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Alcohol – How is It Processed in the Body

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Alcohol How Is It Processed In The Body

What is a standard drink, Alcohol intake guidelines, Effects of alcohol on our health?

Drinking alcoholic beverages is a norm in many of the Western countries including Australia. According to the latest statistics, 67.9% of Australians aged 18 years and older consume at least one full serving of alcohol in 12 months. Although the percentage of Aussies who drink alcohol on a daily basis has decreased significantly (from 6.5% in 2013 to 5.9% in 2016), there are many people out there who misuse it. Most of the people who drink alcohol on a daily basis have no idea at all as to how it is processed in the body and the impact it has as it travels through the body.

There is a strong need to educate people on how to drink responsibly, and understanding the effects on the body can make people realise how overuse or misuse affects the health.

Alcohol How Is It Processed In The Body

How Is Alcohol Processed In The Body?

The effects of alcohol consumption on your body depends on your age, ethnicity, gender, daily consumption, and type of alcoholic beverages you drink. Besides this many other factors such as alcohol absorption, alcohol metabolism and alcohol elimination determine how it affects your body in the short and long run.

Alcohol Absorption

The process of alcohol absorption into the bloodstream starts as soon as you take your first sip. A significant percentage of the alcohol (almost 80%) is absorbed through the small intestine, while the remaining (20%) through the stomach. While the rate of absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream may vary from person to person and is also influenced by what else you drink or eat, there is no way you can stop the alcohol from entering your system. Once it enters your system, it affects almost every organ and part of the body, including the brain.

Alcohol Metabolism | How Is Alcohol Processed In The Body

Once alcohol reaches the stomach, part of it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the tissue lining while the remaining (90%) is broken down into a number of different organic and non-harmful compounds by a process known as alcohol metabolism. While the gastrointestinal tract and kidneys play some role in alcohol metabolism, most of this breakdown occurs in the liver.

Alcohol Elimination | How Is Alcohol Processed In The Body

In addition to direct absorption and metabolism, some alcohol (about 10%) is also eliminated from the body without any changes. Most of this alcohol elimination is in the form of urine or perspiration, some alcohol is also eliminated through breath which is why your breath smells bad.

What Is a Standard Drink?

Alcoholic beverages come in different flavors, strengths, and serving sizes, this makes it harder for many responsible drinkers to keep track of how much alcohol they are consuming. As per the Australian guidelines, a healthy adult should not consume more than 2 standard drinks on any day to avoid any harmful side effects. So what is a standard drink?

A standard drink, in reality, is a unit of measurement. In Australia, this refers to any drink containing 10g of alcohol, regardless of the alcohol type or container size. Follow these guidelines to find out how many standard drinks are in different types of alcoholic beverages:

425 ml of low-strength beer (2.7% alc. vol.) = 1 standard drink

100 ml of wine (white – 11.5% alc. vol. and red – 13%alc. vol.) = 1 standard drink

375 ml of mid-strength beer (3.5% alc. vol.) = 1 standard drink

30 ml of spirit (40% alc. vol.) = 1 standard drink

275 ml bottle of ready-to-drink beverages (5% alc. vol.) = 1 standard drink

285 ml of full-strength beer (4.8% alc. vol.) = 1 standard drink

Alcohol Intake Guidelines

There is no specific volume and concentration of alcohol that can be classified as completely “safe” or have “no risks”. Even small amounts of alcohol are associated with both short-term and long-term harms. The more you drink, the greater the risk. However, drinking alcoholic beverages within the recommended responsible limits can greatly reduce the risk of harm.

The National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia have developed some guidelines for healthy men and women to stick to a responsible alcohol intake that can reduce the risk of harm from alcohol, these are:

  • Guideline 1 – drinking no more than 2 standard-drinks of alcohol on any given day can greatly reduce the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related injury, disease, and even legal implications. Maintaining a responsible alcohol consumption plays a significant role.
  • Guideline 2 –  drinking no more than 4 standard drinks of alcohol on a single occasion can greatly reduce the risk of alcohol-related damage arising from that occasion
Alcohol How Is It Processed In The Body

Effects of Alcohol on Our Health

Occasional responsible drinking of alcohol is generally fine, but irresponsible or regular drinking can cause some serious health and social problems, both in the short-term as well as long-term. Here are the effects of alcohol addiction to your health:

  • brain damage (loss of memory, hallucinations, fits, dementia)
  • swollen liver (cirrhosis)
  • risk of chest infections
  • risk of STDs
  • risk of HIV/AIDs
  • impotence in men
  • infertility in women
  • loss of muscle
  • ulcer
  • enlarged heart (high blood pressure, irregular pulse)
  • pancreatitis
  • diabetes

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How Is Alcohol Processed In The Body
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