Before I start, let me get a few things clear. I do not advocate the drinking of alcohol if you are on a weight loss regime. Alcohol is one of the easiest ways to ruin your results because of the way it is processed in the body. It also taxes the liver. Yet there are ways to minimize the effects it has on the waistline and reduce the toxic effects on the liver (and therefore the hangover).
The first step involves understanding the way that the body processes alcohol. Unlike carbohydrates, proteins or fats (which digestive enzymes break down into sugars, amino acids and fatty acids respectively), alcohol does not wait until the intestines to go to work. Instead, a high proportion enters the bloodstream the stomach walls. This explains why you often feel the effects of your drinks within 20 minutes. It also means that the metabolic effects of alcohol will also start at a similar time.
Unlike the fuel substrates created by the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, alcohol cannot be used as energy. However, it does undergo enzymatic breakdown at the liver in a two-step process that produces acetates. (For those interested, an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase changes the alcohol into acetaldehyde. This intermediary is much more toxic than the original, but is converted into acetate by acetaldehyde dehydrogenase). Although these acetates can be strung together and bound to glycerol to form triglycerides, very little of the alcohol you drink actually ends up as fat.
However, due to the toxic nature of the acetates, the liver and muscle cells must burn them first and this accounts for many of the negative effects alcohol has on fat storage. Having lost their place in the queue, formation and oxidation of fatty acids and carbohydrates drops sharply at this point; it is not that alcohol causes the automatic storage of these substances, it simply delays their usage. So, although you are getting a big queue of fatty acids waiting to be burned, you’re not yet making yourself fatter; you’re simply putting a pause on fat burning.
This changes as soon as you add insulin to the mix. Insulin, a peptide hormone released by the pancreas in response to carbohydrate consumption, will very effectively take all these lingering triglycerides / carbohydrates and store them in fat cells. In short, alcohol plus carbs equals fat storage. Insulin already stores fat effectively in normal conditions; the effect is multiplied whenever the liver is distracted dealing with all these acetates. Conversely, if levels of this hormone remain low, you have a chance to burn the triglycerides formed later.
The take home tips here is to ensure that you ‘go caveman’ on the evening that you are drinking. Steak salad, fish and vegs, omelettes, etc… this type of wholesome fayre, free from pasta, potatoes or sugar, will ensure insulin levels stay low. The level of carbohydrates in the drink itself will also determine where the alcohol ends up. Beer contains sugar and should be avoided, as should sweeter wines. All mixers involving coke, orange juice and other sweet drinks also stand out as bad options. Distilled spirits, neat or with soda water, can help maintain the desired balance; this means vodka, whisky, gin. Red wine is acceptable.
Having avoided a beer gut with sensible choices of food before and drinks during your session, the only thing left to worry about is the hangover. This can happen when you take in more alcohol than your liver can deal with; the result can be a huge amount of acetaldehyde. When too much of this toxic compound floods the liver, the action of the acetaldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme might not keep pace and conversion into acetic acid does not occur quick enough. Excess acetaldehyde escapes from the liver, saturating the bloodstream; a hangover is the result.
Luckily, a specific blend of herbs and nutrients can help support the detoxification process in the liver (reducing the amount of acetyldehyde that ends up in the bloodstream) and improve hydration (one of the main factors in hangovers). I have tested them personally, obviously for professional research only. My protocol is one milkthistle capsule before any drinks then, following the onslaught, the folllowing: milkthistle, n-acetyl-cysteine, 1000mg vitamin C, 400mg magnesium, 200mg potassium. Plus lots of water and some (salted, low-carb) food, for example, more of the caveman choices from before.
Once again, I would like to re-iterate what I said previously; drinking alcohol is not a wise choice if you want to lose weight. But, even with this knowledge, I still have the occasional drink. And, if you’re reading this article, the chances are you do too. So the bottom line is that if you are going to participate in one of this country’s oldest rituals (getting merry), then thinking about the way the body handles the alcohol it is subjected to can make a big difference to both your waistline and your productivity the next day.