Since people began recording history, alcoholic beverages have been used too much that they have become part of the human societies. This is because ethanol, the substance used to make these alcoholic drinks, is the most psychoactive substance that society uses.
As a result, the alcohol intake patterns across the world are constantly evolving and thus alcohol has become ubiquitous in recent times. Consequently, alcoholism is the new pervasive and perennial issue gradually among earth’s occupants, especially in the United States.
The ethanol that makes alcohol harmful is the cause of many alcohol related problems, especially those involving our bodies. The majority of the consumers of alcoholic beverages ingest too much ethanol. After long term use, they develop chronic alcoholism, which has turn out to be a major public health problem, since it causes multi-organ toxicity and diseases.
The health profession should feel the need to advocate for better lifestyles that do not involve alcohol consumption, so as to reduce the death toll caused by alcohol related diseases. This article will enlighten you on how ethanol in the alcoholic beverages affects our bodies, so that you can make better choices and help others to do so too.
What Is Ethanol?
Ethanol is also scientifically referred to as ethyl alcohol, and it normally depresses our central nervous system. It is one type of alcohol and the rest include butyl alcohol, methyl alcohol and propyl alcohol. Ethanol is different from all these others because it can be taken internally. The rest are too poisonous for internal ingestion as they can cause blindness or death.
Ethanol appears as a colorless clear hydrophilic molecule, which upon consumption, it gets absorbed primarily in the stomach, all the way to the intestine. It gets distributed into our total body water and thus enters into every cell in our bodies.
Despite being a central nervous system depressant, ethanol acts differently, if it is taken in low doses. It instead stimulates body functions instead of depressing them. However, as we increase the dosage, depression of the cerebral function becomes progressive.
However, for any ethanol dose to produce any depressant effects, certain factors come in. they include age, physical condition, age, weight, co-ingestion of food and tolerance levels. As a result, the occurrence of one person’s depressant effects may differ from others’ especially if factors like timing.
Blood Alcohol Levels (BAL)
Blood alcohol levels can be in percentage or in mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter). At about 0.05% most people are likely to experience euphoria and impaired coordination. At about 0.10- 0.19% effects may be poor judgment, ataxia, labile mood and decrease mentation.
As soon as the BAL reaches 0.20-0.29% the majority of ethanol consumers will experience ataxia, poor judgment, slurred speech, vomiting, nausea and labile mood set in. At about 0.30 to 0.39% of BAL, an ethanol consumer falls into stage 1 anesthesia, which entails memory lapse.
If one goes to the extent of having a BAL of 0.40-0.70% and above, he or she risks experiencing respiratory failure, ultimate death, but if lucky coma. However, do not be surprised that some people can still be awake and continuously talking even at this level. It means that they have a high tolerance for ethanol.
Ethanol’s Behavior and Damage Upon Consumption
As soon as we consume ethanol, it gets absorbed in the stomach and proceeds to other places like the small intestine. Therefore, it accesses every cell in our bodies and thus has the capability to cause damage or destroy our cells.
Ethanol can be found in all the fluids present in our body, including those surrounding the cells, thus facilitating this access. Such fluids include blood, spinal fluid, urine, tears and saliva. The repeated use of ethanol in various concentrations makes it more toxic to our bodies. This is bound to happen in the regular times that we may ingest alcoholic beverages.
After the absorption in the stomach and small intestine, 5-15% of the ethanol gets eliminated through organs like kidneys, sweat gland and lungs. Any reminder after this proceeds to the liver to be metabolized. The alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) enzyme precedes to convert it into acetaldehyde.
Ethanol’s toxicity begins when it converts to acetaldehyde. This metabolite is known to be more toxic that ethanol itself. Quickly, another liver enzyme, aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), converts this toxic ethanol form to acetic acid. This version later breaks down to water and carbon dioxide, whose elimination is possible through lungs and kidneys.
In this normal process that ethanol goes through, we may wonder where the harmful ethanol comes from.
