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How Does Alcohol Affect the Liver and Other Organs?

Research studies regarding the consumption of alcohol being healthy may be misleading to the public. Scientists have found that one glass of red wine per day can be beneficial for your health, yet most people don’t realize the standard pour of wine is 5 oz. This is well below the halfway mark of a standard wine glass, not what most people would consider a ‘glass’ of wine. Most people simply don’t consume alcohol in small enough quantities to be considered healthy, as the studies suggest.

Drinking a moderate or heavy amount of alcohol has been scientifically shown to have effects on your entire body. For those struggling with an alcohol addiction, drinking only one serving of alcohol is not an option. In their struggle with alcohol, their tolerance and dependency grow day-by-day. As a result, they consume increasingly large amounts of alcohol and every vital organ in their body is affected.

How Does Alcohol Affect The Liver? 

When a person thinks about alcohol as damaging to their body, the liver always comes to mind. A healthy liver works to aid food digestion, filter toxins, and enables nutrient absorption. Drinking alcohol, even in moderation, can damage the liver. After initial damage, the liver works to repair itself, but isn’t always successful.

When alcohol reaches the liver, it produces an enzyme called acetaldehyde. With moderate to heavy alcohol use, these enzymes build up and scar the liver. The scar tissue can then lead to long-term inflammation, which causes fatty liver disease, cirrhosis and ultimately liver failure. These results are dangerous, as the liver is a vital organ that one cannot live without.

Liver Pains After Drinking

One of the most common questions from heavy drinkers is “Do I have liver damage?” This question is asked when someone who has been binge drinking, or drinking large amounts of alcohol for a long time starts getting pains in the right side of their abdomen. The good news is that liver pains are not a sign of serious liver damage. In fact, many doctors argue that there should not be liver pain even during the later stages of cirrhosis and liver damage.

If you are feeling pains in your side after drinking, it is more likely to be inflammation of the  nerves and tissue around your organs such as the gall bladder, kidneys or pancreas. So… no, “liver pains” are not a sign of liver damage, but certainly are a sign that alcohol is doing damage in that area, and likely doing damage to the liver as well.

How Alcohol Affects The Heart 

Heart disease caused by alcohol abuse is called alcoholic cardiomyopathy. The long-term use of alcohol thins the heart muscles, making the overall structure of the heart weak. The result can be a heart attack, heart disease, or blood flow disruption to other organs. Symptoms don’t always appear, but when they do it’s in the form of fatigue, shortness of breath, or swelling of legs.

Alcohol eats away at muscles, and your heart is your most important muscle. While cardiomyopathy is the most severe long-term concern amongst alcoholics and heavy drinkers, palpitations, heart murmur and irregular heartbeats are more short term concerns. Interestingly enough, heavy drinkers are more likely to believe they have heart issues because of the effects of panic attacks related to alcohol abuse.

Panic attacks can cause racing heart and even sharp pains near the heart, which could make you believe the problem is with the heart. However, panic attacks have more to do with the endocrine system, hormones and and the chemical balance of the body. This should not discount the actual risk that alcohol poses to the heart, though.

How Alcohol Affects The Kidneys 

Kidneys work as a natural filtration system for the body, removing toxins from the blood. The organ also works to keep the right amount of water in the body. Alcohol consumption affects the overall function of the kidneys. As a body dehydrates from alcohol use, normal cell functions around the body are limited. Binge drinking has been known to cause kidney failure, which requires short or long-term dialysis.

How Alcohol Affects The Pancreas 

When thinking about alcohol damage to the body, the pancreas is often overlooked. Acute and chronic pancreatitis can be caused by alcohol consumption. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why but speculate that general cell damage heavily affects the pancreas, leading to pancreatitis flare-ups. When the condition is long-term, the pancreas will eventually fail, which can require a permanent treatment plan. The damage is irreversible and can lead to diabetes or cancer.

Chronic pancreatitis is often tied directly to heavy alcohol use, and is more common of a diagnosis when someone complains of pains in their side after drinking. Damage to the pancreas is linked to both diabetes and weight loss from alcohol — as it causes malabsorption of food (your body can’t break down and absorb nutrients), and damages the pancreatic cells that produce insulin.

How Alcohol Affects The Thyroid 

The thyroid works to release hormones that affect every system in the body, including metabolism. Heavy alcohol use will lead to the impairment of hormone release from the organ, disrupting hormone levels throughout the body.

Thyroid Suppression from Alcohol Abuse:

Alcohol and Phyto-Estrogens – in a study in rats who have had their ovaries removed, it was found that estrogen was prevalent in those animals that were given alcohol. This test proved clinically that estrogenic compounds are present in alcohol from the alcohol manufacturing process. This means that alcohol contributes to a rise in estrogen in both males and females, which can cause mood and behavior changes and lead to other health issues.

In addition to adding estrogen to your body, alcoholic activates aromatase in the body’s fat cells. This process converts the male hormones androgen and testosterone into estrogen. Once gain, increased estrogen in the body will affect everything from mood and behavior to how your body’s internal systems are regulated. Overall, those that abuse alcohol will see higher estrogen levels and diminished testosterone levels.

Alcohol withdrawal can cause severe symptoms of thyroid distress. The sudden cessation of alcohol will lead to irregularities in T4 hormone levels, which directly affect metabolism. Those who have been diagnosed with other thyroid disorders are at a higher risk for developing further thyroid issues.

How Alcohol Affects The Brain

Short-term effects of alcohol on the brain are obvious when a person is intoxicated; impaired reflexes, poor judgment, and memory impairment. Long-term effects are more severe and can last a lifetime. Three neurotransmitters in the brain are changed when alcohol is consumed:

  • Dopamine – The brain’s reward system, dopamine is released when feeling pleasure. The substance is produced during alcohol consumption, which can contribute to addiction.
  • GABA – This neurotransmitter reduces excitability and over the long term will lead to high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and night terrors.
  • Endorphins – The brain’s ‘feel good’ substance works to create a feeling of euphoria. Over the long-term, high levels of endorphin release cause depression, lowered testosterone, and loss of fertility.

How Alcohol Affects The Stomach 

There are many effects on the entire digestive system from heavy alcohol use and the stomach is no exception. Immediate effects on the stomach after consuming alcohol can include acid reflux and heartburn. Long-term alcohol use can lead to stomach inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome. Studies have also shown an increase in the risk of stomach cancer in heavy drinkers.

How Alcohol Affects The Intestines 

Heavy consumption of alcohol damages the normal function of the intestinal tract. Prostaglandins are formed in a healthy intestine, which will help suppress inflammation throughout the digestive tract. Long-term alcohol use will cause the suppression of prostaglandins, which causes chronic inflammation. The inflammation then damages the lining of the intestinal walls. This process will lead to toxins leaking into the body, as well as limitations of the ability of the body to absorb nutrients from the small intestines.

Every System In The Body Is Affected 

When you stop drinking alcohol, not all damage is reversed, but some can be. Immediate effects of ending alcohol consumption include saving money, losing weight, and sleeping better. Long-term effects of stopping alcohol are more promising. Those who stop drinking dramatically diminish the chance they will have heart disease. More good news for those who stop drinking is a healthy liver. The organ has rejuvenating cells which can repair past damage.

There isn’t a system present in the human body that is not affected by heavy alcohol consumption. People often falsely believe that the only organ affected by drinking is the liver, yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. We have covered only the organs affected by alcohol, other aspects of the body are also detrimentally affected. Cancer of the digestive tract, birth defects, sexual dysfunction, thinning bones, malnutrition, changes in overall coordination, and complications from diabetes are all associated with alcohol damage.

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