Alcohol: to Drink or Not to Drink

Whoa there! Before you think that this article is about me telling you to absolutely quit alcohol and abstain far far away THAT’S NOT IT. There’s more to alcohol than that and with the information swarm of health benefits and life extension properties, let’s get a complete profile of this intoxicating drink.

Before we begin, let us understand the effects of alcohol has on your body

What Happens To Alcohol In Your Body?

You know that feel good sensation, little spin in your head,that high or buzz you get when drinking? Watch out though, once you go overboard, this feel good sensation can turn into a deadly headache with a few trips to the bathroom and a date with your bed the entire day.

All thanks to Ethanol.

Once ethanol enters your digestive track, it enters your blood stream and has a free pass everywhere in your body. Eventually, it reaches the brain and causes dopamine to be released, causing that feel good sensation. It binds and blocks receptors in the brain, hindering stimuli and causing the brain to respond slower, resulting in a calming effect. The ethanol then heads to the liver, where it is processed.

According to Dr Tan Chi Chiu, a specialist in Clinical Gastroenterology, alcohol cannot be stored in the body and has to be metabolized by the liver. The liver has a limited capacity and when it is reached, blood alcohol skyrockets (that’s why we get drunk!). Alcohol is processed via 2 pathways in the body:

  1. ADH pathway -- this process is used 80-85% of the time 

  2. MEOS pathway -- this is used 10-15% of the time metabolic pathway


Alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) pathway. Our bodies convert ethanol into acetalaldehyde by ADH, which can cause cellular damage if it builds up in the body. Acetalaldehyde is then converted to acetate, which can be further broken down into carbon dioxide and water, or other chemical compounds such as fatty acids, that lead to live disease.

Microsomal P450 ethanol oxidizing system (MEOS). As the name suggests, the enzyme group P450 is responsible for the breakdown of alcohol, producing potentially dangerous free radicals, able to cause cellular damage. The same P450 enzyme is also responsible for processing potentially toxic molecules such as medication, to ensure their safe excretion. This means that when drinking alcohol, this system is less available to process other toxins and thus causes higher oxidative cell damage to our bodies!


Alcohol consumption provides health benefits?

I’m sure many of you have heard that alcohol can be good for you. Studies showing that light to moderate drinkers live longer than non-drinkers as well as show a reduction of cardiovascular disease and stroke by 25-40%. Take red wine for instance. Resveratrol, more commonly known as a type of antioxidant, provides all the heart healthy benefits. Its speculated that antioxidants increase levels of good cholesterol, which in turn reduces total cholesterol levels in the body.

Even so, this reduced risk isn’t certain! These studies only show a correlation and not causation. (Think of opening an umbrella when it rains. Did the umbrella cause it to rain?) There may be other factors causing the health benefits such as genetics, exercise and diet that may not have been considered. These studies don’t recommend that you start drinking to lower your risk of heart disease, as there are always risks associated with drinking.

Diet and lifestyle

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a variety of health issues such as weight gain, brain damage and liver diseases such as fatty liver, hepatitis, cirrhosis (permanent liver damage) and cancer. It is good to note that daily alcohol misuse is more dangerous than “binge drinking” as it leads to a steady decline of liver function as opposed to binge drinking where the liver receives time to heal after the alcohol consumption stops.

So you’re simply telling me to just cut off alcohol from my life?

Sure may seem like it! But no, along with everything else in life (and esp nutrition) moderation is key. The recommended daily alcohol intake for women is 1 standard drink/day and 2 standard drinks/day for men. A standard serving contains 10g of alcohol.

This is estimated to be:

  • 1 can of regular 5% beer (330ml)

  • Half glass of wine (175ml)

  • 35ml of spirit

(and because no one really knows what 10g of alcohol looks like, here’s an infographic to help)


Heard about the study saying that exercise can cancel out the effects of drinking? Researchers in the UK have found that “exercising the recommended amount “cancels out” the higher risk of cancer death brought about by drinking”(British Journal of Sports Medicine). The study also says that physical activity decreases the death risk associated with alcohol. This observational study however, only conveys a correlation between exercise, health benefits and drinking, and did not study the health benefits of exercise without alcohol consumption.

Although it is not possible to determine whether exercise can really eliminate all risks associated with alcohol consumption, it is safe to say that any amount of exercise will do you good! Flaunting decreased risk of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and hypertension, as well as its impacts on mental health like a reduced risk of suffering from depression, exercise is a prescription for all regardless of circumstance. You could start with 150 minutes of physical activity a week, doing exercises such as walking, jogging, cycling and swimming as well as strength training in the gym to get your fix of exercise!

“Stay busy, get plenty of exercise, and don’t drink too much. Then again, don’t drink too little” – Herman Jackrabbit Smith-Johannsen





Gastroenterology and Medicine International 

Precision Nutrition

Mayo Clinic 

Health Promotion Board 


British Journal of Sports Medicine 




by Sara

Certified nutritionist with sports and fitness in my blood. Basketball is my passion and I live by Ali’s saying “don’t count the days, make the days count” View all articles by Sara.


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