About Alcohol

about alcohol

Alcoholic beverages are made up mostly of water, and the remainder made up of ethyl alcohol (or ethanol)
WHAT IS IT

A minor share is represented by other substances, both naturally present and added: aromatic compounds, dyes, antioxidants, vitamins, etc. Water aside, the fundamental and characteristic constituent of each alcoholic drink is ethanol, a substance foreign to the body and not essential, indeed in many ways toxic. The human body is mostly able to withstand ethanol without obvious damage, as long as it remains within the limits of what is now understood as moderate consumption, i.e. no more than two to three Alcoholic Units (AU) per day for men, no more than one-two for women and no more than one for the elderly (see below box for the definition of AU). Although not a nutrient, ethanol provides a large amount of calories that add up to those brought in by food and can therefore help make us gain weight.

DEFINITION OF ALCOHOL UNIT (AU)

An Alcoholic Unit (AU) corresponds to about 12 grams of ethanol; such an amount is contained in a small glass (125 ml) of medium grade wine, or in a can of beer (330 ml) of medium grade or in a bar dose (40 ml) of hard alcohol. The calorie equivalent of one gram of alcohol is 7 kcal.

alcohol units explained

HOW IS IT ABSORBED BY OUR BODY

Ethanol is absorbed already in the first portions of the gastrointestinal tract, and in modest proportions even in the mouth. Some factors change the absorption times: the presence of food slows them down, while the presence of carbon dioxide (soda, sparkling wines and other sparkling drinks) accelerates them. Once absorbed, ethanol enters the blood and from there goes into all body fluids; this type of distribution is one of the fundamental mechanisms of different alcohol tolerance in different individuals, in different sexes and in different conditions.

Since there is no possibility of storage for alcohol in the body, it must be rapidly metabolized. This transformation of ethanol takes place, by specific enzymes, at the gastric and especially liver level. It is important to underline that while the enzyme present in the stomach metabolizes ethanol before it is absorbed and reaches the blood, and therefore the whole organism, the enzymes present in the liver act only after it has entered the organism and has had therefore a way to exert its effects, the more important the more it is absorbed. It is evident that drinking alcohol on a full stomach is better because it causes ethanol to be absorbed more slowly and decreases the amount that enters the bloodstream.

The ability of enzymes in the liver to transform ethanol is limited: under normal conditions the liver is able to remove up to 0.5 A.U. for every hour. During this time it is therefore partially “distracted” from its other normal tasks. In some individuals, in some breeds and in women, the efficiency of this system is very reduced: these people are therefore more sensitive to alcohol

ACUTE EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL

Depending on the concentrations that alcohol reaches in the blood, there are well-known effects on the nervous system and on the body in general. These effects are summarized in Table 3, with particular emphasis on the consequences of small doses for what concerns driving the car or the use of dangerous equipment for oneself and others. In fact, the legislation of European countries (and the vast majority of countries in the world) establishes a limit of 0.5 g per liter of blood: beyond this limit it is strictly forbidden and punishable to drive a car. But it is to be taken into serious consideration that already at values of 0.2 g per liter (less than half then) there is a more swaggering behavior, which leads to underestimating the dangers and overestimating one’s own abilities.

Finally, a very small percentage of ethanol (2-10%) is eliminated unaltered through lungs, urine, sweat, etc .; it is precisely by using this elimination system that non-invasive tests (balloon) can be carried out which allow to evaluate the share of alcohol present in the blood (alcoholemia). The concentration of ethanol in the blood therefore depends on various factors: the amount ingested, the method of intake (fasting or meal), the body composition, weight, sex, genetic factors, the amount of body water, the capacity individual to metabolize alcohol, from habit to alcohol. Women, having a lower weight, lower quantities of body water and lower efficiency of the alcohol metabolism mechanisms, are more vulnerable to its effects and, for the same consumption, have a higher alcohol content.

ALCOHOL DAMAGE

Chronic alcohol abuse is capable of causing a series of damages to various systems, as well as serious nutritional imbalances and serious risks of malnutrition. The resulting nutritional deficiencies amplify the toxicity of ethanol on the various systems. Alcohol causes various clinical manifestations in the central and peripheral nervous system, ranging from peripheral neuropathy to tremor, to more serious states of hallucinations, psychosis, dementia. Alcohol can cause acute and chronic gastritis, bleeding, ulcers, cirrhosis of the liver and damage to the pancreas in the digestive system. Alcohol also acts on the cardiovascular system, contributing to the rise in blood pressure and facilitating the appearance of various types of heart disease. Even moderate quantities of alcohol are involved in the increased risk of developing various types of cancer in different organs (especially the breast, oral cavity, pharynx and upper airways, stomach).

FALSE BELIEFS ABOUT ALCOHOL
  1. It is not true that alcohol helps digestion; on the contrary, it slows it down and produces gastric hypersecretion with altered emptying of the stomach.
  2. It is not true that wine makes good blood; it is true, however, that alcohol abuse can be responsible for various forms of anemia and an increase in fats present in the blood.
  3. It is not true that alcoholic beverages quench thirst but, on the contrary, dehydrate: alcohol requires a greater quantity of water for its metabolism, and in addition increases the loss of water through the urine, as it causes a blockage of the antidiuretic hormone.
  4. It is not entirely true that alcohol warms us. In reality, the vasodilatation for which it is responsible produces only a momentary and deceptive sensation of heat which in short, however, entails further cooling which, in an unheated environment, increases the risk of exposure.
  5. It is not true that alcohol helps to recover from a shock: on the contrary, by causing peripheral vasodilation, it causes a decreased flow of blood to the internal organs and especially to the brain.
  6. It is not true that alcohol gives strength. Being a sedative it only produces a decrease in the sense of fatigue and pain. Furthermore, only a part of the calories from alcohol can be used for muscle work.
HOW TO BEHAVE
  • If you want to consume alcoholic beverages, do it in moderation, during meals according to good responsible tradition, or in any case immediately before or after eating.

  • Of all alcoholic beverages, give preference to low alcohol ones (wine and beer).

  • Avoid taking alcohol completely during childhood, adolescence, pregnancy and breastfeeding, reduce it if you are elderly.

  • Do not consume alcoholic drinks if you have to drive cars or use delicate or dangerous equipment for you or others, and therefore you need to keep intact attention, self-criticism and motor coordination.

  • If you take medications (including many medications that do not require a prescription), avoid or reduce alcohol consumption, unless you have obtained explicit permission from the attending physician.

  • Reduce or eliminate the intake of alcoholic beverages if you are overweight or obese or if you are familiar with diabetes, obesity, hypertriglyceridemia, etc.

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Moritz Dietrich

Moritz Dietrich

Moritz takes care of the health, social and news articles, graduated in Biological Sciences, he is planning to be a full time writer.
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5 Responses

    1. Not to mention that it is widely sold in every corner of our streets…despite it kills more people than even some class A drugs.

        1. A quick Google search and found out that a total of 3 million people die every year due to alcohol, many more victims than smoking and drug use.

          1. I guess there would be even more if it would be illegal as people tend to do even more when things are “Prohibited”

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