The Pros and Cons of Alcohol

alcohol Sep 03, 2020

Alcohol is a big part of our culture and is a centrepiece of many social events. Whether it be at a Sunday BBQ, at a wedding or at a bachie sesh with the girls.

More often than not, alcohol is involved. But what impact is this having on our health? Is it major, or are we free to keep on sippin’? Today we’ll go through how alcohol is absorbed, the pros and cons and general recommendations.


Alcohol absorption

Alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and has a high kilojoule content per gram (27kJ/g). Drinking alcohol, including straight spirits, will contribute to your overall energy intake. To absorb alcohol, our bodies need a lot of the essential B vitamin, thiamine. Without enough thiamine, we can have unpleasant complications which are outlined below.

Once absorbed, alcohol is broken down into a product known as acetaldehyde. If alcohol is consumed in excess, acetaldehyde can inflame and scar the liver.


Cons of alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to nasty complications and poorer health outcomes. It’s essential to limit your alcohol intake to a safe amount. The major complications include:

  1. A scarred liver. When our liver becomes scarred, it does not work as effectively. Complications of a scarred liver can include:
    • A disruption to blood flow, impairing the liver's function.
    • Impaired functioning to the brain, due to an increase in toxins.
    • A build-up of fluid, generally in the abdominal area.
    • Liver cancer.
  2. An increased risk of nutrient deficiencies. Excessive alcohol consumption affects the absorption of nutrients, specifically the fat-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins are needed for growth, reproduction and good general health. 
  3. Poor coordination and troubles with behaviour. Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to lower amounts of ‘B’ vitamins in the body, for instance, thiamine. When ‘B’ vitamins drop, people are more likely to act confused, have poor coordination and incoherent speech. 


What do the guidelines say?

It is recommended to consume no more than 2 standard drinks per day. A standard drink is a mid-strength stubby or 100mls of wine. We also want to aim for two alcohol-free days each week, to avoid scarring the liver and doing permanent damage. For more information regarding alcohol guidelines, click here.


Pros of alcohol 

Alcohol should only be consumed in moderation to capitalise on the benefits. The four advantages of alcohol are outlined below.

  1. Stress relief. Stress is quite toxic to the body and not a pleasant feeling to experience. Alcohol has a calming effect on the nervous system and can act as an effective stress reliever.
  2. Contains polyphenols. Polyphenols are naturally found in plant-based foods and have antioxidant properties. This can reduce the number of free radicals in the body, which contribute to the ageing process and illness. Polyphenols are most concentrated in red wine, making this the best choice of alcohol!
  3. Improvements in heart health. More than 100 studies have shown an association between light-moderate drinking and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Small amounts of alcohol can increase our good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol), which has a protective effect on our heart’s health. 
  4. Improvements in insulin sensitivity. When our insulin is more sensitive, glucose is able to be absorbed more easily into our cells. This can help to decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes. 


To optimise health outcomes, it is beneficial to consume light-moderate amounts of alcohol. Red wine is the recommended choice, as it’s rich in polyphenols and contributes to improved health outcomes. To seek personalised advice regarding appropriate alcohol consumption, feel free to contact us at CQ Nutrition.

Written by Annabel Johnston, BAppSc&MDietPrac


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