Holiday of Alcohol or an Alcohol Holiday?

Alcohol is a trademark of celebration, especially around the holidays, but what would it mean to take an Alcohol Holiday? Alcohol weight gain is a real thing, and although it feels good to sip our favorite alcoholic beverages with friends and family, let's take a look at what it's costing you, and how you can reduce alcohol side effects. When you drink alcohol around 2 to 8 percent is lost through urine, sweat, or breathing. The other 92 to 98 percent is metabolized by your body. The body uses 3 enzymes to break down alcohol to acetate.  The problem with drinking too much alcohol, among many reasons, is that alcohol metabolism produces excess amounts of NADH (a by-product of metabolism). This excess of NADH can lead to acidosis from lactic acid build-up and hypoglycemia from lack of glucose synthesis. It can also lead to weight gain, fatty liver, and heart attack.  There's even a something called the Holiday Heart Syndrome which is related to effect that heavy short term drinking has on the heart to create an irregular heartbeat.  In fact, according to a recent study in Circulation, “The number of cardiac deaths is higher on Dec. 25 than on any other day of the year, second highest on Dec. 26, and third highest on Jan. 1.”   In this research, Kloner (an LA Cardiologist)  found one-third more coronary artery disease deaths in December and January than in June through September during a 12-year period.

What about all the hype around the benefits of Resveratrol, the compound found in the skins of grapes that is supposed to help our hearts?  Well, while it's true that Resveratrol can help reduce inflammation and be generally beneficial, we tend to hear this and use it as an excuse to over indulge.  In actuality, women over the age of 35 are not very good at detoxifying alcohol from the liver.  And men aren't that great at it either.  Beyond three glasses of wine a week, the Nurses Health Study shows that estrogen becomes elevated in women.

Alcohol also seems to disrupt our ability to get a good nights sleep and to maintain a health weight.  Not only does alcohol pack a ton of empty calories, it messes with our insulin and metabolism...both of which also play into our ability to sleep well.

So how are alcohol and metabolism related?

Well, a number of studies over the last 5 years seem to link alcohol consumption to insulin sensitivity. In one example, a large study from the Graduate School of Medical Science at Kyushu University demonstrated that regular consumption of alcohol was associated with decreased insulin sensitivity.  As it concerns weight loss, insulin resistance definitely predisposes you towards weight gain. This is the first way that alcohol and weight loss seem to be connected.

Secondly, as most of us know,  alcohol tends to make us more hungry.  In 2005 the European Journal of Endocrinology did a study that showed a  connection to alcohol intake and ghrelin inhibition. Ghrelin is our main hormone involved in hunger signaling and satiation.  Clearly, it’s more challenging to lose weight when you overeat...often at nighttime.

Finally,  since alcohol does not need to go into the small intestine to yield any energy, as do fats or carbohydrates, alcohol is instead absorbed through the stomach lining directly into the blood where it sits waiting for the liver to convert it into acetate.  This conversion of alcohol to acetate inhibits lipolysis, or fat burning.

And for sleep? The May 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research highlights a study that shows that "alcohol increases self-reported sleepiness and disrupted sleep quality more in women than men.  In fact, sleep was more disturbed the second part of the night."  Other studies have shown the correlation between reduced REM sleep and increased intake of alcohol.  With less sleep, we have an increase in Ghrelin and are therefore more hungry.

So what are we supposed to do?  Throw our arms up and make a toast, or take an alcohol holiday??

Your Holiday Alcohol Strategy to Stay Fit and Lean: 1.Take alpha lipoic acid when you drink.  ALA mimicks insulin and will help shuttle carbs into glycogen instead of store them as fat by limiting the insulin response.

2. Limit your carb  intake while drinking.  Stick to protein and lean veggies.  More than anything, avoid eating processed carbs and fats together.

3. Eat a hearty meal of lean meat or high fiber veggies abou 30 minutes to an hour before you drink.  The body will be spending energy digesting this meal rather than quickly processing the alcohol, so the body will not have such a jolting impact from the alcohol.

3. Drink plenty of water with your alcohol to avoid dehydration and reduce overall alcohol intake.

4. Plan to stick with no more than three alcoholic beverages per week.  I know, I know...this is tough.

5. Take an Alcohol Holiday. Instead, choose sparkling water or hot tea and sit back and enjoy the season.   Instead, choose sparkling water or hot tea and sit back and enjoy the season.  Without alcohol side effects you will be much more engaged and in control of your mood anyway!