July 26 2021
Excessive consumption of alcohol poses a risk of a vast range of debilitating health consequences. But it is still undefined how some of those who drink large amounts of alcohol are at a greater risk than others for developing these conditions. Several experiments that have been conducted to study why alcohol consumption has more side effects in some more prominently than in others shows that this is governed by the body metabolites and how the body breaks down and eliminates alcohol which varies from individual to individual.
Regardless of the amount of alcohol consumption, there is a limit to how much amount the body can metabolize every hour. According to some studies, even after rapid consumption of alcohol beverages, it is known to take as long as two to seven hours for a fasting adult male to come back to a zero blood alcohol content (BAC) or the measurement of blood alcohol concentration to return to its normal permissible levels. These studies show that there is a certain limited amount of alcohol, which our body can break down and eliminate in a given hour.
Metabolism of alcohol in our body
After the consumption of alcohol, it gets absorbed into the blood by the pathway of the intestines and stomach. Then the actual metabolism of the alcohol begins by the required enzymes, which are chemicals present in the body which degrade other chemicals.
Mainly, alcohol metabolism involves two liver enzymes which break down the alcohol components which ultimately get eliminated from the body, namely alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). Alcohol dehydrogenase transforms the alcohol molecules into acetaldehyde whose presence in the body is short-lived as it is rapidly converted into acetate by other relevant enzymes.
The majority of the process of alcohol metabolism predominantly occurs in the liver. Some of this activity is rendered unfinished and small amounts of the alcohol molecules are eliminated from the body in the form of fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs) which are hazardous and cause extensive damage to the liver and pancreas. After the completion of this process, a small quantity of alcohol that was consumed remains unmetabolized which is thereby eliminated in the urine and breath which is how on testing breath and urine tests, the amount of alcohol consumed can be determined by measuring the blood alcohol content.
There are many dangers of the presence of acetaldehyde in the body as it can cause significant damage to the liver as it is the site where most of the alcohol degradation takes place into the toxic byproduct. Some of the alcohol molecules which are metabolized in the brain and pancreas where acetaldehyde can cause irreversible cell and tissue damage. Some of this damage has also been found to be associated with the gastrointestinal tract when the remnants of alcohol molecules are metabolised there wherein the gastrointestinal tract can be injured by the acetaldehyde.
Even the genetic makeup of an individual is a detrimental factor in determining how effectively alcohol is broken down and eliminated from the body, thereby deciding how much alcohol consumption by an individual can be deemed as significant. There have been studies to show that variation in the genetic construction of the enzymes alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase varies as they work less efficiently in some individuals while others have ADH and ALDH enzymes which are more efficient in their activity. This concludes that some people have these enzymes which break down alcohol to acetaldehyde and acetaldehyde to acetate at a faster pace than the others.
Genetics also plays a major role in deciding whether or not an individual is susceptible to getting alcohol-related disorders. In some people, a genetic variation causes a buildup of acetaldehyde in a way that it leads to facial flushing, nausea and an increase in heart rate wherein these effects are caused even with moderate intake of alcohol.
Research also shows the difference in metabolic alcoholic processing between men and women. It is now found that women have the presence of less enzyme activity of alcohol dehydrogenase in the stomach when compared to men thereby allowing a greater amount of alcohol to reach the blood before it gets metabolised. This is a major factor in the findings that women who consume alcohol are more prone to alcohol-related liver disease, damage to the heart muscle and brain damage in comparison to men.
Impairments caused due to acetaldehyde
The presence of acetaldehyde has been associated with conditions such as incoordination, impairment of memory and sleepiness. Even the brain is known to protect itself from the harmful effects of toxic chemicals in the blood because of the presence of the blood-brain barrier, it has been found that when enzymes catalase metabolises alcohol, acetaldehyde can be produced in the brain itself thereby bypassing the blood-brain barrier and causing extensive damage.
Excessive amounts of alcohol consumption have been associated with a large number of adverse health conditions such as:
- Alcohol-related liver disease - Since the majority of alcohol metabolism takes place in the liver, this becomes the site of the accumulation of large amounts of acetaldehyde leading to severe conditions such as the fatty liver.
- Alcohol-related pancreatitis - As the pancreas is also one of the areas of alcohol metabolism in the body, it also gets exposed to the dangers of acetaldehyde accumulation thereby leading to a condition called alcoholic pancreatitis.
Hangover and its treatment
Alcoholic beverages have a vast range of effects on our body which may ultimately be the cause of the hangover symptoms. Some of them are
- Since alcohol is a diuretic, it causes an increase in the frequency of urination and thus increasing the chances of dehydration, which can further cause symptoms like headaches, dizziness and thirst
- Alcohol causes increased acid formation in the digestive tract, thus can cause effects associated with the gastrointestinal system such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Low blood sugar
Hangovers can be cured by rehydration with plenty of fluids, eating foods that contain carbs which help to settle the upset stomach and by taking an antacid. Alvizia has specially formulated a supplement called as the ‘ hangover drink buddy’ for hangover treatment and prevention and better alcohol metabolism.