Alcohol and the Digestive System
Moderate consumption of alcohol can be something that makes life a bit more enjoyable for some people. It allows them to socialize more easily, and it can even help people to relax after a hard day. There is a dark side to alcohol consumption, and this soon becomes apparent when individuals drink too much. It can lead to all sorts of physical and mental health problems. If people become addicted to alcohol it can completely destroy their life. The digestive system includes a group of organs that can be highly impacted by the consumption of alcohol – both positively and negatively.
The Digestive System Explained
People need to consume food in order to survive. It is not only needed for fuel but the body also uses elements of this nutrition for repair of the body. The digestive system is a group of organs in the body that are tasked with the role of removing all the needed nutrients from any food that is eaten. In order for people to live life to the fullest they need to have a fully functional digestive system.
Organs of the Digestive System
- The mouth is where digestion begins. The food that is eaten will be partly broken down by chewing so as to make it easier to digest. Saliva can begin to break down some chemicals in food.
- Food is transferred to the stomach by the esophagus.
- The stomach contains a strong acid that helps to break down food. The churning motion of the stomach turns food into a sludge-like substance called chime.
- The liver produces bile which is stored in the gallbladder.
- The pancreas produces enzymes that are also required for digestion.
- The small intestine is where bile and enzymes help to extract the nutrients from the food.
- The large intestine contains microbes that assist in breaking down food. In this organ electrolytes and water is extracted from the chime.
- Anything in the food that is not of use to the body ends up in the rectum where it is expelled as feces.
How Alcohol May Benefit the Digestive System
These are some of the ways that drinking alcohol may benefit the digestive system:
- Research seems to indicate that those who drink are less likely to develop gallstones. These are solid masses that can form in the gallbladder where they cause obstruction or inflammation.
- Drinking seems to reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. This refers to a group of symptoms that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes. Metabolic syndrome involves central obesity and insulin resistance. While there may be some benefits to the digestive system from the moderate consumption of alcohol it is not recommended that people begin drinking in order to gain these benefits. This is because the potential problems associated with drinking too much far outweigh any benefits.
Digestive System Problems Caused by Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse can cause havoc in every organ of the digestive system. Some of the most common problems include:
- Alcohol increases the risk that people will develop mouth cancer – it is the second most common cause of this condition after tobacco smoking. It also causes some people to develop gum disease.
- Heartburn is frequently caused by excessive alcohol intake. It does this by relaxing the sphincter that is there to control the acidic contents of the stomach from passing into the esophagus. If this fluid makes it past the sphincter it can be highly irritating to the esophagus, and this is what causes heartburn.
- Alcohol abuse can damage the lining of the stomach. This can lead to problems including inflammation of the stomach – gastritis.
- Alcohol may increase the risk of people developing stomach cancer, but there is no conclusive proof of this.
- Alcohol abuse can increase the risk of people developing small intestine cancers.
- It can cause malabsorbtion so that the individual is not absorbing all the nutrients from food they need.
- It may cause leaky gut syndrome where unwanted toxins are able to leak through the intestine into the rest of the body. These toxins then cause problems and lead to ill-health.
- It can exacerbate irritable bowel syndrome
- Alcohol can cause both diarrhea and constipation
- Excessive alcohol intake can lead to an inflammation of the pancreas. This is known as pancreatitis and it can lead to life-threatening complications. It can also interfere with the ability of the digestive system to function effectively.
- The affect of alcohol on the liver is well documented. If people are drinking excessively they can start to develop the early stages of alcoholic liver disease. If this progresses to cirrhosis then the damage will be so severe that this organ is unable to function properly. Not only is the liver vital for digestion, but it is also necessary for other important functions as well.
Alcoholism and Malnutrition
Many alcoholics fail to get adequate nutrition, and this leads to serious health consequences. They can develop problems such as alcoholic dementia and peripheral neuropathy because of nutritional deficiencies. The reason why this occurs is that alcohol contains empty calories while offering little nutritional value. This means that people do not feel hungry. Alcoholism also causes people to lose interest in food, and the impact of alcohol on the digestion of food can lead to malabsorbtion when they do eat. This is why chronic alcoholics will usually suffer from poor health because of malnutrition.
How to Prevent Alcohol from Causing Harm to the Digestive System
It is possible for people to enjoy the occasional alcoholic drink without it causing harm to their digestive system. They can reduce the risk of damage by:
- Sticking to the recommended levels for safe alcohol consumption, or one drink per day for women and those older than 65 years of age and two drinks per day for men; here, one drink would be classified as a standard beer, a glass of wine, or a standard shot of spirits.
- Abstaining altogether if controlling alcohol intake proves too difficult.
- Being particularly careful if liver problems are already an issue; those who have been diagnosed with alcoholic liver disease should not drink at all
- Never drinking on an empty stomach
- Ensuring a balanced diet that includes all the needed nutrients