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Most of us love an odd glass or two of champagne or red wine and perhaps think we are sensible in our approach.  However, over Christmas the odd glass can build up and the effects amplify as our sleep becomes deprived, carb cravings kick in, dietary choices deteriorate and we end up  in a negative cycle of  feeling rubbish and drinking more in a futile approach to provide a short term mood-boost.


I am not advocating drinking alcohol but understanding some of the nutrients needed to break alcohol down, eliminate it from your body and what it competes with is helpful information in keeping you healthy and strong through-out the Christmas period while still indulging in a few glasses here and there.   In addition, as we age, it is common to suffer more side effects, ruining the potential relaxation benefits of even a glass.  Why is this and what can we do about it? 

Metabolism of Alcohol: alcohol is a broken to down to a substance known as acetylalydehyde (a toxin to the body) and then on to acetate (non-toxic) which can enter the Krebs cycle (you may remember this from school) and be used for energy production IF an enzyme called ALDH is working properly.  However, the function of this enzyme ALDH is impaired by oxidative stress (eg from any source of inflammation such as a chronic illness, gut dysfunction, environmental toxins, alcohol itself, excess oestrogen, cortisol etc without adequate resources to fully breakdown and eliminate these molecules).   There are also genetic differences in enzyme function making some people much better at drinking more without experiencing adverse symptoms the next day.

Thus, if the ALDH enzyme is not working well or we are simply putting undue pressure on it due to the amount of alcohol consumed, excess acetaldehyde can accumulate and is responsible for the hangover symptoms that we experience.  Acetylaldehyde can also bind to dopamine receptors and is a reason for the mood changes that we can experience when we drink.   Interestingly, the yeast candida (responsible for the condition Thrush) produce the same toxin and a sign of candida overgrowth is a hangover feeling when you have not drunk alcohol or impaired ability to handle alcohol.

Acetyaldehyde if not converted to acetate will go and enter an another energy pathway called the Electron Transport Chain (Complex I-IV in below diagram) – this not only produces high amounts of free-radicals (ie oxidative stress as mentioned above) but inhibits normal energy production via the Krebs cycle as it is a way of telling your body – enough, no more energy.   This stops you breaking down glucose (from alcohol or from food) in the normal way and instead glucose is pushed down the glycolysis pathway (no oxygen needed) with the result that high amounts of lactate is produced.  Have you ever tried running the morning after you have drunk too much and felt your legs are like lead?  This is why! 


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Weight gain: Alcohol is metabolised much more quickly than food and preferentially.  Thus if you have drunk and then eat, this food will will not be able to be metabolised for at least a couple of hours afterwards when you have burnt off the alcohol.  So, if you don’t dance the excess energy off, spare glucose will be stored as glycogen initially and then when these stores are full, as fat as the body looks for any route to get excess sugar out of your blood.  A reason why alcoholic fatty liver disease occurs.

Another negative side effect of acetaldehyde is that it inhibits the release of a hormone called glucagon.  Glucagon opposes the action of insulin and is involved in releasing sugar into the blood.  Thus, the next day, when you experience carb cravings, this is because your cells cannot release the sugar they need to balance your blood sugar due to lack of appropriate glucagon release.

So its all bit doom and gloom!  What can you do other than stopping drinking?  Here are a few tips:

  • B vitamins – take additional B vitamins, B3 and B2 particularly, before you go out and the next morning to help with the production of acetate from acetaldehyde (via the production of NADH).
  • Take additional Co-Q 10 and ensure you are have adequate iron stores for the electron transfer chain to work and minimise build-up for free radicals.
  • Increase intake of anti-oxidants – both via diet and potential supplementation.  Vitamin C, A, E and glutathione and are all very beneficial.
  • Take additional electrolytes to help maintain optimum hydration (as well as always ensuring you are adequately hydrated before you go out).
  • Simple and obvious tips – drink a glass of water between each alcoholic drink, eat before you go out and drink water before you go out – this will stop you downing your first glass at lightening speed.
  • Support the liver – above antioxidants and B vitamins will help with this but also consider additional milk thistle
  • Get fit!  Fit people have more mitochondria which is where NADH is metabolised in the electron transport chain – so assuming you have enough B2, B3, Coq10, iron and a THYROID that works well – you should be able to turn over the acetylaldehyde quickly!
  • Dance it off!  Burn off the additional NADH produced from alcohol so acetaldehyde does not build up and your food can be metabolised as per usual and wake up feeling sprightly.

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If you would like to contact Katherine to find out how she can help you further please click here.