While studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption may be associated with improved cardiovascular-related biomarkers, we all know that our consumption (of everything!) tends to be a little more than “moderate” throughout the holiday season. So what happens in our bodies when we over-indulge?
Many of us are aware that chronic and heavy drinking has an array of health consequences, with fatty liver and other liver disease at the top of this list. However, even light drinkers can experience warning signs of liver disease, such as higher blood levels of one of the liver damage biomarkers—ALT. That’s why it is important to monitor your liver’s health through a blood test. InsideTracker’s new Ultimate panel lets you test your ALT level, in addition to other useful liver enzymes like AST and GGT. Here is some more information about the three key liver enzymes that InsideTracker's Ultimate Plan measures:
Alanine aminotransferase (ALT)
ALT is an enzyme primarily found in the liver; it plays a role in changing stored glucose into usable energy. When the liver is not functioning well, ALT can enter the bloodstream. There is normally a small amount of ALT in the blood; higher amounts of ALT in the blood typically indicate liver damage.
Aspartate aminotransferase (AST)
AST is an enzyme primarily found in the liver, and also in the heart, muscle tissue, kidneys, brain, and red blood cells. AST helps to metabolize amino acids to provide you with more energy, help you digest food more effectively, and make you feel stronger. Higher amounts of AST in the blood typically indicate liver damage.
Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT)
GGT is an enzyme that is concentrated in the liver, and is also found in the bile ducts, pancreas, spleen, and kidneys. GGT helps to transfer amino acids across the cell membrane, and plays an important role in helping the liver metabolize toxins; higher amounts of GGT in the blood typically indicate liver damage.
Research has shown that acute consumption of alcohol can cause very low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia. It is believed that alcohol increases the secretion of insulin (the glucose-lowering hormone), but it may also impair the hormonal response that would normally remedy low blood glucose. While we normally focus on hyperglycemia, high blood glucose, as a metabolism biomarker, low blood glucose is just as dangerous. Remember: all cells, particularly your muscle cells when you exercise, require glucose for fuel. That’s why it is important to keep your blood glucose levels in the optimal range!
Alcohol consumption may also compromise sarcolemmal integrity. Evidence suggests that people who drink alcohol have greater increases in the intracellular enzyme creatine kinase (CK) following exercise than those who do not drink. This biomarker typically shows up in your blood as an indicator of muscle damage… and that’s bad news for your training.
Clearly, boozing over the holidays is not great for your fitness goals…but what about your waistline? Well, just to put the cherry on the holiday sundae, it seems consuming alcohol can lead to overeating — and subsequent weight gain — in more ways than one. For one, alcohol itself contains calories. Containing 7 calories per gram, alcohol is more calorically dense than other nutrients, such as carbohydrates and protein.
What does this say about your favorite holiday beverage? Well, just one shot (1.5 oz) of the average 80-proof liquor contains roughly 100 calories. Add together a few of those special holiday drinks, not to mention the extra syrups, liqueurs, cream etc., and you’ve got yourself the (empty) calories of a small meal!
The problem is, our bodies seem to respond differently to liquid energy compared to solid food. Calorie-containing beverages, such as alcohol and soft drinks, are simply not as psychologically or metabolically satiating as their solid caloric equivalents. As a result, we fail to compensate for the extra energy found in beverages and are more prone to overeat.
Alcohol differs from soft drinks because, unlike soda, alcohol is a toxic substance that can affect the way we perceive appetite. Alcohol suppresses fatty acid oxidation (fat metabolism), increases thermogenesis, and stimulates a number of other neurochemical and peripheral systems involved with appetite control.
All of these effects can lead to overeating. In fact, studies show that moderate alcohol consumption prior to a meal will increase caloric intake for that meal. In addition to its effect on appetite, the most visible effect of alcohol is reduced inhibition. Scientists often point to this as the leading culprit. Our mildly intoxicated selves feel less guilty about going back for seconds of the chocolate cake or deviled eggs.
Finally, alcohol has been shown to have strong inhibitory effect on lipoprotein lipase (LPL) activity. Because LPL breaks down triglycerides, sometimes hypertriglyceridemia (high blood levels of triglycerides) will follow heavy alcohol consumption. Over time, hypertriglyceridemia can lead to obesity and other negative health outcomes. The effect of alcohol on LDL seems to be especially detrimental when done alongside a high fat meal. Suddenly that third glass of wine with the roast goose isn’t looking so great…
Are all alcohol-containing beverages created equal?
Not all alcoholic beverages are the same. While calories found in beer, wine and the average cocktail are comparable, a recent systematic review shows that the consumption of spirits is more strongly associated with weight gain than beer or wine.
Here is a cheat sheet of the number of calories per serving in various alcohol beverages:1.5 fluid ounces of liqueur (% alcohol varies) = 165 Calories 12 fluid ounces of regular beer (about 5% alcohol) = 153 Calories 5 fluid ounces of table wine (about 12% alcohol) = 123 Calories 1.5 fluid ounces of hard liquor (about 40% alcohol) = 97 Calories
As always, moderation is key. It’s unrealistic to expect that you won’t indulge more than usual over the holidays. Being mindful of your consumption, including what you drink, is one way you can stay on track with your fitness goals.