Do you like to have the occasional glass of wine with dinner or a margarita, Moscow mule, or mojito at a festive occasion? Even if you know that heavy drinking can cause serious consequences, you may figure that being a light drinker is no big deal. Personally, I like to have a glass of wine once in a while, and that’s what I thought. But then I listened to a podcast by Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, on alcohol and how even light drinking can have dramatic impacts on the brain and body. I have to admit, I found it really disturbing, and it changed my entire view of light drinking and made me think sugar-free mocktails might be a better choice.
Let me share my biggest takeaways.Even if you know that heavy drinking can cause serious consequences, you may figure that being a light drinker is no big deal. But even small amounts of alcohol can have dramatic impacts on the brain and body. Click To Tweet
6 DANGERS OF LIGHT DRINKING
1. Alcohol invades every cell in your body.
Booze is fat-soluble and water-soluble, which means it works its way into all of the cells throughout your body, and it crosses the blood-brain barrier, so it attacks your brain too.
2. Alcohol is a hormone disruptor.
When you have a drink, you tend to feel more relaxed and the stresses of your day seem to melt away. In the moment, the booze triggers an increase in the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. But after those immediate effects wear off, dopamine and serotonin levels drop—even lower than they were before you had that drink. This is accompanied by an increase in levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Over time, that uptick in cortisol is likely to make you perceive situations as more stressful.
3. Alcohol interferes with sleep.
So many people turn to wine, beer, hard seltzer, or hard liquor as a way to induce sleepiness. For many people who consume too much caffeine or who can’t shut off those racing thoughts at night, alcohol seems like the ideal solution to calm the brain for a good night’s sleep. Think again! Initially, alcohol suppresses neuronal function making you feel relaxed. But a few hours later, those neurons rebound, causing you to awaken in the middle of the night. It’s like someone flipped the “on” switch inside your brain and you can’t turn it off. You may toss and turn for hours before being able to drift back to sleep but will wake up feeling unrested, groggy, and crabby.
4. Alcohol kills good gut bugs.
I talk a lot about gut health and how important it is for your mental health and emotional well-being. The bacteria in the gut communicate with the brain and that connection can promote either positive moods or negativity and anxiousness. When you have a healthy balance of good gut bacteria, it helps with emotional health. When bad bacteria take over, you’re likely to struggle with moodiness, stress, or anxiety. What’s alcohol got to do with this? As a nurse by profession, I can tell you that we swab alcohol on the skin before giving someone a shot because it kills bacteria. Well, it does the same thing in your gut. In particular, it kills the good gut bugs. For some reason, the bad gut bugs escape while the good bacteria die off.
5. Alcohol contributes to leaky gut syndrome.
Your gut consists of approximately 30 feet of tubing (including your stomach) that winds all the way from your mouth to the other end. The gut is lined with a single layer of cells with tight junctions that protects it from foreign invaders. If those junctions become excessively porous, it leads to a condition known as leaky gut. Guess what can cause those junctions to widen? Drinking alcohol—even small amounts. A single glass of bubbly or one mai tai can expand those junctions, which may allow toxins to pass into the body. In fact, alcohol can change the microbiome in ways that make you want to drink more and more.
6. Alcohol is poison.
Bottom line, alcohol is a toxin that attacks every cell and every organ in your body, including your brain. If you love yourself—and I hope you do love yourself—why would you poison yourself with a substance that harms you? Would you sip on a small dose of arsenic or cyanide? Of course not!
HEAL YOUR BODY AND BRAIN AFTER DRINKING ALCOHOL
If you’ve been a heavy drinker, or even if you only imbibe occasionally, you can help your brain and body recover from the damage. Adopting brain-healthy habits is the key to improving your overall wellness. Here are 3 quick tips to help you get started.
- Cut out the booze.
- Opt for sugar-free mocktails if you want to drink something festive.
- Drink more water to stay hydrated.
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