Read on and you’ll discover:
• What happens to your body when you consume alcohol
• Whether exercising after a big night out is a smart move
• Tips for balancing fitness and social commitments
If you’re keen to survive the ‘silly season’ without packing on the pounds or suffering multiple hangovers, it’s important that you know exactly how excessive partying affects your body.
Prof David Cameron-Smith is an expert in fueling our bodies for optimal health. We spoke to him about how overindulgence can impact your health, collecting some interesting facts that will motivate you to make the most of the festivities while keeping your partying in check.
What does alcohol actually do to you?
DCS - One way to change the way we think about booze might be to know more about it and what it does to the body. Alcohol (ethanol) is, in fact, a neural depressant and toxin. It’s the most widely consumed one because, by some quirk of chemistry, a little bit has the opposite immediate effect and delivers short-term euphoria and a sense of relaxation. You feel good. Just a single drink can turn the boring into the hilarious, or provide much-needed stress relief after a hard day in the office.
But just as the fun starts, unfortunately, the effects of alcohol tip the brain into a dangerous and sometimes deadly spiral. Alcohol’s depressive effect works first on the inhibitory parts of the brain – the parts that would normally control your careful and cautious side. As many of us have learned the hard way, with just a few drinks, crazy things are said and done. At the same time, libido (sex-drive) experiences a sudden up-swing. You can guess the rest!
By the same token, like a switch being flicked, alcohol’s inhibition of the cautious side of the brain can also lead to anger, violence and potentially deadly risk-taking behaviors. With each drink, those dangers become more acute, unpredictable and dangerous.
Slurred speech, loss of physical control and impaired vision are signs that alcohol now has full reign to suppress neural pathways. The fun has stopped, and your brain is now experiencing a major ‘downer’. You’ve overdone it. Go to bed.”
But research shows that a modest amount of alcohol is okay, hasn’t it?
DCS - Alas, not really. In trying to explain why the French have lower rates of heart disease than the US population, researchers initially focused on the differences in red wine intake. Modest amounts of alcohol – and not just red wine – is known to improve good cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol) levels, and may improve blood flow. However, other major differences between the populations were ignored. The French were much thinner and fitter than the US population. From all the detailed studies on population, what stands out as the most important predictor of long-term heart health is the amount one exercises – not the amount of red wine they drink.
So let’s talk hangovers. What exactly is a hangover?
DCS - As the old joke goes … Q: What’s good for a hangover? A: Drinking heavily the night before. A hangover is the combination of the lasting effects of the inhibition of brain activity, the toxins produced by metabolizing alcohol, dehydration and lack of sleep. Despite the myriad folk remedies out there, only rehydration and time (including sleep) will truly cure a hangover.