EP 30 – Eat This: How alcohol affects your body health

Have you ever said it’s five o’clock somewhere as you pour yourself a glass of wine?

Well, sometimes people do this because they just feel like they need it to exhale. You need a drink in that moment. And somehow it feels like it’s going to save the day. Or maybe just your sanity in that moment. I think there are times when we all get to that place. Sometimes, for other people, it’s multiple times a day, depending on what’s going on.

Some say that it’s healthy to have a glass of red wine because it’s got potent antioxidants called resveratrol in it. While others say, Oh my God, this is just going to hurt your liver.

The recommendation for safe drinking is one glass of wine a day for women and two glasses a day for men; if you’re pregnant, it’s none. Now I’m not going to debate the virtues of whether to drink or not. What I want to know is what’s going on, how they go down the hatch, how it hits your stomach, your liver, your kidneys, and what it’s doing to your gut, and yes, your brain.

My esteemed guest today, Dr. Davis Brockenshire is a functional medicine expert who we’ve had on in the beginning of the pandemic, actually back in March, where he came on and he talked about immunity. He’s a connoisseur of fine wine and I have had the pleasure to tour his beautiful wine cellar and know that he’s not really one to be on the wagon or off the wagon, but somewhere in the middle with some appreciation and moderation. And if there’s anyone I know to explain what goes on in the body, he will.

So welcome back, Dr. B!

Can you please take us on a journey of what alcohol does as it travels through our body? From that first sip all the way through?

It’s a fantastic journey Lianne, but you got to understand alcohol is a poison. It always has been.

However, it’s one of those poisons that can stimulate certain genes that we all have to make us a little bit stronger. And that’s why, when you look at the research on alcohol, the overwhelming consensus is that nobody can make a decision, but we do know that it does have benefits. So we’ll just hold that there for a minute.

And here’s what alcohol does to you. Let’s say we have a drink—just vodka and tonic.

The vodka goes in. It hits the tongue. The bitter receptors in the mouth perceive the alcohol as a threat and they start releasing gastric juices, pancreatic enzymes, and bile starts to get made. The stomach says, are you kidding me?

And it perceives the alcohol as a threat. So it does some defensive mechanisms in the liver. Certain genes get activated, bile starts running, leaves the stomach—after it’s left a little bit of damage to the stomach lining, which will heal. And the small intestine says, We have to adjust the pH here.

So we have to take that really acidic solution and make it alkaline. So the pancreas pumps out a ton of bicarbonate and enzymes to balance it out. And that’s why people who do drink on an empty stomach get drunk quick because there’s more surface area for that alcohol to be absorbed. So now the liver is dumping bile through the gallbladder (if you have a gallbladder).

And what happens is the alcohol starts to get broken down immediately. So as it’s traveling through the small intestine, it’s bound to bile, the liver is starting to receive it in the blood. And it says, we know how to deal with this. We’re engineered for alcohol, so let’s convert it.

So it starts detoxifying it. And without getting too gory with the detox, you’re going to use a lot of detox resources like B vitamins to break alcohol down into something called acetyl aldehyde, which happens to be the same thing our body turns yeast into. So a lot of people have a problem with alcohol because they have a yeast issue or yeast overgrowth, but anyways, the liver starts to do its thing and it says, okay, I can deal with parts of this.

We’ll put it in bile and we’re going to move it out through the bowels. Then it calls in the kidneys and the kidneys say, well, I can handle this. We can convert it to ammonia and we can urinate it out. That’s great.

But a true Canadian has a third pathway and those are your sweat glands. And if you’ve ever woken up at a campsite, not really sure where you were, sweating out Jamison, you know that those pathways work and that has to do with ammonia as well.

So. The skin is kind of your second liver, if you will. Another way that it does get out of the way body is through the lungs. And so you can off gas some of the poisons from alcohol through CO2, which would explain why alcoholics smell funny when they breathe. But at the end of the day, if you can, and your kidneys work, then you have a healthy liver and you’re not on a ton of medications and you’re, well-hydrated, it’s tolerable. And we have the apparatus to handle alcohol within moderation, which is the big question. What is moderation?

Okay. So before we move on to that, as soon as you said, if you have a gallbladder, I know how many listeners are going, I don’t have a gallbladder. So what happens if you don’t have a gallbladder?

So remember your gallbladder sits there as a storage device to hold bile until needed. If you don’t have a gallbladder, your liver has to make bile on demand. And that’s like one of those instant hot water tanks. It’s very energy intensive over the short term. And you might not have everything you need to make quality bile, or you might’ve been exposed to Roundup or a pesticide or something else.

