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Back behind the wheel: Bottoms up!

Now that the weather is getting warmer and summer is just around the corner more and more Canadians are spending time outside on the patio, in the garden or around the pool. In addition to getting out...

Dr. Christopher Singh

Dr. Christopher Singh

Now that the weather is getting warmer and summer is just around the corner more and more Canadians are spending time outside on the patio, in the garden or around the pool. In addition to getting outside, Canadians also consume more alcohol during the summer months. What’s better than sitting outside enjoying a good steak and an ice cold beer? If consumed responsibly, alcohol is harmless however, when consumed in large amounts or too often, it can cause many problems with the body.

Although alcohol affects many organs within the body it is mainly a central nervous system depressant. The amount of alcohol consumed is directly proportioned to the degree to which the central nervous system function is impaired.

When consumed, alcohol passes from the stomach to the small intestines, where it is absorbed into the blood and distributed throughout the body. Due to the fact that it is absorbed so rapidly, alcohol can affect the central nervous system even in small concentrations.

As blood alcohol concentrations increases, a person’s response to stimuli decreases dramatically, speech becomes slurred, and he or she becomes unsteady and has trouble walking. With very high concentrations, a person can become comatose and even die.

Now let’s talk about how alcohol is absorbed within the body. Alcohol is absorbed in all parts of the gastrointestinal tract however, most of the absorption is done in the small intestine due to its very large surface area. In fact only 20-25% of the alcohol is absorbed in the stomach and 75-80% is absorbed in the small intestines. Another factor that affects the rate of absorption is the amount of food in the stomach. Alcohol is absorbed more readily in an empty stomach. Once alcohol is absorbed it is distributed into all the tissues of the body. The alcohol is then transported to other tissues through the blood stream.

Ok, now that we know how alcohol is absorbed in the body lets talk about how the body eliminates alcohol from the system.

The liver is the main organ responsible for the elimination of alcohol. It eliminates 95% of ingested alcohol from the body through metabolism.

The remainder of the alcohol is eliminated through excretion in breath, urine, sweat, feces and saliva. In most healthy people, alcohol is eliminated at a fairly constant rate of one drink or 15 ml of alcohol per hour. However there are several factors which influence this rate which include: Age, sex, body weight, body composition and current health status.

Alcohol affects different organs in different ways. Steady drinking over many years leads to permanent changes in brain tissue due to the increase in ventricle sizes as well as by depriving the brain of its food substances; such as vitamins. The reason for this is that heavy drinkers often neglect their diets, which can lead to vitamin deficiencies.

Vitamin B is most commonly missing from the diet and can lead to serious mental disturbances. This vitamin deficiency can also affect the heart by weakening its pumping action, which can eventually lead to heart failure, abnormal heart signs and irregular heart beat. This can cause an increase in blood pressure which in turn increases the risk of heart attack and strokes.

The liver is by far the organ that is most damaged by excessive alcohol consumption. If alcohol is frequently present in the blood in large amounts, it causes the liver cells to die, and prevents the liver from working efficiently. This results in a disease called Cirrhosis. In the case of a healthy person if alcohol is consumed occasionally or in moderate amounts, any damage to the liver tissue is repaired in time. Heavy drinking can also irritate the stomach and causes sickness and pain. Steady drinking can lead to the regular occurrence of these symptoms.

Finally alcohol can damage the reproductive organs. In men it can depress nerve impulses which can lead to erectile dysfunction. In women heavy drinking during pregnancy can harm the fetus. A condition called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may result in which babies are born very small and could have reduced intelligence and facial deformities. Therefore drinking during pregnancy is strongly discouraged.

Alcohol can also affect the bones by interfering with the body’s ability to absorb calcium resulting in bones being weak, soft and brittle and may lead to osteoporosis.

As you can see when alcohol is consumed in large amounts regularly it can lead to very serious physical and mental problems. However when consumed in moderation it is harmless.

According to the National Institute on alcohol abuse and alcoholism most adults can consume up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and older people without causing any problems.

One drink is considered one 12 ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, one five ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits. However, there are certain people who should not consume alcohol at all. These people include but are not limited to pregnant women, people who plan to drive or engage in other activities that require alertness and skill, people taking over the counter or prescription medications, and recovering alcoholics.

Until next month enjoy the weather, drink responsibly and drive safely.

Dr. Christopher Singh, B. Kin., D.C., runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 888-252-7327, or email

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