A glass of red wine or a cool, crisp beer at the end of a long day can be relaxing, but as with everything the amount you imbibe has to be moderated. Alcohol definitely impacts your mood, your social abilities and your energy levels the following day, but have you ever wondered what other kinds of impact alcohol could be having on your body?
Though we often hear about the long-term effects of overindulgence when we get news of a loved one or friend coming down with a potentially life-threatening illness, but is alcohol really to blame? Here are several ways that alcohol can have lasting health impacts.
The side effects of drinking alcohol, including slurred speech and a change in mood and behavior, are imminently apparent, but what’s the reason for this? Alcohol, as it turns out, actually interferes with the brain’s neural pathways, affecting the way they connect and work. Blackouts and memory lapses aren’t uncommon. A recent study concluded that regular exposure to alcohol can cause a decrease in the structural plasticity of the brain.
While research shows that drinking alcohol in moderation can actually protect healthy adults from coronary heart disease, drinking too much alcohol can damage the heart. Potential problems include cardiomyopathy, stretching of the heart muscle, irregular heartbeat, stroke and high blood pressure.
Liver disease is perhaps the most commonly-known potential problem that can be caused overindulging in alcohol. Though liver disease isn’t always associated with alcohol, alcoholic liver disease accounts for well over a third (37%) of liver disease deaths. Other liver inflammations that can result from heavy alcohol intake include steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
Consumption of alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances, increasing your chance of developing pancreatitis. This potentially harmful inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas prevents proper digestion and inhibits your pancreas from doing what it does best: releasing digestive enzymes and important hormones.
The Skeletal and Muscle System
Long-term alcohol consumption can result in a decrease in your body’s ability to produce new bone mass, putting you at risk of developing osteoporosis and bone fractures. Muscles can also become prone to weakness, cramps and even atrophy, which isn't ideal after all that hard work you've put in at the gym!
The Immune System
Heavy alcohol consumption can weaken your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to disease and viruses. This makes chronic heavy drinkers more likely to develop diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis. Too much alcohol in one sitting slows your body’s natural abilities to ward off infections and persists up to 24 hours afterwards. A recent study suggests that binge drinking has an immediate effect on your immune system too, so be mindful when the bar is open.
Heavy drinking has long been associated with the development of certain cancers, particularly mouth, esophagus, throat, liver and breast cancer. Research has found that having two or more drinks per day increases the likelihood of developing breast cancer in women by as much as 41 percent.
With all this science pointing to the dangers of alcohol abuse, you may be wondering if the health risk of having that mojito is worth the social reward. What it comes down to is moderation. As long as you stay on the moderate side of things and maintain a healthy lifestyle, you should be just fine.
Photos: Holly Lay, We.photography / Shutterstock, Brandon Bourdages / Shutterstock