What happens when you drink alcohol? That’s a question a lot of people are asking in 2024. Especially as the public sentiment toward alcohol shifts and becomes another item to improve on the health checklist, right next to overall nutrition and sleep.
Thanks to the surge in health-conscious behaviors and the popularity of sober-curious movements, many are swapping their nightcaps for healthier alternatives. It’s certainly not ‘last call’ for alcohol—and that’s OK!—but it is essential to understand the potential consequences too much alcohol can have on your health.
So, get ready to raise your glasses (but not too high, moderation is key!) to the six latest studies that shed some more light on the impacts of alcohol.
Study 1: Alcohol and Satiety/Food Intake/Weight Gain
Did you know that alcohol can make you consume more calories without feeling full?
Research shows that when we drink alcohol, it doesn’t satisfy our hunger as much as food does. This can lead to overeating and, ultimately, weight gain.
A narrative review, gathering publications from PubMed, explored the link between alcohol intake, food intake, and weight gain.
- Alcohol elicits weak satiety signals, so when you drink alcohol you are consuming more calories without feeling “full.”
- Several studies have shown that individuals who consume alcohol consume more overall calories compared to those who did not consume alcohol.
- A recent study demonstrated that participants who drank alcohol had a greater urge to snack and a smaller decline in appetite after snacking, when compared to a group that was given lemonade instead of alcohol.
Not only does the alcohol itself lead to an increase in energy intake due to the alcohol, it may lead to an even greater increase in intake via solid foods. Without compensatory measures like reducing dietary intake or increasing physical activity, alcohol intake can result in a positive energy balance and, ultimately, weight gain.
Study 2: Alcohol and Sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for your overall well-being. Unfortunately, alcohol can interfere with your sleep quality.
In a recent study, 31 men and women participated in 2 overnight visits where they were given alcohol or a placebo drink from 8-9pm and were evaluated overnight following the intervention. Evaluations included sleep quality, nocturnal heart rate and morning-after mood and behavior.
- Alcohol significantly decreased total sleep time, sleep efficiency and the percentage of time spent in REM when compared to the placebo.
- Alcohol significantly increased nocturnal heart rate when compared to the placebo.
Study 3: Alcohol and Cancer Risk
Believe it or not, heavy alcohol consumption may be associated with an increased risk of cancer.
A population-based study calculated population-attributable fractions to estimate new cancer cases related to alcohol consumption.
- Globally, approximately 4.1% of new cancer cases were attributed to alcohol consumption.
- The higher amount of alcohol consumed, the higher risk you are for developing cancer.
- About three-quarters of alcohol-related cancers occur in males.
- The most commonly affected sites for alcohol-related cancer were the esophagus, liver, and breast (in females).
These findings underscore the significance of understanding the link between alcohol consumption and increased cancer risk. Cutting back on alcohol globally could potentially reduce the number of alcohol-related cancer cases.
Study 4: Alcohol and Blood Pressure
Your blood pressure plays a significant role in your heart health. Unfortunately, alcohol can increase your blood pressure levels.
A meta-analysis of previous studies looked at studies performed before May 2023 that explored the relationship between alcohol consumption and blood pressure.
- Drinking alcohol was found to be associated with a steady rise in systolic blood pressure for both men and women. (Systolic blood pressure is the higher number recorded during a blood pressure measurement. It represents the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats and pumps blood out to the body.)
- For men, drinking alcohol was also linked to a gradual increase in diastolic blood pressure
- For women, diastolic blood pressure increased when 2.8 drinks per day (or less!) were consumed; surprisingly, it didn’t continue to increase with greater alcohol consumption
- Even having as little as 12g of alcohol every day (which equates to less than 1 drink per day) could raise systolic blood pressure compared to those who don’t drink.
These findings highlight the importance of monitoring blood pressure. Even a small decrease in blood pressure can make a big difference for your heart and even lower your risk of cardiovascular events.”
Study 5: Alcohol and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
When it comes to your heart health, moderation is key.
A cohort study involving 371,463 participants from the UK Biobank investigated the association between alcohol intake and cardiovascular disease.
- Light alcohol intake showed minimal increases in cardiovascular risk, while heavier consumption exponentially increased the risk of both clinical and subclinical cardiovascular disease.
So, if you want to keep your heart healthy, it’s best to drink in moderation or avoid alcohol altogether. The less you drink, the less risk you put yourself at for cardiovascular disease.
Study 6: Alcohol and Male Infertility
Lastly, your favorite brew or cocktail could be playing a role in fertility issues.
A comprehensive literature review covering numerous studies on alcohol and male infertility suggests just that.
- Chronic alcohol consumption can hamper male fertility, particularly impacting semen quality. Too many rounds with the boys could, ironically, affect your chances of adding a little boy (or girl) to your family!
- This matters tremendously because infertility isn’t just a private issue; it’s a societal one. Roughly one in six couples grapple with infertility, and a surprising one-third of these cases are due to male reproductive complications.
- The implications of infertility go beyond biology. It can cause significant psychological distress, emotional stress, and even financial difficulties for both partners.
These findings underline how vital it is to understand the impact alcohol can have on fertility. Cutting back that alcohol might just be giving you more than a clear head the next morning – it could potentially alleviate a whole lot of stress in the future!
The Bottom Line: Moderation Matters
From its influence on satiety and weight gain to sleep patterns, cancer risk, blood pressure, and cardiovascular health, understanding the effects of alcohol on your health is crucial for making informed decisions about your consumption.
By staying aware of the latest scientific research (and tracking how much you drink with MyFitnessPal!), you can take steps toward maintaining your overall well-being.