Most of us are aware of the link between alcohol and negative health outcomes. However, there are some less obvious side effects that you may not realise are caused by drinking. Energy depletion is one.
We will send you an email to reset your password.
May 15, 2022
I was keen to learn just how much alcohol impacts on our energy, so I reached out for a chat with women's health expert, Dr Emma Rees
A good night’s sleep is vital for our overall wellbeing. Without it, we feel sluggish and unmotivated. A drink before bed only makes this worse.
“Initially alcohol acts as a sedative, causing you to feel sleepy and even fall asleep a few hours after drinking,” says Emma. “This can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm which determines when hormones that initiate sleep, such as melatonin, are released.”
Emma notes that studies have shown that alcohol in the hour before bed can reduce the production of melatonin by up to 20%, not only making it harder to fall asleep but also to maintain sleep.
“A few hours after drinking, adrenaline is released which stimulates your heart rate and body,” Emma tells me. “At the very least this is disruptive, affecting your REM cycles, at the worst it can actively wake you from sleep. The cumulative effect of this is reduced energy levels and daytime fatigue.”
Emma advises drinking in moderation and limiting your intake to avoid daytime naps.
Alcohol is a diuretic and it inhibits production of a hormone called vasopressin which regulates water excretion from the body. This means that we lose more water after consuming alcohol than we otherwise would.
This can lead to dehydration and the lower our muscle mass, the more likely this is.
“As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass and this is why the effects of alcohol become more profound the older we get,” says Emma. “Dehydration leads to reduced energy levels and fatigue as the body tries to prioritise essential processes to function and has little capacity left for anything else.”
To minimise the potential for dehydration, it’s sensible to ensure that you’re replenishing your fluids simultaneously. This may involve drinks containing greater volumes of non-alcoholic mixers or interchanging between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
Alcohol has a damaging effect on every part of our body, including the lining of the gut walls. This damage reduces our ability to absorb certain nutrients and upsets the balance of bacteria in our gut.
“The gut has over 50 trillion bacteria which work together to keep us healthy and protect us from disease,” Emma says.
“Alcohol has been seen to reduce both the variety and number of bacteria in the gut and even lead to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. This affects the natural balance of bacteria which can cause bloating, cramps, wind, and diarrhoea. All of these can affect your energy levels.”
Links have also been found between poor gut health and chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
“This again reinforces the need to moderate drinking or opt for low alcohol or no alcohol options where possible to really give your body a chance.”
Alcohol inhibits the absorption of vital nutrients absorbed in the small intestine, including thiamine, B12, folate, vitamin A, magnesium, calcium, and potassium.
“Alcohol affects the cells which assist in the absorption of these nutrients and can lead to deficiencies, particularly in chronic consumption,” says Emma. “The impact of this is that the body must function with lower amounts of these nutrients.”
Emma notes that B12 for example is used for the creation of red blood cells, and low absorption of this leads to a form of anaemia. This means that oxygen isn’t effectively transported around the body and that manifests in the form of low energy and fatigue amongst other symptoms.
To minimise the potential for the cells of the small intestine to be affected Emma suggests having at least two alcohol free days a week. This will optimise liver metabolism of alcohol and slow down its impact on the intestinal system.
Alcohol affects blood sugar levels by increasing insulin secretion which leads to low blood sugar levels. This can make you feel faint or shaky, as well as nauseous. All of this combined depletes your energy. But the effects don’t stop there.
“Increased insulin can make you crave sugary foods and drinks,” advises Emma. “This can lead to increased weight gain through both the impact of increased circulating insulin and greater sugar intake.
If you’re planning to have a few alcoholic drinks, ensure that you plan your food intake as well as your drinks. Small amounts more regularly have a greater chance of stabilising your insulin release and offsetting hypoglycaemia. Or cof course, consider replacing your alcohol with healthier non-alcoholic alternatives.