Alcohol and Your Metabolism

By Tina Paymaster, PHASE IV Functional Nutrition & Health Specialist

Alcohol and fat metabolism

One of the most common questions I get asked by new clients starting a nutrition program to lose weight is “Can I still drink alcohol?”

Before answering this loaded question, let’s look at what alcohol actually does to the body and how that may or may not impact your ability to lose weight.

Because the body can not store alcohol, it travels right from the stomach and small intestines into the blood and then the liver where it is metabolized. While in the liver, an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase converts the alcohol to acetaldehyde.

Acetaldehyde is then converted to acetate by a series of other enzymes and high levels of acetate in the blood halt fat burning.

Alcohol is a toxin, therefore the body will prioritize metabolizing it over sugar and fat.

Your body’s fuel sources

When trying to shift your body to burn more fat, eating a lower carb, higher fat diet is often the strategy. This is because your body will typically burn whatever you feed it. So with fewer carbs in your system, the body is forced to burn fat as fuel.

This is how fasting works as well, except the body is burning the body’s fat stores instead of fat from food.

Carbohydrates, just like alcohol, eventually get produced into acetate as well. However, they go through a longer process of conversion, whereas alcohol is almost immediately converted to acetate, which is why it can have a more immediate and significant effect on the body’s metabolism.

Alcohol and digestion

Alcohol can have an irritating effect on the digestive lining and can also eventually weaken the kidney and liver, leading to serious health issues. When digestion is impaired this can not only cause discomfort, but will interfere with nutrient absorption, which can lead to malnutrition.

Alcohol and blood sugar

Moderate amounts of alcohol consumption can cause blood sugar to rise, causing cravings which can lead to overeating. But excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels because the liver is more concerned with metabolizing the alcohol from the blood instead of keeping blood sugar balanced. Symptoms of low blood sugar can be dizziness, confusion, blurry vision, fatigue, lack of coordination, headaches and become unconscious. If you are pre-diabetic or diabetic, approach alcohol consumption with extreme caution.

What if I only drink on the weekends?

Although refraining from alcohol during the week is beneficial, when you save up for the weekend and go all out, you can end up doing just as much damage as drinking regularly during the week. A 2005 study from the BMC Public Health showed that binge drinkers – those people who didn’t drink eery day but drank heavily on regular occasions – were just as likely to become obese as people who had four or more drinks per day.

The bottom line if you want to reach your goals…

If you don’t want to give up alcohol, then it’s best to stick to no more than 1-2 drinks a 2x/week if you already follow a clean, balanced diet. Although the going recommendation is no more than 1 drink a night for women and 2 drinks a night for men, if you want to support your body n the best way, don’t make alcohol a daily habit. Make sure to avoid the sugar-laden drinks and stick to a glass of wine, a beer or a vodka-soda.

If you are looking to lose weight and improve your athletic performance, it’s best to give your body a break for at least 4-8 weeks and see how you feel.  Chances are, you will not only feel better, but see better results too.

Looking for personalized nutrition guidance?

At PHASE IV we create customized nutrition plans that are designed to optimize your metabolism. Call us to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation at our facility in Santa Monica. 310-582-8212

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