And that’s compromised your bile. A lot of people have toxic bile syndrome. And one of the easiest ways to identify that is IBS. So if you’ve got irritable bowel and you don’t have a gallbladder, you’re going to have a problem with alcohol.

I think there’s some people that are going, That’s me. So is there a better choice of alcohol? Something easier to drink in terms of overall health or a hangover?

Absolutely. Pure alcohol in itself is quite clean, right? We’re all using it as hand sanitizer right now. But the more polluted the alcohol gets the greater the chance of after effect like hangover, headache, rash, hot flashes, et cetera. So if you go down the pathway and let’s say we’ve got a Ketel One Vodka, pretty clean.

Then you go down into a really dark tequila. That’s been processed from agave. And so that’s got a different sugar profile all the way down to say, Murphy’s or Dennis, where you can’t even see through it.

But typically the darker the alcohol with the greater sugar content is going to create more of a detoxification burden. And if you look at alcohol per serving, it’ll give you an idea of kind of how you’re going to feel later. For example, you know, a beer is four and a half, 5% alcohol per 12 ounces. This is in general.

Compare that to, you know, a free pour of whiskey or tequila. That’s a lot more alcohol per volume going into the system. So the more water in the drink, the less likely you’re going to have after effects, because it’s been diluted.

Okay. So also that’s straight up Ketel One Martini is going to act really different to a vodka soda, gin and tonic or something like that.

And, and what if you do have something that has a mixer, like a Coke or a tonic or something?

Anything that has carbohydrate calories added to alcohol will make it more difficult to detoxify, increasing your risk of hangover—for example: margarita.

(Chris) The Coke makes it easier to drink, but it makes it harder to digest.

Yes, sir.

How long does it take to clear all of this through the liver? And is there anything that we can do to help clear it out?

This is what the British have discovered, and they’ve made it law that males can tolerate roughly 14 ounces of alcohol per week without any detriment to their organs or cells; women can tolerate roughly eight ounces of alcohol per week without any detriment to their cells.

Why women? Why less?

And that has to do with how the different hormonal burdens create different pathways in the liver that slow things down. So ladies, the secret to pollution is dilution. Gotta dilute the alcohol.

Going forward, your party planners should include plenty of water before bed. And if you typically have a difficult time with alcohol, you might want to take a B complex before bed because the B complex vitamins will promote the detoxification of carbohydrates and alcohol.

You might want to have some food in your body because that helps absorb some of the alcohol early on, and then slow down its release into the bloodstream. And if you didn’t follow the rules and you woke up with that familiar feeling of brain fog, sluggishness, little bit of rage or anger, acoustic sensitivity, maybe nausea, the usual, blurry vision, fear of unknown place, room spinning. If that’s the case, you know, some people talk, Hey, let’s have a big stack of pancakes.

You would be better off to skip carbohydrates with breakfast and have foods that are high in sulfur, or what we call methyl donors. So if you had a big veggie omelet, that would actually help the body detoxify the alcohol quicker.

My favorite is a three-egg omelet with some pepper, Jack cheese, some garlic, and some broccoli, because that will help the liver. And if you’re ambitious, throw some Sriracha or some chilis in there to sweat.

And what if you ate all of that before you went to bed?

You wouldn’t sleep very well because you’d be sweating like a beast.

And is it worth B vitamins before you go out?

You can but that’ll decrease your buzz.

So you’ll probably end up drinking more because you think you can?

Correct. There is one thing that’s been used on the Hollywood party circuit.

And that’s the amino acid N-acetyl cysteine, or NAC, which is naturally found in raw protein, but pretty much every award show in their party bag will have a little packet. And the main ingredient is NAC, about a thousand milligrams, dosed every eight hours.

The other thing you can do, Lianne, is if you have it available, is reduced glutathione in a liposomal form, which is often the antidote for alcohol.

I have that in my fridge. And while it tastes absolutely vile, I’ll rank that one right up there. A lot of people, they’ve done glutathione or vitamin C treatments, which has changed how they handle alcohol.

This is like the number one question: Why does alcohol tolerance change with age?

A couple of things happen as we age. One is if you just survey people over 45, almost every single one of them is on some kind of medication that screws up how alcohol gets processed.

The other problem with most of those medications is they actually create deficiencies in the same nutrients we need to detoxify alcohol. So there’s a poly-pharmacy issue with the over 45 crowd. And the other thing that happens is, you know, you can only push the body so far. When is the last time you gave your liver a vacation?

