By Grace Avery
With the majority of the world’s population currently in isolation, it is no surprise that there has been a huge rise in sales of at home essentials, including alcohol. In the USA, the overall increase of alcoholic beverages for the week ending March 21st was a 55% spike in sales (from Nielsen). While many might see this as a way to de-stress during this confusing period, the health benefits of abstaining far outweigh the benefits of cocktail hour.
We all know it is better for our overall health to not drink alcohol in general simply because our bodies aren’t built to process it. Our heart and lungs have to pump faster, the brain is put under a huge amount of stress and the liver is desperate to metabolize it. But how, specifically does abstaining from alcohol benefit our body?
Reduces the Risk of Disease - The risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the USA, is almost doubled in heavy drinkers (excess of 14 drinks per week) according to a study by Dr. Luc Djoussee and Dr. J. Michael Gaziano (‘Alcohol Consumption and Heart Failure’). When alcohol is consumed it increases the amount of fat in the bloodstream (which can result in higher cholesterol levels) and this fatty blood is much slower to move through the body, increasing the heart’s effort to pump the blood. Drinking excessively, or even moderately, is bad for the liver as it is not built to metabolize alcohol. Similar to the heart, the liver has to work harder in order to process it, which can lead to fatty liver syndrome and other diseases, or even liver failure. However, as the liver is a regenerative organ, it can be somewhat repaired. Quitting drinking (even for a few months) gives the liver an opportunity to flush out all the leftover byproducts and return to its normal function - of course this process will take longer depending on how much you drink. Finally, the Center for Disease Control & Prevention reports that particular cancers, such as mouth and throat cancer, liver cancer and colon cancer, are more common among people who regularly consume alcohol.
Skin Benefits - Alcohol is a diuretic, which increases the excretion of water from bodies, resulting in dehydration. This dehydration makes our skin incredibly dry and less elastic. Additionally, drinking decreases our collagen levels making our skin less plump, and more saggy. Studies have also suggested that alcohol consumption ages the cells of our vital organs faster, which can speed up the ageing process and become visually apparent.
Weight Loss - If you’ve put on a few extra pounds during isolation, it may not be just from snacking, alcohol has almost the double caloric content of proteins and carbs, is high in sugar (which converts to fat) and is empty calories.
Better Sleep - Drinking alcohol can cause us to fall asleep quicker, however during the sleep, less time is spent in a deep sleep and there is an increase in rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, which can cause us to still feel tired and sluggish the next day. Without alcohol it may take longer to get to sleep, but the quality of sleep is much higher, resulting in a more energized you.
Elevate Mood - Alcohol is a depressant of the central nervous system, which slows down the brain function and results in symptoms like slurred speech, disturbed perceptions and a slower reaction time. Drinking also increases the levels of anxiety and stress.
Increased Athletic Ability - Combining the dehydration, restless sleep and effects on the central nervous system, which affects athletic ability in major ways such as; decreases the ability of recovery (causing a rise in injury), problems with motor skills (slowing our reaction time and affects balance and hand-eye coordination) and limits aerobic ability (dehydration negates stamina).
Improve Immunity – Finally, during the pandemic, one of the most important benefits – keeping our immunity boosted. The consumption of alcohol disrupts the gut barrier, which results in more bacteria entering the blood. Additionally, it severely affects the gut’s health and can completely alter the balance between healthy and unhealthy bacteria. So not only is alcohol increasing a risk of disease due to the substance itself, it is increasing the risk of catching a viral or bacterial infection.
These are a number of the major benefits from stopping the intake of alcohol. Of course, completely abstaining from alcohol is a deeply personal decision requiring a lot of reflection, but even lowering your intake can have tremendous benefits for your health.