Metabolism is one of the most important processes in the body: it’s your body’s way of transforming food and drink into energy. Many people are curious to know how alcohol affects this process: does alcohol slow down or speed up your metabolism? How does the body metabolize alcohol? We will explore all these topics and more below.
Does Alcohol Slow Down Your Metabolism?
The simple answer to this question is yes, drinking alcohol does slow down your overall metabolism. Alcohol causes a great deal of stress on the stomach and the intestines, causing food to not move through the digestive tract as efficiently as it should. And because alcohol is a toxin, the body will try to metabolize it before any fats or nutrients. This can cause fats to become stored away instead of metabolized, leading to weight gain.
With excessive use over an extended period of time, alcohol can cause more permanent damage to the stomach and digestive tract. This can lead to a slower metabolism even when not drinking.
How Does Alcohol Affect Metabolism?
Now that we know alcohol slows your overall metabolism, let’s dive deeper into how the body metabolizes alcohol itself, and how alcohol impacts your metabolic efficiency (how efficiently your body uses energy from nutrients).
How Does the Body Metabolize Alcohol?
There are several ways the body metabolizes alcohol. The primary form of metabolism happens in the liver. A hormone called ‘ADH’ metabolizes alcohol into a toxic compound called ‘acetaldehyde.’ Then, acetaldehyde is metabolized down to another compound known as ‘acetate’, which then gets broken down into carbon dioxide and water and gets eliminated through breathing and urination. However, the liver can only metabolize approximately one standard drink per hour, and any alcohol consumption beyond that limit can lead to liver damage, such as alcoholic hepatitis.
It’s also important to keep in mind that not everyone can metabolize alcohol at the same rate. Factors like gender, age, cigarette usage, and genetics all can factor into how efficiently the body metabolizes alcohol.
Effects of Reduced Metabolic Efficiency
‘Metabolic efficiency’ describes the body’s ability to use carbohydrates and fats throughout the day. Think of it as the efficiency at which the body can use up its stored energy. Alcohol can impact your metabolic efficiency in two ways. Firstly, alcoholic drinks are often high in “empty calories,” which are harder for the body to burn efficiently. Secondly, alcohol can impact your sleep and energy levels, making it more difficult to get frequent exercise, which is important to maintaining a healthy metabolic efficiency.
A reduced metabolic efficiency can lead to several side effects, including:
- Weight gain
- Insulin sensitivity
- Muscle damage
Does Alcohol Permanently Slow Your Metabolism?
For most people, drinking alcohol will slow their metabolism for the time in which they are intoxicated. For those who drink heavily over an extended period, it’s possible that alcohol may be having a more permanent effect on metabolism. This is because alcohol can damage and inflame the stomach and liver, making the metabolic process more difficult. While this can have a longer-term impact, it may not be permanent. Changing your relationship with alcohol may allow your body to heal before irreversible conditions develop, such as alcoholic cirrhosis.
Can Reducing Drinking Increase Metabolic Rate?
Cutting back or cutting out alcohol can help boost metabolism in several ways. The first and simplest is that without the toxin of alcohol to break down, the body can focus on metabolizing carbohydrates and fats like it normally would. Second, time away from alcohol can help restore normal stomach functions, aiding with the processing of foods and the absorption of nutrients. Lastly, reducing alcohol intake can normalize nervous system activity, hydration, and hormone levels, which are also factors in improving metabolic rate.
The healthiest thing a person can do is to eliminate alcohol consumption entirely, but any reduction in alcohol can also have a positive impact. If you’re ready to take the next step, exploring your treatment and support options can help clarify your path forward. At Monument we offer medication-assisted treatment, specialized therapy, and peer support. With time away from alcohol, you can give your body a chance to heal and feel your best.
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