Unsure about whether drinking alcohol may be impacting your fitness and health goals? We've got the scientific facts to give you insights into the overall impact of drinking on your body, and how that may subsequently affect your health.
Here is what you need to know about whether you should reconsider and drink-less:
- When we drink alcohol it will travel to the stomach where approximately 20% is absorbed, thereafter it moves into the small intestine where the remaining 80% is absorbed (1).
- The alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream where it travels to and enters all of the tissues and organs of the body (except for bone and fat).
- Alcohol is a toxin that needs to be broken down and eliminated from the body - and the liver is the primary organ responsible for this - the liver can metabolise roughly 1 standard drink every hour.
Factors that can affect alcohol metabolism:
- The older you are, the slower you metabolise alcohol - you may be intoxicated for longer and have a higher risk for liver damage.
- Alcohol will remain in a woman's body longer compared to men. Women have a higher body fat percentage, whereas men have a higher percentage of body water. Therefore men's bodies are naturally able to dilute alcohol a lot faster than women. Hormones will also affect alcohol metabolism, this will result in alcohol remaining in a women's system for longer just before menstruation. Lastly, women have less alcohol dehydrogenase (an enzyme that breaks down alcohol) in the stomach, compared to men.
- Eating before drinking allows alcohol to be absorbed up to three times slower compared to drinking on an empty stomach.
Alcohol in the body
How long can 1 standard drink stay in the body? There is no standard answer, different research has come to varying conclusions depending on factors like the type of alcohol, the body's ability to metabolise alcohol, gender, body weight and other factors (1, 2). The below numbers are on average:
- It can remain in the blood for 12 hours
- Can remain in your breath and saliva for 12-24 hours
- Can be detected in the urine for 3-5 days
- Can be detected in hair follicles for up to 90 days
Effects of alcohol on your health
There are a variety of studies and statistics surrounding the effect of alcohol on health. Some studies have shown that 1 unit of alcohol per day could have a positive effect on heart health. This is, however, only true for some people and is often based on genetic variation.
However, the long term effects of a higher than recommended alcohol consumption paints a very different picture:
- 13x increased risk for liver cirrhosis in men and women
- 3.6x increased risk for liver cancer in men and women
- 3.6x and 3.3x increased risk for stroke in men and women respectively
- 4.1x and 2x increased risk for hypertension in men and women respectively
- 1.7x and 1.3x increased risk for heart disease in men and women respectively
Understanding the units
While the standard units are helpful, you can work out the exact number of units in the alcohol that you drink in order to be more accurate. You can work out how many units there are in any drink by multiplying the total volume of a drink (in ml) by its ABV (measured as a percentage) and dividing the result by 1,000.
Strength (ABV) x volume (ml) ÷ 1,000 = units
A typical bottle of wine is 750ml and has a 14% ABV.
[strength (ABV) x volume (ml)] ÷ 1 000 = units
(14 x 750ml) ÷ 1 000 = 10.5 units
Therefore a 750ml bottle of wine has 10.5 units
(70ml = 1 unit)
Understanding the calories
We all know that alcohol contains calories, but how significant are these liquid calories?
So, make sure you think a little bit more about how much alcohol you're putting into your body. Drinking can certainly have long term effects on your overall health, especially if you're not carefully moderating your consumption. Those hidden liquid calories can also derail your fitness goals if you're careful. Hence, if you are counting calories, make sure you include those you may have consumed from alcohol.