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How Alcohol Affects Your Metabolism

If you like to drink but want to be an educated drinker when it comes to the effect of alcohol on your body’s ability to burn fat, this article is for you. Let’s delve into the physiology behind alcohol consumption and talk about ways to reduce its negative impact on your health.

What Happens When You Drink Alcohol?

Your body responds to the ingestion of alcohol the way it would respond to your ingesting a poison. Since alcohol itself has no nutritional value & cannot be digested or used for any kind of function, its elimination takes precedence over dozens of other bodily functions, like the maintenance of blood sugar levels, the production and secretion of certain hormones, and the mobilization of fat for fuel.

The alcohol travels into your bloodstream quickly, setting off a series of reactions in the brain that give you that nice relaxed, walking on air feeling. Via the bloodstream, alcohol makes its way to the liver for metabolization. Since your liver can only metabolize so much alcohol at a time, if the rate of consumption outpaces the liver’s ability to metabolize, your blood alcohol level rises & you become increasingly intoxicated. The key issue here is that alcohol metabolism decreases your basal metabolic rate for many hours after alcohol consumption & can also provide the loopy state of mind needed to indulge in ‘drunk food’- unhealthy, high-calorie foods that you would usually avoid when sober.

What types of drinks are best?

Drinking alcohol regularly is going to earn you a belly regardless of what type you drink. For one, alcohol is very estrogenic; it mimics the hormone estrogen & therefore manipulates normal hormone levels in both men & women, providing both sexes with the extra appetite, mood swings, and body fat associated with high levels of this sex hormone. Read my article on estrogen-dominance for more information.

I have snagged a pretty good infographic that illustrates the sugar and alcohol content of some popular drinks:

Get Drunk Not Fat

What grade does your beverage earn?

Drinks that have high sugar content 1)get you drunk more quickly 2)pack a huge calorie punch. The worst culprits would be fruity mixed drinks & beer. The majority of their calorie content comes from sugar; drinking these types of beverages even a few times a week really adds up.

Other Factors to Watch Out For

Since alcohol consumption negatively affects muscle repair, if you are committed to training & to living a healthier lifestyle, alcohol just isn’t in the picture. There’s no way around it. It is extra, useless calories you don‘t need, it raises the level of a hormone that makes lowering your body fat next to impossible(1) & decreases the hormone you need to build muscle(2).

That being said, if you want to drink & want to minimize the affect on your body composition, your best bet is to go with hard liquor on ice or mixed with a diet soda. Beer, wine, and mixed drinks will only make the aftermath worse!

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1. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research Volume 17, Issue 4, pages 786–790, August 1993

2. Gordon GG, Altman K, Southren AL, Rubin E, Lieber CS The New England Journal of Medicine [1976, 295(15):793-797]


Are my cortisol levels too high? PART ONE

The stress of the holiday season effects all of us in different ways. For some, it is a time of family, fun, and bad food that, by January 1st, is already a fond memory. For others, however, the stress of shopping, cleaning, cooking, and eating our way through the holidays can bring us down into a funk that can be hard to climb out of. A common symptom of holiday overload is elevated cortisol levels. A buzzword since the introduction of drugs like Cortislim, cortisol has gotten plenty of attention from the weight-loss community for its negative effects on the body. Cortisol is a survival hormone, however–without it, we would be unable to function. Read on to learn more about this hormone & its role in the stress response.


What is cortisol?


The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys

Hormone levels are the end-all indicators of the levels of stress your body may be enduring (physical or mental). Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to a) stress or b) low blood sugar levels. Cortisol is characterized by its diurnal variation pattern; like some other hormones, including the sex hormone testosterone, the levels peak in the morning and drop off toward the evening.

In its normal function, cortisol helps us meet these challenges by converting fats and proteins into energy, keeping us alert, balancing electrolytes, calibrating heart beat and pressure, and counteracting inflammation. In the short run, that’s great — even protective and restorative.

However, problems can develop as today’s relentlessly busy lifestyle forces your adrenal glands to be on constant “high alert” resulting in sustained high levels of cortisol.

Chronically High Cortisol Levels

How can you tell if your cortisol levels are chronically high & why can this be a potentially destructive pattern? Firstly, your doctor can run a blood test to tell you if your cortisol levels are above normal. Here is a table showing the upper and lower limits of cortisol levels in the blood.

Reference ranges for blood plasma content of free cortisol
Time Lower limit Upper limit Unit
09:00 am 140[46] 700[46] nmol/L
5[47] 25[47] μg/dL
Midnight 80[46] 350[46] nmol/L
2.9[47] 13[47] μg/dL

Here are some observations you can make yourself to get an idea of whether your cortisol levels are up (and staying up):

1. The Wired/Tired Combo

A symptom of chronically high cortisol is the inability to relax. Your brain is often running at high speed with the stress of life while your body is physically not up to the task.

2. Junk Food Cravings

Similar to the reaction the human body generates when deprived of sleep, high cortisol prompts high-fat, high-sugar food cravings in response to perceived stress.

3. Long-Distance Exerciser

Training for a marathon? Or maybe you just like to go out everyday for a 45 minute jog to calm your brain. This type of repetitive, aerobic exercise can contribute to elevated cortisol. You might be able to spot this type next time you’re at the gym–the man or woman who is always on the treadmill, never hitting the weights, yet has a pudgy middle.

Chronically  high cortisol levels can make it next to impossible to lose weight. Cortisol, as a stress hormone, keeps your body on high alert and in a constant state of stress. Your body is not in homeostasis, or biological balance.

In Part Two, we will talk about ways to bring your cortisol back into sync to have you looking and feeling better. Until then,

North Texas Fitness

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