Here’s how overconsumption of alcohol tears up your digestive system

11 months ago  |  1.3M
Here’s how overconsumption of alcohol tears up your digestive system

Have you noticed an unpleasant side effect in your stomach every time you drink alcohol? The drink has long been associated with happy and sad moments. As much as it is part of our daily celebrations, it can wreak havoc on your body if consumed in excess. Frequent or excess alcohol consumption can have a bad impact on your overall health, including your digestive system. 

To understand the ill effects of alcohol on your digestive system, you must how it works. Metabolism is the process in which the food we eat is converted into energy required by the cells of our body in order to thrive. Each organ in the digestive system plays an important role in ensuring that the foods can be ingested and absorbed. Too much alcohol in the system can interrupt the smooth functioning and lead to health issues. 

We talked to Mrs Sweedal Trinidade, Senior Dietetics Officer, Dietary Services, P.D. Hinduja National Hospital and MRC, Mumbai to shed some light on the subject. Here is what the doctor has to say about the impact of alcohol on your digestive system. 

How does alcohol affect the digestive system? 

Alcohol consumption first irritates the oesophagus. It stays in the stomach for some time and affects gastric acid production. This gastric acid is required to destroy harmful bacteria and digest our food. However, alcohol inhibits gastric acid production, allowing the harmful bacteria to colonize in the small intestine. It also affects the gastric mucosa (the mucous membrane layer of the stomach, which contains the glands and the gastric pits), causing lesions and inflammation. This can slow the gastric transit time of food and alcohol; leading to bloating or gastritis.

Undigested food reaches the large intestine and then gets excreted from the body. Alcohol reaches the large intestine through the bloodstream, where it can increase the risk of bowel cancer. Small amounts of alcohol may cause diarrhoea, and large amounts may cause constipation. 

The byproduct of alcohol metabolism is acetaldehyde, which is toxic and causes inflammatory changes in the liver. It increases fat production in the liver, which leads to fatty liver.

What are the complications of drinking too much alcohol? 

Alcohol stays for a short span in the body as compared to other nutrients that are 20 mg/dl per hour. This factor is also influenced by age, sex, body size, dietary intake, medications and hydration.

Alcohol is first broken down into acetaldehyde, which is converted into acetic acid radicals, also known as acetyl radicals. Acetaldehyde is carcinogenic in nature. Not every alcoholic develops complications, genetic composition also makes a person vulnerable. 

Alcohol metabolism is not the same as the other foods, 20% of alcohol is directly absorbed by the bloodstream and then carried to the brain. 80% goes to the small intestine, then to the bloodstream and the brain. 2-8% is excreted through urine, sweat and breath.

Acetaldehyde promotes cancer in many ways:

1) By interfering with DNA replication 

2) By inhibiting DNA repair process

Other complications:

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD): Pregnant women who consume alcohol are at risk of giving birth to babies with fetal alcohol syndrome, which is a spectrum of birth defects. Alcohol crosses the placenta and affects fetal growth and development. No amount of alcohol is safe in pregnancy. 

Alcoholic liver disease: Alcohol metabolism occurs in the liver. Hence, the organ is the most vulnerable to the side effects of the overconsumption of alcohol. Most of the heavy drinkers develop the fatty liver disease while some develop liver cirrhosis. This hampers the enzyme synthesis that is responsible for basic metabolic processes. This has a direct impact on the absorption of macronutrient and micronutrients.

Poor metabolic rate results in weight gain. Micronutrients, when not absorbed optimally, can lead to deficiencies and micronutrient malnutrition.

Alcoholic pancreatitis: Chronic exposure to by-products of alcohol metabolism, that is acetaldehyde, may also result in alcoholic pancreatitis.

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux): Alcohol, as mentioned earlier, affects different individuals differently. In most cases, it aggravates gastroesophageal reflux, while in some it has milder effects.

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