
‘Alcohol is an oestrogenic agent so it’s going to elevate your oestrogen levels which for most women will result in a higher accumulation of body fat and hormonal imbalances,’ Sarah said.
‘If you’ve got something like PCOS, endometriosis or fibroids it’s almost imperative that you significantly reduce alcohol and certainly consider completely cutting it out.’
‘Most people would have had the experience [of feeling really down] after drinking,’ Sarah said. ‘The vulnerable feeling the day after you’ve drunk that you feel like you need to be in a cave and not speak to anybody.’
‘Alcohol has an adverse effect on serotonin production so that’s why you feel depressed. It also increases the stress hormones which is why you feel that anxiety.’
‘Alcohol is an oestrogenic agent so it’s going to elevate your oestrogen levels which for most women will result in a higher accumulation of body fat and hormonal imbalances,’ Sarah said
What are the long-term effects of drinking heavily regularly?
Brain: Drinking too much can affect your concentration, judgement, mood and memory. It increases your risk of having a stroke and developing dementia.
Heart: Heavy drinking increases your blood pressure and can lead to heart damage and heart attacks.
Liver: Drinking 3 to 4 standard drinks a day increases your risk of developing liver cancer. Long-term heavy drinking also puts you at increased risk of liver cirrhosis (scarring) and death.
Stomach: Drinking even 1 to 2 standard drinks a day increases your risk of stomach and bowel cancer, as well as stomach ulcers.
Fertility: Regular heavy drinking reduces men’s testosterone levels, sperm count and fertility. For women, drinking too much can affect their periods.
Source: Health Direct
As the silly season gets well underway, thousands of Australians are enjoying long boozy nights out, free-flowing wine and countless beers around the barbeque
‘The worst part, in my opinion, is that alcohol basically depresses the nervous system,’ Sarah said.
‘Afterwards the body will give you a shot of adrenaline and cortisol to wake the body up – it’s called the neurological rebound effect. We are totally disregulating our sleep cycle for that night and completely suppressing all that magical melatonin that we need.’
According to Sarah, alcohol ‘physiologically makes you crave certain foods’.
‘If there is a bowl of chips in front of you and you don’t feel like them, you won’t eat them. If you have a glass of wine you will eat that whole bowl because it actually increases your appetite. It makes you eat more.
‘From a client’s perspective, if they are struggling to lose weight – particularly weight that is accumulated around the mid-section, top of the arms, top of the legs – then a very high chance of yielding a good result is cutting the booze out.’
‘I try and do at least five days a week with not a single drop of alcohol – we don’t have alcohol in the house other than some really beautiful wines in storage that we wouldn’t just drink,’ Sarah (pictured) said
Amanda described the gut as ‘one of the centres of intelligence in the body’.
‘Some people call the gut the second brain – if it is not functioning in a healthy way then it’s really messing up everything, not just our digestion,’ Amanda said.
Sarah added: ‘Part of the reason we feel anxious or depressed is because most of the neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin, are produced in the gut.
‘So it’s actually having an adverse effect on the gut’s ability to produce serotonin which is then making us feel anxious and depressed.’
What are the Australian drinking guidelines?
The Australian Guidelines recommend healthy adults should drink no more than 2 standard drinks on any day to cut the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
They also recommend consuming a max of 4 standard drinks on a single occasion to reduce the risk of alcohol-related injury.
A standard drink contains about 10 grams of alcohol – the amount your body can process in an hour.
The average glass of wine served in a pub contains 1.5 standard drinks.
New draft guidelines recommend healthy Australian women and men drink no more than ten standard drinks a week.
HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU BE DRINKING?
Sarah recommends abstinence from alcohol from a period of time if you have weight to lose, anxiety or imbalanced hormones.
She then suggests re-introducing it and aiming for a minimum of five nights a week without alcohol and one or two nights a week of moderate drinking.
‘I try and do at least five days a week with not a single drop of alcohol – we don’t have alcohol in the house other than some really beautiful wines in storage that we wouldn’t just drink,’ Sarah said.
‘My limit is three drinks max and I’m better after one.’
Amanda drinks on average once a month and it’s not in excess – maybe a glass or two of wine.
‘My desire for alcohol has really dissipated since I found so many other things in my life that make me feel relaxed, fulfilled and happy,’ she said.
‘Instead of going for the low-hanging fruit my daily practices mean I am already filled in those cups. I don’t “need” to reach for the wine.’
WHAT SHOULD YOU BE DRINKING?
Both Sarah and Amanda always stick to ‘organic, natural, sulphite-free and preservative-free’ wines as a ‘non-negotiable’ to stay well and avoid hangovers.
‘When it comes to wine, ideally have organic or biodynamic or both,’ Sarah said.
‘For me, I find if I drink sulphites I can feel it the next day. I always say quality over quantity. I would rather they spend $100 or $60 on a bottle and have a glass of that than $10 on a bottle with all of those dreaded things in it.
‘Also best are those really clean spirits – tequila and vodka and gin. Again, make sure they are made in a small batch style and are high quality.’
Sarah described beer as the ‘perfect storm of all things bad’ because it is made with gluten, sugar, and yeast which can all have adverse effects on the gut.
You can listen to the Elevate podcast here
HOW TO THE DREADED JANUARY SLUMP
According to Sarah and Amanda, drinking in moderation and having a break from alcohol are the most important things to consider.
‘It’s important to have a break, especially if you have been drinking on the daily for years,’ Amanda said.
‘After a break period get to know where your healthy balance point is. For some people cutting it out altogether may be the way to go and for some people having a glass of wine once a week or whatever might work for them.
‘In terms of longevity, all the blue zones (where people are living consistently over 100), a common factor is fermented beverages – namely wine.
‘From my perspective it can be a medicine, but it can also be our poison. Like any food taken into excess it can be and it’s different for every single person.’
They suggest asking ‘why’ you are reaching for a drink and whether your aim is to ‘change your state’.
‘If you can only hang out with people if you are getting drunk then what is that relationship really based on,’ Amanda said.