Even though the exact date of invention is unknown, alcohol has been a major cultural and social aspect of various civilizations throughout history. Ancient China, Babylon, and Greece all have artifacts pointing to the consumption and even glorification of fermented wheat and rice based beverages. We have come a long way since then.
According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 86.4 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 70.1 percent reported that they drank in the past year; 56.0 percent reported that they drank in the past month. Source
Recently, some studies have shown that there are positive aspects of regularly consuming small amounts of beer and wine regularly, such as improved heart health, a decreased risk of gallstones and diabetes, and improved digestion, as well as reduce stress due to the inherent social nature of having a beer with coworkers or friends after a long day at work. (1)
Unfortunately, for many people, it can be difficult to moderate their consumption of alcohol. This article will discuss some of the negative effects of alcohol on the body, and how a detox can help minimize some of those health concerns, as well as the length of time a detox may take.
5 Effects of Alcohol on the Body
Alcohol Affects the Central Nervous System
The central nervous system, comprised of the brain and the spinal cord, is essential for a fully functional body and are some of the first affected by alcohol in the short term, which is why it is so dangerous to operate vehicles and machinery while under the influence of alcohol.
Senses of hearing and vision are also dulled while under the influence of alcohol, and thinking and reaction times become impaired. (2) In the long term, symptoms of acute alcohol consumptions, like decreased reaction time and lack of coordination, become apparent even when alcohol is not consumed.
For very heavy drinkers, twenty-four to forty-eight hours without alcohol can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, extreme irritability, and high anxiety. (3)
Alcohol Affects the Digestive System
Alcohol can have a negative impact on your different organ systems, particularly the digestive system. Alcohol can contribute to increased heartburn, irritation of the lining of the stomach, and can make irritable bowel syndrome worse by causing both constipation and diarrhea.
Those who binge drink and regularly vomit as a result, may experience irritation of the stomach and esophagus, as well as erosion of tooth enamel.
The liver is a major part of the digestive system, as it helps the body to filter out toxins. As alcohol is a toxin, the liver works in overtime during excessive drinking to remove these toxins. Over time, the liver can become inflamed as a result of repeated overconsumption of alcohol, known as alcoholic hepatitis. If drinking is not curbed at this point, cirrhosis of the liver can occur, which happens when the liver is so inflamed it starts to develop scar tissue, leading to a poorly functioning organ and potential for life threatening consequences. (4)
Alcohol May Have Adverse Effects on the Heart
Recent studies have shown that a beer a day may have the potential to be beneficial for the heart and cardiovascular system by lowering blood pressure and raising levels of ‘good’ or HDL cholesterol. However, long term drinking can cause the heart muscle to become overworked, leading to a condition known as cardiomyopathy. Excessive drinking can also lead to high blood pressure, which can lead to damaged heart valves, veins, and arteries, as well as arrhythmias. (5)
Indirectly, excessive amounts of alcohol, particularly beer, can lead to weight gain and obesity. Obesity can increase high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and can increase risk of heart disease.
Alcohol May Increase Risk of Developing Certain Cancers
While cancerous cells have a variety of different causes, excessive alcoholic intake can increase the risk of various types of cancers, including neck, liver, breast, and colorectal, and may play a role in the development of many other types of cancers, though the link has yet to be proven.
There are a couple of different reasons that alcohol can contribute to cancer. In terms of an increased risk of breast cancer, alcohol may promote excess estrogen production, which is a major risk factor in the development of the disease.
Alcohol can also produce free radicals, which are unstable oxygen molecules that can alter DNA and cause cancer cells to develop. There is also a possibility that during the fermentation process, carcinogens are produced and can cause damage throughout the body. (6)
Alcohol May Damage The Kidneys
Like the liver, alcohol plays a huge role in filtering toxins from the body. When the kidneys are forced to filter multiple drinks from the blood stream in a short amount of time, it is more difficult for them to remove all of the toxins from alcohol and other contaminants.
Repeated instances of binge drinking can increase the risk of kidney disease. Additionally, when the liver isn’t functioning as well as it could be, more stress is placed on the kidneys in order to remove toxins. (7)
5 Ways That A Detox Helps Cleanse the Body
There are a number of different detox methods available, and can be personalized to fit different concerns you may have. Four benefits of detoxing your body include the following:
Detoxing Promotes A Healthy Liver
Alcohol has contributed to more than 200 diseases and injury-related health conditions, most notably alcohol dependence and liver cirrhosis.
