Tequila, vodka, wine, beer… whatever it is that you prefer, all of these drinks have one thing in common: they’re alcohol. I wanted to take a moment today to help provide some context for why I encourage people to limit their alcohol intake. The number one reason? “It is well documented that excess alcohol intake results in compromised immunity and increased risk of infectious disease (Waldschmit, Cook, Kovacs; 2009).” In short? Excessive drinking is counteracting all of the work you do in the gym every week.
We all joke about our liver when we drink, but it’s really no joking matter. A healthy liver is vital to a healthy body and alcohol interferes with a healthy liver. “Chronic alcohol use impairs not only gut and liver functions, but also multi-organ interactions, leading to persistent systematic inflammation and ultimately, to organ damage (Wang, Zakhari, Jung; 2010).” Let me help break this down for you: when you drink, the alcohol breaks down the function of the liver and gut that helps to reduce inflammation in your body and your body increases inflammation in response to what it perceives to be a danger: alcohol.
Inflammation in your body is controlled by your immune system. It’s your body’s natural response to infection. When you consume alcohol, your immune system becomes inflamed as a protective measure. However, when you drink excessively, the anti-inflammatory agents in your body cannot counter-act the inflammation. This means that the balance you should normally have in your immune system, in regards to inflammation, will be completely thrown off. This imbalance is why you feel puffy and bloated after a night of hard drinking. The problem here is that “inflammation is a double-edged sword, equipped to destroy invading pathogens, but also equally capable of damaging healthy tissue.” Over-inflammation in your body will begin to break your body down rather than protect it. Chronic inflammation is difficult to reverse and can be incredibly damaging long-term, leading to cancer, arthritis in your joints, substantial weight gain, heart disease and many other diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
However, you can work to counter-act the effects of alcohol on inflammation in your body. The best method is to, obviously, not drink alcohol excessively and to change your lifestyle to one that focuses more on wellness and exercise – a lifestyle where your body comes first. Focusing your diet on foods that are whole, unprocessed and more plant-based can help to protect your body from disease and infection in a safer manner than inflammation does, and will help fight excessive inflammation. “When our bodies are best nourished, we’re able to heal quicker… and maybe even prevent chronic inflammation,” says Dee Sandquist, RD, CDE – a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
As Sandquist explains, “diets can serve as a protective function.” Avoid trans fats, sugars, alcohol, milk, gluten and MSG as much as possible. Don’t be fooled by the articles out there that say drinking tequila and wine will reduce inflammation – the quantity they are using to push these articles is always less than even one serving. (And if you’re like most people, when you consume alcohol – your “one serving” is more like three, even on a casual evening.)
Exercise regularly and most of all – just be careful and aware of what you are putting into your body, every time you consume something. You only get one body and while it can be fun to take off to Mexico for a week and drink on the beach – it’s vital that you drink in moderation, drink plenty of water with your tequila and always remember that excessive drinking should never be the end-game. You don’t have to take every shot that the rest of your friends are taking – I promise. Enjoy your margarita, but don’t over-do it. Remember to take your morning run to sweat and get your blood flowing again to help increase natural protective agents in your body so that inflammation is kept at bay. When you get back home, don’t continue the trend of margaritas with dinner. Moderation will always be key.