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The Art of Movement Edition 53: Alcohol - Building a Better Relationship

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Edition 53 - Alcohol: Building a Better Relationship


For many of us, alcohol consumption has been normalised throughout our lives. From watching our parents drink it with their friends, to them ‘treating us’ to an occasional sip at a young age, to discovering the loopholes available to our friendship group whereby we could acquire our own alcohol supply to use and abuse in local parks so we could feel edgy, cool and grown up! I am basically speaking of my own experiences here, but I know for a fact this also rings true for millions of people up and down the country, who have also spent decades consuming alcohol without really registering as it took a vice-grip-like hold of our lives.


In my case, my journey made its natural progression once I was actually of legal drinking age (by which point I had already been drinking sneakily and socially with friends for close to 5 years). Particularly around the ages of 18-21, alcohol consumption for me was about drinking to get drunk, as you do at university. Using the sauce as ‘dutch courage’ to help you make new friends, and create a new cooler image of yourself, different to the one that your family and close school friends know you for. A horrendously cringeworthy approach to life - spearheaded by alcohol.



Me at 21 years old, never posing with less than 2 beers


Lots of people of course, did not grow up in this way, and did not develop the desperate social identity attachment to alcohol that the rest of us did, but the purpose of today’s newsletter is to show the effects of the various types of drinking habits we may have developed over time, whether a tee total non-drinker, rare occasional sipper, social binger or habitual at-home drinker. My aim is also to show how we might be able to build a better relationship with alcohol, and eventually (for those who can’t completely separate) grow to only consuming it rarely (or not at all if that is what you want) to prolong our lives and maximise our health.



The drink aware mobile app allows you to track and monitor your consumption and understand your current levels of risk


Alcohol is both water soluble and fat soluble, and what that means is when you drink it, it can pass through/into all cells in the body with no limitations. The type of alcohol we drink (there are also other types) is called Ethanol, and when consumed it produces substantial damage to our cells and is toxic to the body. I will try to avoid throwing in too many scientific terms, but it is broken down by the body in the following way:


Ethanol > Acetaldehyde > Acetate


But here is our problem - basically, if the body can't do this conversion fast enough (eg. because we are consuming too much too quickly), we get a build up of acetaldehyde - a chemical compound which is dangerous to the body, and one of the contributing causes of what we know as THE HANGOVER. Acetaldehyde has also been identified as a ‘group 1 carcinogen’ along with smoking, processed meats and sun radiation exposure by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. So regularly inducing excessive buildup of acetaldehyde I’m sure you can guess, is problematic for our health. PS. It is also found as a by-product from coffee and ripe fruits, but my guess is we are not plying our bodies with acetaldehyde by eating ripe banana after ripe banana after ripe banana.


So, we get it - alcohol is bad. But don’t some of us have better tolerances than others, making us less prone to brain or liver damage? Well, the range of effects of alcohol on us can be different depending on our genetic predisposition to alcoholism. This is why some of us get an initial high from the first couple of drinks, and once the effects wear off we feel grumpy and tired, or start slurring speech. Regular drinkers on the other hand, can feel highly energised by drinking for longer periods of time, experiencing an increase in alertness and mood. But simply ‘not feeling the effects so much’ does not mean you are exempt from the damage it causes.The most important thing to remember is that alcohol is literally poison to our body. Being drunk is simply the poison-induced interference to our neural circuits and we all arrive at that stage at varying points as consumption continues.


‘But I don’t drink heavy or often?’

As for alcohol changing our behaviour (usually for the worst), did you know that this doesn’t only extend to when we are drinking? For people who may feel largely in control of their drinking, for example tending to not drink during the week and only boozing at the weekend (let’s say Saturday night) and do this every Saturday habitually - there are neural circuit changes that can influence impulsive behaviour, and interestingly, this can impact how impulsive and habitual their behaviour is at times outside of when they are drinking.


We might be tempted to think that if we just reduce our consumption to small amounts, or drink less often, we will be fine in the long run. And although it is technically true that drinking in moderation sporadically will have *less* of a catastrophic effect on the body than drinking regularly and often in overconsumption, ‘drinking but not to excess’ is still drinking.


A UK study last year on 36,000 ‘generally healthy’ middle-aged adults analysed the grey and white matter (neurons and axons) and macro/micro structures of the brain in relation to alcohol consumption. What they found was that even low to moderate consumers had a thinning of the neocortex (the outer layers of the brain, associated with thinking/planning, associative memories) (Daviet et al., 2022). ‘Low to moderate’ was quantified as 7-14 units per week (1-2 units per day), so in real money that might look like 1 can of 330ml 4.5% beer (1.5 units) per day.


This showed that even being really ‘good’ and drinking either in small amounts on frequent occasions, or in larger amounts but on infrequent occasions, still negatively affects our brain and body to a significant degree. This is not good news for somebody like me, who is only striving to get to a place where I may only drink once per week - this is how I am looking so far in 2023:


Drink-free: 30 days

3 drinks or less: 5 days

4 drinks or more: 5 days


So I am currently consuming some kind of alcohol at a rate of once every 4 days, and drinking in ‘technical’ excess once every 8 days. Over the coming years, I would love to get that down to consuming in moderation more like once every 2-3 weeks, and be able to count on one hand my days of excessive drinking in a given year. I feel like I am some way off that, however compared to 2022 I already feel like I have made progress, and 2022 was a huge upgrade on the dreaded ‘covid years’ 2020/21 where drinking alcohol was happening absentmindedly and regularly, with no purpose or particular enjoyment behind it.


As a final point to make, the obvious fact should be acknowledged that there is NO nutritional value to the calories created by alcohol. They are the definition of empty calories and offer us absolutely nothing. This frequently flies over the heads of people when they begin their ‘intermittent fasting’ journey’s, finishing their final meal at 7pm then continuing to sip wine or beer for another couple of hours. Or the diligent calorie counters who are ‘watching what they eat’ but unfortunately not watching what they drink. An evening out where you consume 8 drinks means you are taking on an additional 1000 calories, which is 40-50% of your daily recommended calorie needs.


If anyone, like me, is looking to change their drinking habits for the better, give me a shout and let me know about what you’ve got planned for adjusting your intake! I certainly find the fact my wife is also striving for this with me makes it far more bearable, and there is absolutely strength in numbers. The situation will be different for everyone, I’m not necessarily trying to stop drinking, I just want as healthy and balanced a life as possible, which might involve partying with some drinks on the odd occasion, but generally making great memories without the need for it, and having no regrets later in life.


Research collated using consensus.app. Full references at the end of the newsletter.


“Alcohol: Temporary fun with permanent consequences”



Movement of the Week: Landmine Shoulder Press




(Image: Advanced Human Performance)


3 sets of 10 repetitions each arm


That’s all for this week! Check out my Patreon channel for video episodes, on-demand workouts, training programmes, training guidance/advice and more!


Thank you,

Gabriel


Reference List:


Associations between alcohol consumption and gray and white matter volumes in the UK Biobank. Authors: Remi Daviet, Gökhan Aydogan, Kanchana Jagannathan, Nathaniel Spilka, Philipp D. Koellinger, Henry R. Kranzler, Gideon Nave & Reagan R. Wetherill. Published in: Nature Communications, 2022. -

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