The major fact here is that alcohol metabolism is dramatically different. Definitely, most of the ethanol does get broken down as said above. However, about 1% of the acetaldehyde becomes diverted, usually to an alternative fate, which later causes biochemical dependence on ethanol, since small acetaldehyde portions get diverted every time we consume ethanol.
Development of Ethanol Dependence
Acetaldehyde is toxic and thus combines with neurotransmitter dopamine, thus forming tetrahydraisoquardrelone (THIQ), which is an addictive alkaloid, since it is related to opioids. THIQ then combines with several other neurotransmitters found in the central nervous system to form multiple other addictive alkaloids.
Most of the medical professions believe that these newly formed substances neither gets metabolized nor eliminated and so remain in our bodies. They continually build up the more we continually ingest ethanol. What’s worse, they remain in the body and begin acting like heroin.
Therefore, once we become alcoholics, we can never change even after quitting alcohol for decades, because this dependency becomes recurrent like opioids. If you consume alcohol after such while, you may lose control.
The ethanol metabolism requires both ADH and nicotinamide adenine nucleotide diphosphate (NAD), a co-enzyme present in the liver. Insufficiency of ADH amounts in the liver leads to the inability to metabolize ethanol and hence its active ingredients remain active in our systems.
Aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), the second enzyme, is also significant in the ethanol metabolism since it has four clinical isoenzymes. The most active is ALDH 1, which tends to be missing in about fifty percent of the Asian people. As a result of this absence, Asians experience facial flushing upon taking alcoholic beverages. This facial flushing tends to also happen among Eskimos and American Indians at high rates.
During the oxidation of alcohol, excess hydrogen may get released in the liver, which causes the overabundance of NAD in reduced form. Inadequate feedback regulation of alcohol metabolism takes place and results to liver imbalances. This further causes alcohol related liver disease.
Effects Of Ethanol Upon Consumption
The effects of ethanol consumption on our bodies are bound to happen one way or another since ethanol is a foreign substance that is toxic to the human system. Luckily, the extent of this damage through alcoholic beverages depends on the amount consumed.
Therefore, our bodies are likely to benefit from moderate ethanol consumption, since it reduces the risks of acquiring coronary heart disease and decreases stress, while increasing the happiness feelings and well being.
On the other hand, heavy ethanol consumption, in the form of alcohol, results to negative results. Our bodies become addicted to the substance and it increases multiple types of trauma and injury. While all these happenings take place, genetic and environmental factors get involved in susceptibility to alcoholism.
It is obvious that in the majority of the cases of ethanol consumption, the negative results seem prevalent since not all persons can control their alcohol intake. So it leads to other problems like malnutrition, and continually exerts toxicological effect that is quite direct due to its interference with immunological functions and hepatic metabolism.
Aside from this, our bodies may suffer from organ diseases and worse, cancers. The following is chronology of how ethanol affects our bodies, both positively and negatively.
According to various health departments, the consumption of ethanol in small amounts is beneficial to your cardiovascular health. This particularly applies to alcoholic beverages that contain such minimal amounts, like red wine, although it is not limited to it.
Red wine specifically, contains flavonoids and resveratrol, which are substances containing antioxidant properties and therefore, has the capability to lend cardio protective effects to our hearts. Even so, we are required to not overdo wine.
The antioxidants are responsible for prevention of heart disease, through the increase of high density lipoprotein levels (HDL), which is also called good cholesterol and protection against damage of the arteries.
The red wine antioxidants are known as polyphenols and are quite good at protecting the heart vessel linings. Resveratrol is a polyphenol that is extracted from red grapes’ skin.
Red wine is not the only type of ethanol product that can protect our hearts. Other types of alcohol can do so as well, if only they are consumed in moderate amounts. As low ethanol levels increase HDL levels, it also reduces blood clot formation and elevates artery damage prevention caused by low density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol.
