C2H6O, the chemical formula for ethanol, is the primary ingredient in alcohol. It can affect nearly every type of cell in your body, including your central nervous system. What happens when we give up alcohol? Read on to discover the health benefits of abstaining from alcohol use.
1. Improves Quality of Sleep
During optimal sleep delta waves are dominant in the brain. Delta waves are linked to the restorative phase of sleep where tissue growth and repair begins, your energy is restored, and hormones such as HGH (Human Growth Hormone) are released. HGH is essential for growth and development, including muscle development.
Drinking alcohol before bed interferes with your brain wave patterns, resulting in disrupted sleep. Alpha waves, usually dominant only when you’re awake, increase while delta waves, dominant while you’re asleep, decrease. Alcohol might make you drowsy and able to fall asleep faster, but your quality of sleep is poor, leading to daytime drowsiness, and impaired cognitive function.
When you give up alcohol, your brain waves begin to function properly. Delta waves increase, while alpha waves decrease as you slumber. You get the restorative sleep your body needs, making you more alert and able to focus during the day.
2. Reduces Symptoms of Depression
Long-term alcohol use depletes stores of a key neurotransmitter called serotonin, and leads to nutritional deficiencies. Both play a role in depression.
Alcohol promotes the growth of Gram negative (‘bad’) bacteria in our intestines. Bad bacteria give off a toxin (endotoxin) that permeates the intestinal wall leading to a condition called ‘leaky gut’ (Figure 1). A leaky gut loses its ability to absorb nutrients, including B-Vitamins, Zinc, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids, all important mood regulators. You’re more likely to experience depressive symptoms when you’re low in these key nutrients.
The growth of bad bacteria also coats the lining of the intestine, limiting the gut’s ability to produce serotonin (Figure 1). 90-95% of our serotonin is produced in our intestines. If your gut can’t produce serotonin, you become deficient and develop depressive symptoms.
Eliminating alcohol can prevent both scenarios. Studies have found that many depressive symptoms substantially improve within days to weeks of eliminating alcohol use (Brown and Schuckit 1988). Mood related symptoms are shown to improve the fastest.
3. Reduces Risk of Cancer
The risk of developing cancers of the head and neck, along with the esophagus, liver, breast, and colon increases with the amount of alcohol consumed over time, regardless of the type (e.g., beer, wine, or liquor).
Alcohol increases your cancer risk in several ways:
- Your body breaks down the ethanol found in alcohol into a carcinogen called acetaldehyde, damaging your DNA.
- Free radicals develop from molecules that contain oxygen. These damage your DNA through oxidation (the same process that turns an apple brown after it’s cut).
- Weakens your body’s ability to absorb nutrients that help prevent cancer.
- Increases the amount of estrogen in your body, a risk that is linked to breast cancer.
When you give up alcohol, you help your body reduce its cancer risk over time.
4. Strengthens Bones
Long-term alcohol consumption can interfere with bone growth and replacement, leading to decreased bone density and an increased risk of fracture.
Bone is living tissue that is constantly changing and being replaced throughout your lifetime to maintain its strength. After bones stop growing lengthwise, they continue to increase in mass.
There’s a delicate balance between the loss and replacement of bone tissue. Alcohol alters this balance by preventing osteoblasts (a type of cell) from forming new bone, increasing your risk of fractures, and leading to osteoporosis later in life. It also lessens your body’s ability to heal a fracture, making it take longer to fully recover.
Eliminating alcohol gives your body the opportunity to form new bone that is stronger, increasing its ability to handle stress as you age.
5. Aids in Weight Loss
Not only is alcohol high in calories, but it heightens your sense of smell due to increased brain activity in your hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for hunger. More hunger cravings lead to overeating and ultimately weight gain.
Eliminating alcohol helps reduce your daily caloric intake and may help with your weight loss goals.
6. Strengthens Your Immune System
Alcohol suppresses your immune system by inhibiting production of cytokines, the important immune cells that protect skin and mucosal lining tissue. Cytokines are your first line of defense against bacteria and parasites.
As mentioned earlier, alcohol leads to an increase in Gram negative bacteria, hindering nutrient absorption necessary for a healthy immune system.
Abstaining from alcohol gives your body time to restore its ability to produce immune cells necessary for a strong immune system. In time, your gut will heal allowing it to better absorb nutrients.
7. Improves Liver Function
Perhaps the biggest benefit you get when giving up alcohol is to your liver function.
The liver plays a role in over 500 processes including detoxification, digestion, and balancing hormones. It synthesizes proteins, stores nutrients and breaks down toxins, including alcohol.
Repeated attempts to breakdown alcohol leads to a buildup of fatty deposits in the liver. These accumulate and lead to liver damage. Inflammation also develops, leading to liver disease. If unchecked, it can progress to scarring on the liver called cirrhosis. Liver cirrhosis is irreversible, however if you abstain from alcohol before this happens, your liver can regenerate itself and reverse the damage.
Once you decide to give up alcohol, you’ll start to notice improvements in as little as a few days. The above benefits also lead to increased energy and productivity levels, improvements in digestive issues such as acid reflux, a more relaxed feeling, and as time passes, you may notice a reduction in belly fat that has accumulated due to alcohols high calorie and sugar content.
FUN FACT: The country that consumes the most alcohol per capita is Estonia (located in Northern Europe) at 14.97 Liters.