A Glance at How Alcohol Impacts Your Body
We’ll deep dive into each organ or system in the coming weeks, but one of the most important things to know about alcohol is that it has a multitude of health consequences for nearly every part of our body. Because alcohol is legal and widely used in our culture, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to the actual effects it has on the body. This is especially true because alcohol often makes us feel good in the moment. But knowledge is power, and understanding the impacts of alcohol on our different systems, organs, and overall health is an integral part of the choice to reduce our consumption or remove it from our lives.
Heart Disease: Alcohol use can lead to high blood pressure, high triglycerides, cardiomyopathy, cardiac arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation, premature aging of arteries, and an overall increased risk of heart disease or heart attack. In 2016, the WHO reported that alcohol-related cardiovascular diseases caused an estimated 593,000 deaths globally.
Liver: A healthy liver serves to filter out toxins from the blood. It also creates all sorts of beneficial things for our bodies and breaks down what we consume into useful components. When we drink alcohol, the liver starts working in overdrive to remove the booze—a toxin—from our system. This lessens its ability to help us in other ways, and can eventually result in jaundice, fatty liver, cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer.
Pancreas: Our pancreas produces insulin. Alcohol use can lead to pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas, which can eventually result in developing diabetes. Pancreatitis can also lead to loss of digestive function, weight loss, nausea and vomiting, and severe abdominal pain.
Metabolism: Our bodies are not built to store alcohol like we are made to store fat, protein, and carbs. When we drink, our metabolism prioritizes eliminating alcohol before all other things, resulting in weight gain. Alcohol is also usually delivered in sugary beverages, and that sugar gets stored as fat when our metabolism is busy processing the booze.
Brain atrophy: With heavy or prolonged use, alcohol can actually cause the structures in our brain to atrophy, or shrink. Studies have shown a decrease in grey matter in long-term alcohol users, impacting cognition, mobility, decision making, personality, and memory.