The occasional glass of wine with dinner may be good for your heart, but regular alcohol consumption may be making your weight loss impossible.
As everyone knows, alcohol is a very powerful substance, but few people understand the implications alcohol has on metabolism. The immediate effects of alcohol are easy identifiable; ask anyone who has had a drink on an empty stomach. Unlike other foods, alcohol doesn’t need to be digested and can be quickly absorbed. About 20 percent of the alcohol is absorbed directly through the stomach and can reach the brain in about a minute. The fact that most people fail to understand is the metabolic effects of alcohol can last much longer.
The remainder of the alcohol is absorbed in the upper part of the small intestine, where it travels to the liver via the veins and capillaries of the digestive tract. Since every cell of the liver is affected by alcohol, its primary concern is to metabolize the toxin. Liver cells normally prefer fatty acids as a fuel source, and package any excess fatty acids as triglycerides, which are then routed to other tissues of the body. However, when alcohol is present, the liver cells are forced to first metabolize the alcohol, letting the fatty acids accumulate, sometimes in huge amounts. Regular alcohol consumption can permanently change liver cell structure, which impairs the liver’s ability to metabolize fats. This explains why heavy drinkers tend to develop fatty livers.
According to conventional wisdom, the infamous “beer belly” is caused by excess alcohol calories being stored as fat. Yet, less than five percent of the alcohol calories you drink are turned into fat. Rather, the main affect of alcohol is to reduce the amount of fat your body burns for energy.
Some evidence for this comes from research documented in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition . Eight men were given two drinks of vodka and sugar-free lemonade separated by 30 minutes. Each drink contained less than 90 calories. Fat metabolism was measured before and after consumption of the drink. For several hours after drinking the vodka, whole body lipid oxidation (a measure of how much fat your body is burning) dropped by a massive 73%!!!
Instead of getting stored as fat, alcohol is converted into a substance called acetate. In fact, blood levels of acetate after drinking the vodka were 2.5 times higher than normal. This sharp rise in acetate appears to puts the brakes on fat loss.
A car engine typically uses only one source of fuel. Your body, on the other hand, draws from a number of different energy sources (called fuel substrates), such as carbohydrate, fat, and protein. To a certain extent, the source of fuel your body uses is dictated by its availability. This is the primary reason we recommend all the participants in the Metabolix 1-2-3 Program refrain from drinking alcohol for 2 weeks to allow the liver to function properly. In some cases, people lose their first 10 lbs. in the first 14 days!!!
What we have learned over the years is that an occasional glass of wine or espresso martini won’t throw your metabolism into a tail spin. But, if you are seriously attempting to reduce body fat there is no room for regular drinking and limiting alcohol intake can greatly improve your metabolism when it comes to fat oxidation.
|1. Siler, S.Q., Neese, R.A., & Hellerstein, M.K. (1999). De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70, 928-936|