By removing toxins from your diet, the body is able to remove the toxins that have built up in your liver. Many people who are in need of a liver detox experience symptoms such as an inability to lose weight, constipation, jaundice, high blood pressure, and a host of other ailments. (9)
When detoxing specifically for liver health, make sure to eat plenty of vegetables, particularly cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Be creative by making a detox salad with low-calorie or apple cider vinegar dressing.
These vegetables are important for liver health as they produce glucosinolates, which help to remove toxins from the liver. (10) Additionally, adequate consumption of potassium-rich foods is recommended, as low levels of this mineral can lead to increased risk of liver disease in otherwise healthy individuals. (11) Incorporating grass-fed and antibiotic-free beef liver into your detox diet can also help to promote a healthy liver.
Detoxing Provides the Body with Much-Needed Nutrients and Fuel
When detoxing, a key part is to remove unhealthy and processed foods from your diet. Most detox diet plans recommend cutting out alcohol, sodas, sweeteners, many types of dairy products, and processed meats and snack foods.
By doing this, the body is able to go back to relying on healthier sources of fuel. During and after a detox, it becomes much easier to refrain from junk food and processed foods as the cravings cease, and early markers of disease return to normal. (12)
Detoxing May Aid Mental Health
For millions of Americans, depression and anxiety can play a major role in their daily lives, with many adults suffering from these illnesses at some point in their lives.
Unfortunately, pharmaceuticals that are prescribed to help control symptoms of anxiety and depression may have side effects that range from bothersome to debilitating. Many who detox find that their mental health improves in the long run from removing toxins from their body. (13)
Detoxing Promotes Healthy Digestion
One of the major bodily systems that you may notice benefitting immediately from a detox is your digestive system. The intestines are a place that toxins, including those found in alcohol, tend to get stuck in the body.
Detoxing can help to remove these toxins from the body and help to move fecal matter through the digestive system more quickly. Additionally, the immune system is almost completely housed in the digestive tract, so when the gut is healthy, the rest of the body is healthy as well. (14)
Detoxing May Promote Weight Loss
Overconsumption of processed foods that are high in sodium may have a negative impact on weight, especially in cases where the individual does not eat enough potassium from whole food sources.
This imbalance between sodium and potassium causes water retention, leading to weight gain. When detoxing from processed foods and high sodium intake, you will notice significant weight loss, as the body flushes out the water that was retained.
Also, certain detox diets require the consumption of all liquids and no solids such as with detox soups or detox smoothies. In this case, loss of food volume in the digestive system can also result in a drop in weight. Once the individual resumes consumption of solid food, some of the weight may be regained.
Timeline of A Detox
A detox diet can affect different people in different ways, but many people experience similar symptoms for the first few days of their detox.
Within the first day or two of your detox diet, you may start to notice flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation, headaches and dizziness, chills, and sweating.
Digestive concerns are quite common during this time frame, as most people experience diarrhea and bowel movements containing mucus. Mentally, this is the most trying time of any detox diet, and it is important to press through these first few days, but for some people this stage can last for a couple of weeks.
For most people, within the first days, many of the benefits start to kick in. The liver, kidneys, and digestive system start to work more efficiently, the aches and pains start to go away, and mental clarity starts to occur.
Cravings for unhealthy foods and alcohol starts to decrease within the first week and are even easier to resist as time goes on. (15)
For those who are consuming alcohol frequently, a detox from unhealthy foods and toxic alcohol can look a little bit different. Intestinal distress is normal, along with other withdrawal symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, and sweating. Mental distress, such as depression and anxiety may be much more common, especially in the first few days as the body is unable to use alcohol as a way to self-medicate for any underlying stress or mental health concerns.
For people who are truly addicted to alcohol, this withdrawal and detoxing may last longer and will be much more difficult to endure.
Depending on the person, a detox for those who are regularly consuming alcohol can last anywhere from a week to a month, with the worst of the symptoms occurring in the first seventy-two hours. (16)
Factors That Affect the Length of Your Alcohol Detox
There are certain factors that may affect how long it will take you to completely detox from alcohol. Age, physical activity, level of alcohol consumption and current health condition will all play a part. Also, the type of detox diet you will follow will also determine how quickly you can rid your body of toxins.
The more consistent you are, the faster the body can flush out toxins.
Alcohol consumption, when done in moderation and infrequently, can be a part of natural social life for many adults in the United States. However, regular and excessive consumption of alcohol can be detrimental to overall health, and can play a huge role in damaging the heart, kidneys, and digestive system.
During a detox, it is important to remove alcohol, as well as all toxins and overly processed foods.
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