However, these facts are directed to those of us that are already consuming alcoholic substances. Therefore, if you are not yet a consumer, there is no need to start now with the hope of protecting your heart. You have to consider the possibility of getting addicted to drinking instead.
Ethanol is known to be a small molecule that is soluble in both lipids and water. Therefore, it has the capability to permeate all our body tissues and affect the vital functions. Any medical disorders that are related to alcohol end up affecting almost all the organs in our bodies.
Therefore, it is obvious that taking alcohol in excessive amounts leads to diseases, which mostly affect the most vital body organs. These involve long-term health consequences that may make our living a nightmare. The volume of ethanol consumption and the drinking patterns, which are often irregular heavy drinking, tend to determine the disease burden. The various drinking pattern do not only link to acute health outcomes, but also result to chronic diseases as well as sudden cardiac death.
The blood stream is known to transport the ethanol consumed to the majority of our body parts, making tissues exposed to whatever blood alcohol concentrations that you have in your body. If high and in repeated pattern, negatives consequences are likely to occur.
The role of ethanol consumption upon different organs is elucidated below.
• Small intestine
Upon ethanol consumption, the absorption of vitamins nutrients as well as other elements becomes disturbed and thus reduces. This is mostly known to occur after chronic alcohol consumption. The disturbance further includes their metabolism, storage and excretion.
The disturbance of storage and metabolism mostly affect the fat-soluble vitamins, thus resulting in the deficiency of several water-soluble vitamins. Additionally, many antioxidant levels, which are very helpful, reduce due to this consumption.
Chronic ethanol consumption does not spare the small-intestinal function and morphology either, since it causes alterations. Consequently, our bodies experience increased permeability that allows the entrance of noxious agents.
These may later result to extra intestinal tissue damage, which is common among alcoholics. The secretion of electrolytes and water also increases, leading to serious dehydration.
• Gastrointestinal tract, including esophagus and stomach
After the consumption of alcoholic beverages, the first body part to receive the ethanol is the gastrointestinal tract segments. Definitely, ethanol interferes with the structure and function of these areas.
The interference may go to the extent of impairing the function of the muscles that separate the esophagus and stomach. As a result, our bodies become subjected to heartburn and diarrhea. Additionally, as the mucosa lining of the esophagus contuse to be subjected to alcohol induced damage, it get closer to acquiring esophageal cancer.
The liver is responsible for metabolizing ethanol as it breaks down and removes other harmful substance from our bodies. Therefore, ethanol is oxidized and thus not stored in the body. Long-term or chronic use of alcohol interferes with this process.
The cross interactions of both secondary risk and primary mechanistic factors render the priming and sensitizing mechanisms, which lead to alcohol lever disease (ALD).
The progression of ALD due to chronic alcohol abuse is well associated with the low plasma or tissues levels and abnormal metabolism of many micronutrients. This exceeded consumption further causes increased sensitivity to the respiration inhibition by nitric oxide. Consequently, it results to more vulnerability to hypoxia as well as the alcohol-induced hepatotoxicity development.
Additionally, chronic ethanol absorption causes damage to the hepatic mitochondria through the increase in the oxidation of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), lowering its yields and impairing its respiration. This all means that the liver is getting damage continuously and eventually the organ fails to remove toxic substance as it should.
Human alcoholics are known to experience some alterations in the metabolism of the amino acid in the liver, as well as other organs. Consequently, they have changes in amino acids tissue and plasma levels, which explain the hepatic encephalopathy.
As our bodies continue to indulge in chronic ethanol ingestion, the pancreas continues to be at risk of acquiring pancreatitis. This may happen due to the effect caused on the abnormal activation of intrapancreatic digestive enzyme.
What’s more, an increase in the synthesis of the lysosome enzyme and pancreatic digestive enzyme may lead to the development of pancreatic injury. Upon the occurrence of non-oxidative ethanol metabolism, the fatty acid ethyl esters form in the pancreas and they could be the major cause for pancreatitis. Pancreatitis causes serious complications, considering that it is a long-term condition.
