The conversation is flowing. It’s cold outside, but inside the atmosphere is merry and bright. So, why not have another round? It’s that time of the year. The season of holiday parties and celebration. Of light and laughter. The season of drinking.
Winter and Alcohol Consumption According to a 2018 OnePoll survey,1 the average American doubles their drinking during the holiday season.2 Not only do we participate in more social gatherings during the holiday season,3 but there’s a case to be made for an increase in alcohol consumption and a drop-in temperature.
The results from a University of Pittsburgh Division of Gastroenterology study established a connection between regional weather (temperature and daylight) and higher alcohol consumption.4 Which makes sense when you consider that alcohol can produce the sensation of warmth. As your liver metabolizes alcohol, it creates heat. Making us feel warm. But the truth is that your temperature is actually dropping.5
Metabolism of Alcohol
We know the ravages that a hard night of drinking can produce. But what exactly does alcohol do to your body? From the moment you tip back that glass and alcohol hits your tongue, metabolism begins. Saliva in your mouth immediately begins the process of converting alcohol to acetaldehyde.
Alcohol (chemically ethanol) is primarily metabolized by the liver6 and its by-product is acetaldehyde. Alcohol is also metabolized-although to a lesser degree- in a variety of other organs and tissues including the brain, pancreas, and gastrointestinal tract. Acetaldehyde is massively toxic. A common ingredient in a variety of household products including paint, glue, and aerosol sprays, acetaldehyde is listed as a group 1 carcinogen by The International Agency for Research on Cancer.8 Acetaldehyde can destroy enzymes, proteins and cause DNA damage. Over time, high levels of acetaldehyde damages nerves and liver cells. Even moderate use of alcohol can lead to alcoholic liver disease (ALD).9 Acetaldehyde is also neurotoxic.10 More research is linking excessive alcohol consumption to cognitive decline, specifically dementia.11 And we now are seeing studies concerning the impact of alcohol on cancer.12 The greatest damage of alcohol on our bodies comes from its metabolism into acetaldehyde.
We often forget that alcohol is a classified - albeit legal - psychoactive drug. The study of drug metabolism is called pharmacokinetics, and you can read more about this process in our blog post13 A two-step hepatic (liver) process converts and sufficiently binds ethanol in order for it to be easily eliminated by the body, and it looks a little something like this:
The liver (the second largest organ) can metabolize roughly one serving of alcohol per hour.14 Which is why after you’ve consumed a certain amount of alcohol, no amount of pizza and coffee can help you sober up faster.
When your body is functioning optimally, the metabolism of alcohol into acetaldehyde is short lived and efficiently removed from your system in the form of acetate.15 However, alcohol not only depletes the body’s antioxidants but also results in a proliferation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in a little show we like to call free radicals gone wild.
Alcohol + Oxidative Stress
Everyday your body is exposed to toxins. Some are external: pollution, pesticides, alcohol, preservatives. While others are internal and are the normal by-products of metabolic functions like breathing and creating energy. The result of these is the production of ROS such as free radicals.16
Alcohol impacts the production of ROS in several ways. First, ROS are formed during the metabolism of alcohol in the liver by enzymes called cytochrome P450. Second, alcohol facilitates ROS production by altering levels of metals in the body.17 And third, alcohol depletes your body's level of antioxidants, who's job it is to eliminate ROS18 thereby making it easier for ROS to proliferate.
When ROS become widespread, it is referred to as oxidative stress. Today oxidative stress is linked to a growing list of diseases. 19 And while some oxidative stress can be beneficial20 when it goes unchecked it can wreak havoc on the body.
Along Comes The Mother of All Antioxidants
Glutathione is found in nearly every cell of your body. Made from three amino acids glutamine, glycine, and cysteine21 – glutathione plays a significant role in detoxification. One of the secret powers of glutathione lies in the sulfur atom contained within the amino acid cystine. Sulfur has been used as a detoxification agent for thousands of years and is found in all living organisms. Essentially Sulphur acts as a magnet binding to and eliminating ROS.
Glutathione has many critical functions including assisting in the creation of DNA, supporting the immune system, eliminating free radicals, enzyme function and regeneration of vitamin C and E. Even new research released this year shows that glutathione in fact triggers T-cells in your immune system.22
Not surprisingly the largest concentration of glutathione is found in the liver, your body’s primary detoxification organ.23Plus, glutathione is unique in that unlike some other antioxidants, your body can produce it in your liver.24
Alcohol, Glutathione and Fatty Liver
No article on the impact of alcohol would be complete without specifically discussing your liver. Fatty liver can be the result of a variety of factors, one of the biggest being heavy alcohol use. Several studies have now demonstrated the link between glutathione and your body's immune support of a healthy liver.25
Glutathione Supplementation Assists Alcohol Metabolism
When your body has appropriate levels of glutathione, detoxification occurs efficiently. But emerging research is showing that even moderate on-going alcohol use can have negative cumulative effects. One study showed that 65% of moderate drinkers (2-3 drinks a day) had a smaller hippocampus and 35% had hippocampal atrophy.26And this makes sense when you consider that neurons in the hippocampus require high amounts of glutathione to sustain cognitive function.27
During this holiday season of parties and cheer, remember that while glutathione doesn’t have the ability to transport you back in time, it can boost detoxification and cognitive functioning. Which is why we not only encourage responsible drinking, but also responsible supplementation of glutathione.
12https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh301/38-47.htm and https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/alcohol/alcohol-fact-sheet
13Primer on Pharmacokinetics (aka Bioavailability)
25https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28789631 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7569285