After a long, hard day at work, do you pour yourself a drink to take the edge off? It may be time to put a cork in it.
Experts say that drinking in moderation — two drinks a day for men, one for women — is good for health. But few people stop to think about what happens to their bodies when they drink more than what’s been recommended. Alcoholism is just one of the health issues men find themselves grappling with. Ulcers, liver ailments, heart disease and emotional problems such as anxiety or depression are other fallouts of excess alcohol consumption.
Why men are at greater risk than women for alcohol-related health issues
Excessive alcohol use can lead to increased risk of health problems in men and women. However, because of these physiological factors, men show a higher tolerance for alcohol:
- Men carry more water weight than women. On an average, men have a total body water percentage between 50-65%, while women 45-60%. So a man’s body is naturally equipped to dilute alcohol more efficiently than a woman’s body.
- Fat retains alcohol. Since women have a higher concentration of body fat than men, alcohol remains in their bloodstream for longer.
- Men have a higher concentration of dehydrogenase – an enzyme that breaks alcohol down – so they metabolize alcohol faster than women.
- Certain hormonal changes impact how women metabolize alcohol and explain why they become intoxicated faster even if they drink less than men.
However, the downside to higher tolerance is it can lead to greater dependency. Over the course of a lifetime, men have a 17% chance of becoming alcohol-dependent. According to a study that reveals men are twice as likely to develop alcoholism as women, when men consume alcohol, a greater amount of dopamine is released in the brain as compared to women. This increase was found in the ventral striatum, an area in the brain strongly associated with pleasure, reinforcement and addiction formation.
Health effects of alcohol in men
Because men are more susceptible to alcohol abuse, they are also at a much greater risk of drinking-related health problems. In the short term, it impairs a person’s judgment and decision-making abilities. But it can also lead to serious ailments like:
Nervous system damage
Alcohol slows down the functioning of the central nervous system as it suppresses certain areas of the brain that normally control judgment, reasoning and instincts.
Stunted muscle growth
By tinkering with your hormonal and inflammatory responses, alcohol makes it difficult for your body to repair damaged proteins and build new ones.
When you flood your liver with more alcohol than it can process, it causes the organ to swell with fat globules, a condition known as “fatty liver”. Continued bingeing causes repeated damage to the liver’s cells and can ultimately lead to cirrhosis of the liver.
Alcohol irritates your stomach, increases acidity, and relaxes the muscle at the end of your esophagus, causing heartburn.
Decreased sperm count
Testosterone levels are affected by increased alcohol consumption, which may explain why men with dependence problems have at least one sexual health issue, such as low desire, erectile dysfunction, or premature ejaculation.
Risk of future strokes
Drinking too much alcohol during your middle age years can weaken blood vessels to the point where they break and raise your future stroke risk.
Even in moderate amounts, drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat (pharynx and larynx), oesophagus, stomach, liver and bowel, in men. While research hasn’t fully answered the question of how alcohol acts to cause different types of cancer, most evidence is related to how the body metabolises alcohol.
It’s popular belief that moderate drinking is good for the heart as it raises your good cholesterol (HDL) levels. However a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows the same two drinks per day can raise the risk of atrial fibrillation by 17%. This type of irregular heartbeat approximately quadruples a person’s risk of having a stroke and triples risk of heart failure.
The responsible way to drink
With the season of parties and get-togethers upon us, it’s hard to avoid drinks with old friends. Here is how you can ensure that the alcohol you consume at these gatherings doesn’t end up ruining your health:
- Drink slowly in small sips—this will prevent you from getting intoxicated too quickly.
- Never drink on an empty stomach—this speeds up alcohol absorption in the body.
- Refrain from consuming refined foods while drinking since their easily digestible nature leads to the quicker absorption of alcohol in the stomach.
- Foodstuffs containing proteins are the best snack foods from a health point of view. Nuts like almonds and peanuts are also a good choice. Avoid fried foods—choose tandoors and grills over fried chicken and pakoras on every occasion.
- Since drinking dehydrates the body, consuming plenty of water while drinking alcohol is recommended for both genders.
- Soups and citrus fruits help detoxify the body and should be a part of your diet the following day.
Lastly, don’t be under the impression that exercise can prepare the body for a drinking binge, or that working out a day after excessive alcohol intake can help stem the ill effects of alcohol. If anything, know that excessive alcohol intake prevents you from reaping the full benefits of exercise. Both men and women should work out regularly to keep their body in good shape and mitigate the risk of lifestyle disorders.
Moderation is the key to a happy life. Our experts can help modify some of your old habits and start you on the path towards a healthier lifestyle