Many people indulge in alcohol more than usual over the holidays. In general, ‘heavy drinking’ is defined as 8 or more drinks per week for women, and 15 or more drinks per week for men. Binge drinking is defined as consuming 4+ drinks on a single occasion for women, and 5+ drinks for men. It is also important to note that ‘one drink’ is classified as 12 ounces of beer, an 8 ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5 ounce shot of spirits/liquor.
Even moderate drinking can result in weight gain. Fat and alcohol are the most calorically dense (9 and 7 calories per gram, respectively) compared to protein and carbohydrates (4 calories per gram each).
Aside from contributing to a higher weight in January, overindulging in alcohol has several additional effects, particularly on the organs in the GI tract. As it travels down the esophagus, the alcohol can directly damage the squamous cells lining the esophagus, as well as contribute to acid reflux (stomach contents coming back up into the esophagus). Once it is held in the stomach, it may damage the mucous cell lining and thereby induce inflammation.
After entering the blood stream, alcohol is metabolized through the liver via multiple pathways which contribute to toxicity. The liver’s role is to filter toxins from the blood and remove them from the body. All pathways by which the liver breakdowns alcohol ultimately produce acetaldehyde, which damages tissue and cells. Heavy alcohol use or binging may also trigger pancreatitis, which is acute inflammation of the pancreas often associated with pain, nausea, and vomiting.
As many people who have binged on one-too-many cocktails at a special occasion or event have likely noticed, effects the next day often include headache, nausea, vomiting, shakiness, mood changes, and diarrhea (among others).
Longer term moderate to heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk of multiple GI cancers, particularly with drinking on a daily basis. In particular, studies have investigated an increased risk of liver cancer, a type of esophageal cancer (squamous cell), pancreatic cancer, and colon cancer.
Always consider the risks when overindulging on anything, particularly with alcohol. We at Hillmont GI hope you use this information to enjoy your holidays responsibly!