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What alcohol does to my body and brain?

In my last blog article, I touched on

a fantastic podcast episode: Episode 86: "What Alcohol Does to Your Body, Brain & Health" by Huberman Lab. In this article, I’ll summarise a few points based on this episode to provide you a glimpse of all the information provided in this episode.

Who is Huberman?

For those who don’t know him, the podcaster at Huberman Lab is Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine. His research is mostly focused on neuroplasticity, brain states like stress, focus, fear, etc., as well as neural regeneration.


Takeaways from this Episode:

  • A person who drinks consistently, even one drink per night, has an increase in cortisol release when not drinking, leading to more stress and anxiety.

  • Even one to two drinks a day can disrupt the brain and impact neural circuitry, leading to less inhibition and more impulsivity.

  • The effects of alcohol on neural circuitry are reversible within 2-6 months of abstinence for most casual drinkers, whereas chronic users may only partially recover.

  • Those who start drinking at a younger age (13-15) are more likely to develop dependence, whether or not there is a history of alcoholism in the family.

  • The risk of breast cancer increases among women who drink. For every 10 grams (1 standard drink in Australia) of alcohol consumed, there is a 4 to 13% increase in the risk.

How Alcohol Works When Ingested – Body:

  • The only type of alcohol fit for human consumption, although still toxic, is ethyl/ethanol. The two other types of alcohol are isopropyl and methyl.

  • Alcohol is fat-soluble, passing through the cells and tissues of the body, including those in the brain, before being metabolised in the liver.

  • When metabolised in the liver, ethanol is broken down by an enzyme named alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), which transforms ethanol into a toxic carcinogenic compound called acetaldehyde (CH3CHO).

  • If experiencing facial flushing when drinking, it is most likely due to a low level of the enzyme ADH, resulting in a buildup of toxic effects that the liver cannot metabolise.

  • Alcohol disrupts the gut microbiome, killing healthy gut microbiota, which may cause leaky gut.

Brief Overview of What Happens to the Brain:

  • Alcohol suppresses the neural networks of memory formation and storage, leading to blackouts and memory loss during heavy drinking sessions.

  • High levels of consumption (12 to 24 drinks per week) definitely cause degeneration of neurons, especially in the neocortex, responsible for various complex mental activities.

  • Low to moderate consumption (1-2 drinks per day; 7-14 drinks per week) is also linked to thinning of the neocortex.

  • There is no evidence that one to two drinks a month or longer periods have an effect on neural circuitry.

Hangovers – What Are They?

  • Even one drink can affect sleep quality.

  • Headaches are caused by vasoconstriction (alcohol causes vasodilation, so when it wears off, there is vasoconstriction in the cardiovascular system).

  • Alcohol is a diuretic, hence the thirst the following day.

  • Eating something before drinking slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, but it's not true if you drink before eating.

Any Benefits from Alcohol?

  • No, because alcohol increases the risk of cancer and leads to changes in the hormonal system for both men and women.

  • Regarding resveratrol – a natural phenol found in red grapes, so red wine – the amount needed for a therapeutic effect is much more than anyone should consume in alcohol.

This summary is concise and based on podcast episode 86 of Huberman Lab, as well as the podcast notes summary. I encourage anyone curious about alcohol's effects to listen to this 2-hour episode, as there is much more value to be gained.

If you feel the need to talk to someone about your relationship with alcohol, feel free to contact me and ask for a free inquiry to determine if the alcohol addiction counselling services we provide could suit you.

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