Do You Like To Drink?

An intoxicated man drinking beer

An intoxicated man drinking beer

Does Alcohol Make You Fat?

The gym I go to sends regular emails with suggestions and interesting facts. The email I received today sparked my curiosity, because it asked a provocative question: Does alcohol make you fat? The question linked to a blog article provided the answer.

You all know me by now… 😉

Few things can pass without a good criticism on my part, unless it is written with all angles considered and discussed. This article came so short in this requirement that I posted a response under comments–it is in moderation queue as I write this. Below is a copy-paste (with edits… forever typos… lol) of what I wrote in my comment.

Lovely article but the most important thing is not mentioned. Alcohol, which provides 7 Calories per gram (as opposed to sugar, which provides 4 Calories per gram, and fat, which provides 9 Calories per gram), alcohol has a couple of nasty characteristics:

  1. Alcohol is toxic in the blood so it must be burned up as fuel first.
  2. Alcohol is stored in the body as fat, specifically as triglycerides.
  3. Something that is stored as fat necessarily makes one fatter–though may not increase weight, since fat weighs less than muscle

So let’s address the two points from above.

1) Alcohol converts to formaldehyde in the body (yes, the stuff you my have seen dead animal bodies preserved in biology classes) and ethanol (the stuff we put into our cars as fuel additive). In fact, the 7 Calories we get from alcohol is from ethanol. Ethanol is explosive–as we all know–and so great care must be taken by the body to reduce that explosive nature. In the process lots of oxidation happens. Oxidation in the body causes the equivalent of “rust”, which we all understand as oxidation of iron. This oxidation in our body creates reactive oxygen species (ROS) or super oxides. Regardless what you call it, it requires a huge amount of antioxidants on the part of the body to put out this “fire” and eating blueberries for its antioxidants will not be helpful here.

2) Because alcohol is so toxic, it prevents the burning of any other fuel (glucose and fat are our other fuels) while we still have alcohol in our blood to burn. This causes a few problems. One of them is that we end up with hypoglycemia because glucose cannot be burned while we are burning alcohol, and another is that we only burn extra fuel when we are doing something extra work. If we simply sit and drink, we are barely using energy above our basal metabolic rate, so it will take a very long time to get rid of the alcohol in our blood. Alcohol is not something we can urinate out–only about 2% is wasted as sweat or in the urine; alcohol must all be burned as fuel.

Physiology of Fuel Burning

If you understand human physiology and how fuel burns in our body, then you know that the mitochondria burn all the fuel, generating ATP, which then gives us energy. However, while we humans may eat more than what we need, the mitochondria can only turn the fuel it gets into ATP with a certain speed. If more fuel heads to the mitochondria, it will be channeled to the liver for storage either as glycogen or fat. What this means is that depending upon how much alcohol you drink, or how fast you are drinking it, and what you are doing while drinking alcohol can make a difference. You may be drinking too fast for the mitochondria to use it all up and then some of the alcohol may have to be stored–meaning drinking up a glass in one gulp may provide an overload, whereas drinking the same amount over 30 minutes may just be fine. Drinking a glass of alcohol while running a marathon will give different outcome from drinking the same while sitting in a bar.

Furthermore, while the alcohol is burning, no other fuel can be burning. So while the recommendation from the nutritionist cited in the original article is to eat food with your alcoholic beverage, the food you eat actually cannot be used as fuel while there is alcohol in your blood. As a result, any carbs you eat will be stored as glycogen or fat (triglycerides) and will be pulled from glycogen or fat storage once the alcohol is gone.

And lastly, to be able to burn the stored fat requires excellent metabolic health. Burning fat is the hardest thing to do for most people–hence most people are overweight and fat. The best way to burn fat is to be in ketosis, in which case all organs that can burn fat or ketones will burn fat or ketones and only those organs that must burn glucose will burn glucose.

Once the whole picture is presented about drinking alcohol, the facts place alcohol into the “very seldom” category.

Image Credit: An intoxicated man drinking beer; advertising Blauwe Week against alcohol. Lithograph (?), 1936, after A. van Dobbenburgh, 1935. Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Comments are welcome, as always, and are moderated for appropriateness.

Angela

About Angela A Stanton, Ph.D.

Angela A Stanton, PhD, is a Neuroeconomist focusing on chronic pain--migraine in particular--physiology, electrolyte homeostasis, nutrition, and genetics. She lives in Southern California. Her current research is focused on migraine cause, prevention, and treatment without the use of medicine. As a forever migraineur from childhood, her discovery was helped by experimenting on herself. She found the cause of migraine to be at the ionic level, associated with disruption of the electrolyte homeostasis, resulting from genetic variations of all voltage dependent channels, gates, and pumps (chanelopathy) that modulate electrolyte mineral density and voltage in the brain. In addition, insulin and glucose transporters, and several other variants, such as MTHFR variants of B vitamin methylation process and many others are different in the case of a migraineur from the general population. Migraineurs are glucose sensitive (carbohydrate intolerant) and should avoid eating carbs as much as possible. She is working on her hypothesis that migraine is a metabolic disease. As a result of the success of the first edition of her book and her helping over 5000 migraineurs successfully prevent their migraines world wide, all ages and both genders, and all types of migraines, she published the 2nd (extended) edition of her migraine book "Fighting The Migraine Epidemic: Complete Guide: How To Treat & Prevent Migraines Without Medications". The 2nd edition is the “holy grail” of migraine cause, development, and prevention, incorporating all there is to know. It includes a long section for medical and research professionals. The book is full of academic citations (over 800) to authenticate the statements she makes to make it easy to follow up by those interested and to spark further research interest. It is a "Complete Guide", published on September 29, 2017. Dr. Stanton received her BSc at UCLA in Mathematics, MBA at UCR, MS in Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University, PhD in Economics with dissertation in neuroscience (culminating in Neuroeconomics) at Claremont Graduate University, fMRI certification at Harvard University Medical School at the Martinos Center for Neuroimaging for experimenting with neurotransmitters on human volunteers, certification in LCHF/ketogenic diet from NN (Nutrition Network), certification in physiology (UPEN via Coursea), Nutrition (Harvard Shool of Public Health) and functional medicine studies. Dr. Stanton is an avid sports fan, currently power weight lifting and kickboxing. For relaxation (yeah.. about a half minute each day), she paints and photographs and loves to spend time with her family of husband of 45 years, 2 sons and their wives, and 2 granddaughters. Follow her on Twitter at: @MigraineBook, LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/angelaastantonphd/ and facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DrAngelaAStanton/
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2 Responses to Do You Like To Drink?

  1. Sheila says:

    Perfect timing! I quit alcohol on January 11th! I’m a social drinker! I started a week long Fast the 11th to get back on the Carnivore track after some holiday mess ups! I decided I was going to give up drinking and boy did my brain and my friends and family give me some crap! I am saving this article for the next time I feel pressured! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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