Because usually on vacation, you do the opposite. So our livers are very overworked. Although I was told recently by a shaman, she said that our liver is four times the size of our heart. So basically she said to find peace as we age, you should drink more and care less.

That was interesting, but if you look at the size of the organs, your liver does get larger as we age due to burden. And the other thing that you’re going to be seeing in the population is a kidney disease, which is a major issue. And it’s silent. So if people are on blood pressure meds or anything like that, or if you took a Tylenol or a Motrin after hanging over, that’s about the worst thing you can do for your kidneys and liver.

You lose the ability to handle toxicity as you age because you’ve used up all your tools.

So in my case, and I know a lot of women as well around the peri-menopause time, I’m not on any meds and I do not tolerate alcohol well anymore at all.

So the other component here, particularly with perimenopause is the epigenetic factor and epigenetics mean how your genes are responding to your environment.

Certain genes can activate or deactivate based on your environment. And if your hormones are crashing while you’re under a lot of stress, the genetic hardware for detoxification can actually slow down. The harder you try to speed it up, the worse your symptoms get. So one of the backdoor cheats for that environment is lots and lots of good magnesium because that will settle the system down. So have some almonds and dark chocolate with your red wine. They do pair well, there’s a nice dose of magnesium.

So slightly circling back to the cleanest or, or the best alcohol, if that’s a possible thing. What is the deal with the wine?

 So you’re right. The clearer it is, the easier it is to break down because there’s less pollution in it. But for those people who are listening, who’ve actually made alcohol, whether you’re a brewmaster or you’ve experimented with wine, you’re pretty passionate about the quality of your raw materials, just like cooking.

You need to use the best ingredients, the best spices to make the best food. So in North America, most wine producers try to get it done as cheaply as possible. And same with beer, no offense to the beer manufacturers, but the best Canadian beers start with the best water.

Just the best spring water, just like in Scotland, the best scotch starts with the water. So you need to have the world’s best water and what’s happening today is a lot of adult beverages are made with purified drinking water. And in that drinking water is contamination. So contaminants like glyphosate, P phos, fluoride, medications, and they’re drinking basically poisoned water to begin with. So your imported wines typically are cleaner, but you might have also heard that people don’t react poorly to really expensive wines.

In Germany, where there are laws with beer in France, there are laws of wine. And in Canada we used to have kind of an unwritten honor code amongst brewmasters. But we’ve got to really be careful with the yeasts that are being used.

My suggestion is shop for the absolute highest quality that doesn’t break the bank. And listen to your body because some days it might handle red wine some days it won’t. And if it’s not, that means your nutrition is probably a little weak.

When sometimes people say, I think drinking is affecting my mood, my memory, not so much mood, but more like memory. Is it, you know, is it kind of frying your brain cells or are you deficient in certain nutrients?

So where the rubber hits the road on this one, and I’ve done a lot of work with addiction, you need to treat alcohol the same way you treat sugar; the brain perceives them the same way.

On one hand, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, but it’s also a stimulant. And what happens for people that are sugar addicts is they’ll be more prone to feeling better on alcohol. One of the questions I ask: does alcohol help you sleep? And in many times they’ll say, well, it helps them fall asleep. But then they wake up a couple hours later and can’t go back to sleep.

That’s all back to sugar handling. One of the ways to solve that is to try an ultra low carb diet or experiment with a ketogenic type situation. But at the end of the day from a mood point of view, alcohol and serotonin are related, and there’s a little bit of overplay with dopamine.

So. Some people are a happy drunk. Some people are an angry drunk. It’s all two sides of the same coin. Any person that has major mood variation with alcohol needs to really be careful with carbohydrate.

Okay. So more protein, more fat. I remember doing a segment on radio and just saying, okay, before you go out, you know, eat the burger before you get to wherever you’re going, so that you’ve got protection for your stomach, and then that’ll slow down. If it’s a really good burger, as opposed to like a drive through burger, then that’s going to give you a lot more of the nutrients that you need to.

Right. And one of the things we figured out with alcoholism is if you are going to go out and somebody’s not drinking, but they want to participate, you know, you can do digestive bitters in some sparkling water that will promote digestion. But if you’re going to have a before dinner drink, I would recommend something with bitters or a bitter flavor to it like a whiskey sour, ‘cause that will promote digestion and will also prepare the body for further poisoning.

Where can you get that?

LCBO. Angostura Bitters.

Can you not find that in the supermarket sometimes?

Here in the States, they put the Angostura Bitters in the foreign food section. (laughs)

What an informative episode! I’d like to thank Dr. B for joining me. If you have any questions, feel free to comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Maybe a Part 2 of this episode is on its way!

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