It's Sunday morning and you just woke up after a wild night out. Let's not lie - you're not feeling great and you know exactly why. You realize that you just need some sleep and plenty of fluids to make yourself feel better, and the next day you won't even remember how bad you had felt today.
Well, although our bodies are programmed to recover quickly, and you may be feeling perfectly fine soon it's not all that simple. Alcohol affects your body far beyond what you can feel in the moment and impacts your brain in many ways.
Alcohol helps me relax!
It's true! Alcohol releases endorphins (pleasure hormones) which bide to opiate receptors in the brain. That's why you may feel happier, more relaxed and less anxious while drinking. This isn't, however, the whole truth. Alcohol is a nervous system depressant, and by depressing the part of the brain we associate with inhibition, we can feel more self-confident and social. However the more you drink, the bigger impact alcohol will have- that's why many people can experience slurred speech and difficulty walking. We also know that if you have a few too many, alcohol may have an adverse effect on your feelings - you can start feeling depressed, anxious and aggressive.
Alcohol is a nervous system depressant
But I don't drink that much
Well good for you! However, even moderate drinkers can experience the damaging effect the alcohol has on the brain. The on-going study conducted by the University of Oxford is looking at the longterm impact of alcohol on human brains. The research has been going on for 30 years and is studying 10 000 people. Recently the researchers looked at 527 people who were part of the study and according to their MRI scans, participants experienced shrinkage in the hippocampus area ( part of the brain associated with memory and reasoning) related to the amount of alcohol they drank! Those who had the equivalent of four or more drinks a day had almost six times the risk of hippocampal shrinkage as did non-drinkers, while moderate drinkers had three times the risk.
What happens in the long run?
Alcohol impacts the overall chemistry of your brain. How? It directly affects the neurons and heavy drinking can damage or even kill them. The hippocampus region is severely affected and damaged by 'blackouts' leading to short-term memory loss and brain cell death. Repeated blackouts, a clear sign of excessive drinking, can result in permanent damage that inhibits the brain from saving new memories. For example, you may be able to recall past events with perfect clarity but not remember having the conversation a few hours later. Years of heavy drinking can also lead to a condition called 'wet brain' which is a form of alcohol-induced dementia. The symptoms can include:
Paralysis of eye muscles
Difficulty with muscle coordination
Impaired learning ability
The hippocampus region is severely affected and damaged by 'blackouts' leading to short-term memory loss and brain cell death
Alcohol creates toxins
Heavy drinking can also lead to liver damage which in fact is responsible for filtering the blood before moving it to the rest of the body. Because the liver is responsible for filtering out toxins, a dysfunctional liver sends “bad” blood to the brain. The result is hepatic encephalopathy - a buildup of toxins in the brain. It can ultimately lead to a decline in brain function and brain damage. Symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy also include:
Changing sleep patterns
Altered mood or personality
Shortened attention span
Problems with coordination
How can I protect my brain?
Don't worry we're not going to tell you that you should never, ever drink alcohol again! We all enjoy an occasional pint or a glass of red so let's have a look at what you can do to protect your brain:
Drink less- Have a think about when you drink and why. You may want to have a drink while meeting a friend, but do you really need that after work lager? Try to cut down where you can-your brain will thank you later ;)
Control the amount you drink- As well as how often, pay attention to how much you drink. It's easy to get lost, so the next time you're going out monitor your alcohol intake and set yourself a clear limit.
Drink plenty of water- Try drinking a glass of water with every drink you have. Alcohol dehydrates the body, so let the water help you with that. You'll thank yourself the next day!
Supplement- Taking some quality supplements can help you protect the body from harmful alcohol effects and speed up the recovery process. You should especially look into Vitamin C, Magnesium, Vitamins group B, Alpha Lipoic Acid
Herbs- Herbs such as Ashwagandha, Gotu Kola and Brahmi can help you a protect the brain and stimulate and regrow the neurons!
Nutrition & Excercise- We can't stretch that enough! A well-balanced diet and regular physical activity can help you improve your overall wellbeing and more specifically your cognitive function!
Alcohol Alternatives- Why not try some amazing new products on the market such as Kombucha or herbal non-alcoholic drinks? There are so many great brands to choose from so give it a try!
Remember that the key to a healthy brain is consistency. When you incorporate those tips in your daily lifestyle you will notice the difference! Alcohol can be fun when you drink smartly, but remember that it can also be dangerous. If you think you may have an alcohol problem always seek help!