Various medical professionals have verified that ethanol is a myocardial depressant and thus there exists relationship between coronary heart disease and alcohol. Depending on the ethanol doses we consume, doctors have observed a progressive decline in the systolic function of the left ventricular.
As mentioned earlier, consuming low to moderate alcohol doses causes a reduction in the risks of acquiring cardiovascular issues. This happens through the reduction of blood coagulation rate and by inhibition of the atheroma formation. Therefore, you stay protected even from heart failure and hypertension.
On the other hand, chronic high-dose consumption of alcohol is directly connected to high blood pressure and thus our bodies are at risk of acquiring heart muscle disease that is alcohol-induced. This disease may further cause arrhythmias, congestive heart failure and cardiomegaly.
The brain seems to have great cellular heterogeneity. Among all other body organs, the brain also seems to have the most membrane density. Ethanol causes an acute effect upon these membranes by influencing different kinds of movements thus giving rise to more fluid membranes.
The proteins are embedded in the lipid milieu, which if disturbed results to the alteration of the receptor and enzymes proteins. The fluid regions seem to be more affected than the rigid regions. According to various neuroradiological studies, chronic alcoholics’ brains face great loss of white and gray matter volumes.
Chronic alcohol abuse may also result to neuronal death due to some reactions in the neurons. What’s more, the changes that take place in the neurohormonal transmitters tend to be responsible for the alterations in end organ secretory patterns and sensitivity in alcoholics.
• Skeletal Muscles
As alcohol reduces the protein synthesis to various body organs, including the small intestines, it does the same to the skeletal muscles. These reductions may not be obvious since they hardly appear, as a result of reactive oxygen species generation. However, the bones eventually become thinner and prone to fractures if subjected to strong force.
The misuse of ethanol causes an increase in the urinary nitrogen excretion with the loss of lean mass tissue. Therefore, the loss of skeletal muscle protein is among the multiple adverse reactions to ethanol. Injuries upon the bones take forever to heal, as muscles become weak.
The kidney plays a vital part in our bodies and thus should not be taken for granted. It not only produces important enzymes and factors, among other things, but also excretes waste from our bodies. Kidneys function by absorbing the water-soluble exogenous substances together with their metabolites from blood. They later accumulate them in the interstitial tissues and cells.
If we consume alcohol, ethanol and the relevant metabolites proceed to the kidneys usual and get excreted as urine. Normally in this occurrence, the ethanol in the urine has to be greater than that of the blood. Upon regular consumption of ethanol, some components in the kidneys begin to swell causing more problems in their functionality.
The skin as well suffers upon the ingestion of ethanol, since this toxic substance causes cutaneous manifestations. In chronic alcoholic people, the ethanol causes distinctive skin changes, or may as well exacerbate the existing cutaneous disorders.
Ethanol seems to influence thermoregulation too, causing the lowering of the core body temperature, not only by automatic mechanisms like skin vasodilation and sweating, but also through behavioral mechanisms.
• Immune system
Ethanol damages our immune system completely, by making it weak. Therefore, our body naturally fails at invading viruses and germs. This explains the onset of diseases like pneumonia or tuberculosis, among other issues.
• Reproductive Health
Ethanol tampers with our reproductive health since it tends to lower our libido and prevent the production of sex hormone. It causes men to experience erectile dysfunction, while women may experience infertility if menstruation doesn’t stop. The worst that may happen with women is stillbirth.
In conclusion, the consumption of ethanol is detrimental to our survival. The metabolism processes seem to be complicated and end up causing dependence, since we are likely to consume ethanol more often. Consequently, this dependence never goes away even after quitting alcohol consumption for decades.
Ethanol further harms our internal organs, and yet the majority like the heart is quite important to our lives. Therefore, it is better to never consume alcohol at all. And if one is already on that path, it is better to quit if you can or seek professional help. Upon recovery, avoid anything that could make you consume ethanol again, since it will lead you back into bad alcohol consumption habits like before, due to the dependence factors.