I personally have a love/hate relationship with alcohol…then again…who doesn’t?! My experiences go as follows:
1- As a child, my parents were addicted to alcohol so my outlook on what alcohol was and how people acted while drinking it were somewhat flawed. I saw the worst of alcohol’s effects, blamed alcohol and wanted no part of it!
2- I started drinking heavily in college while trying to fit in, figure out who I was and suppress my anxiety and depression. It was socially acceptable, and even expected, so I thought I was a “normal college student.” This led me to become much MORE depressed, anxious, gain weight and worsen my already existing digestive issues.
3-Let’s be real; I LOVE a good glass of red and the occasional gin n’ tonic or Moscow mule!As an adult, I realized how much alcohol affected me and started drinking it in moderation. Moderation is a loose term considering everyone’s idea of it is from their own perspective. For me, moderate means one drink about twice a month with a nice dinner and a drink or two when traveling, on vacation, parties, at functions or out with friends.
My issue: whenever I drink ANY amount of alcohol, I feel depressed and anxious the following day or several days depending on how many drinks I’ve had. There are several reasons for this:
1- my body doesn’t respond well to alcohol because I have an MTHFR gene mutation (C677 & 1298), which by the way 50-60% of people have (at least one copy or much worse two copies of each). Read more on that here. What that means is I don’t methylate well (my capacity to methylate is about 40-70% lower than someone without these genes). What does THAT mean? I don’t detox well nor do I absorb my B vitamins (which produce energy and a slew of other great things!), specifically folate and B12. When I drink, my detox pathways get jammed up, and I get run down, irritable, tired and depressed.
2-Even a tiny amount alcohol combined with any amount of stress and/or high FODMAP foods can trigger a SIBO flare-up within hours. I’ll write about this another time as it’s a whole other topic to explore! A SIBO flare up means I get super grumpy because I’m bloated, gassy, constipated and exhausted from not absorbing my nutrients and having toxins circulate in my body from the bacteria fermenting food. Yum, right?! Not so much.
Why does a “normal” person without an MTHFR gene mutation or SIBO issue get affected by alcohol? Here’s the rundown:
Let’s talk neurotransmitters! You know those chemicals that make you feel relaxed, happy, sad, excited, sleepy?! Yes, those. They affect your mood and sleep.
Dopamine: the neurotransmitter of addiction, reward, pleasure, focus, alertness, motivation and libido. Dopamine effects blood pressure, metabolism, digestion, abstract thought, goal-setting, long-term planning and voluntary movement. When we drink alcohol, we release dopamine! Alcohol is a depressant, but also an indirect stimulant. Over time, dopamine is depleted, which leaves people feeling sluggish and depressed.
GABA: is a calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA regulates the brain’s rhythms so that physical and mental activities occur at a steady rate. It is associated with the feel-good chemicals associated with hard exercise, laughter, meditation and touch. Deficiencies can lead to headaches, anxiety, low sex drive and hypertension. Alcohol increases GABA initially but over time depletes GABA. Alcohol depletes the number of GABA receptors in the central nervous system. Once alcohol is withheld, too few GABA receptors remain to balance excitatory neurotransmitters, which cause anxiety. This happened to me when I stopped drinking regularly!
Serotonin: is the mind and body’s regenerator and it’s precursor is tryptophan. It is considered the homeostasis NT and helps us feel happy, safe and secure. Serotonin helps reduce food cravings by producing a sense of satiety after eating, allows us to rest and converts into melatonin to sleep. If serotonin is too high, it can suppress dopamine, so balance is always crucial. Deficiencies cause depression, food cravings, eating disorders, pain, sleep disorders and hormonal imbalances. Serotonin levels appear to be diminished more easily than any other NT. You can be deficient in both serotonin and dopamine! Again, serotonin is released when you drink alcohol, but is diminished afterwards. Alcohol binds to serotonin receptors in the brain.
There could be other compounds that your body doesn’t agree with: sulfites, sulfates, amines, histamine…if you get flush or breakout when you drink, consider these factors. Not to mention, alcohol (sugar) effects the gut and can cause dysbiosis very quickly. This means your gut bacteria may be compromised and cause digestive issues leading to autoimmune conditions, food sensitivities and allergies.
OK, now let’s talk positive effects of alcohol!
Well, red wine especially, has antioxidants!
Drinking alcohol in moderation can increase heart health, decrease risk of Type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure. Alcohol can also boost mood if used in small amounts in moderation. However, I wouldn’t recommend using this as a band aid for mood! It’s best to find the root cause and heal that imbalance.
Bottom line: individuality….again…I have experimented and know my body well. I don’t do well with alcohol! I can tolerate it now and again if I’m taking care of myself spiritually, emotionally, eating well (low FODMAP, Paleo-me) and supporting my detox pathways. If any of those are off, I’m done for!
You have to figure out what is best for YOU. Tune in to how your body feels, how your mood is effected and what your personal relationship with alcohol is. We were all sent messages as children, so what is your message? Your belief? Your pattern?