Beer Rises in the Yeast and settles in the Waist: Why We Should be Concerned
In moderation alcohol is acceptable, but the relation beer and other types of alcoholic drinks have to obesity should always be kept in memory.
Last fall, Saturday Night Live parodied the Supreme Court Hearings confirming the Supreme Court Nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Matt Damon played Brett beautifully when questioned about his drinking habits – “Girls drank beer, boys drink beer, did I drink beer? Of course. I was cool...”
We Americans love our Beer. Whether it makes us cool or not remains to be decided. And we are drinking more these days – alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing every year since 2016. The “healthy” amount of Beer consumption is 2.7 gallons / adult / year. We average closer to 27.4 gallons / adult / year (yes – nearly 10 times the “healthy” amount. The states that are the worst offenders include Vermont, North Dakota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Montana, Delaware, Idaho, and Nevada – where the average consumption ranges from 35-45 gallons / adult / year. That’s a lot of Beer.
Why do we like to drink so much?
Alcohol remains to affect the pleasure centers in the brain, causing a release of endorphins and other “feel good” hormones. We will be going into more details about these in the future. There remains a certain amount of societal pressure to fit in by drinking. Who wants to be the Wallflower holding onto the Sprite or Seven-Up in a Keg Party by the Pool / Beach??
But it's not so simple as that...
You see - Alcohol has a variety of effects on the body individually and on society collectively that will be explored in forthcoming articles. The important point to remember now is that all Alcohol – including beer – is metabolized chiefly through the liver. Fortunately for humankind – the liver remains an overdeveloped organ. We only require 30% liver function for survival. Even the Ancient Greeks knew this (perhaps their collective partiality to Wine may have played a role in this!) and illustrated it beautifully with the myth of Prometheus – cursed to be chained nightly and have his liver eaten out alive by the wild eagle symbolized by none less than Zeus) only to have it regenerated and regrown every morning.
If we don’t abuse the liver, it will regrow and do its essential irreplaceable metabolic role. Conversely, once the liver fails, its usually irreversible damage. The first step in liver failure is the accumulation of fat in the liver, leading to the pathological condition known as fatty liver. Fatty liver is the first step in permanent scarring and liver damage leading to failure if it is not stopped or reversed. Additionally, fatty liver predisposes one to hepatocellular / liver cancer.
How does anyone develop a fatty liver? The biggest culprit remains alcohol.
Alcohol gets converted by the liver into Acetaldehyde (yes – vinegar is another term), initially. This means the double cheeseburger you consumed with the six-pack of Budweiser will be stored as extra calories (ie – fat) while the body processes the six pack. That’s why with light or moderate drinking (1-2 drinks a day) the body’s metabolic rate increases - we burn more calories. It prefers to burn the six pack over the cheeseburger.
However - with time and increased alcoholic consumption (beyond 4-6 drinks a day) of heavy drinking - the body maximizes its ability to metabolize calories from alcohol. Means the excess alcohol will be converted to leading to fat in the liver. The body stores all this extra fat in the liver, eventually leading to a pathological disease condition known as the fatty liver syndrome that remains the main precursor to cirrhosis – which if left unchecked may develop into liver failure and possible liver cancer.
The biggest problem with the development of a fatty liver is it indicates the body has completely saturated its ability to metabolize alcohol. It is turning all the excess alcohol that it cannot metabolize into fat and its storing it in the liver – as well as in the viscera, in the abdomen, and wherever else it may be stored. This leads to the development of the famous "beer belly."
On average – beer has almost twice as many calories as its hard liquor counterparts or even wine. That’s why it turns into more fat than its counterparts.
So it's not so simple as the proverbial beer belly. We have discussed in previous articles the relationship between truncal (abdominal) obesity and various disease conditions – most importantly diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Alcoholism, alcohol dependence, the consumption of increasing quantities of alcohol – all are related to this spectrum of diseases.
Alcohol is legal in America. It remains a vital part of European Culture and Tradition and an inherent part of our American culture. In moderation and control – it is acceptable. But the relationship it has to obesity and other ill effects may never be forgotten. Furthermore, loss of control of our drinking leads to a gamut of social issues (we will be exploring them in more detailed articles in the future) and a variety of physiological effects – the most important being fatty liver with its predisposition to cirrhosis and hepatocellular cancer.
We will be talking more on this topic. Plus many more related topics. Stay tuned for more and share your comments below.
1. Patterns of Alcohol Drinking and its Association with Obesity: Data from the 3rd National Health and Nutritional Examination Study. Arif et al. BMC Public Health. 5 (126) 77-84
2. Alcohol Intake in Relation to Diet and Obesity in Men and Women. Colditz et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 54(1) 49-55
3. Alcohol Beverage Drinking, Diet, and Body Mass in a Cross Sectional Study. Mannisto et al. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 51(5) 326-332
4. “The 10 States that Consume the Most Alcohol”. Zoe Chevalier. US News and World Report. August 7 2018.