The Impact of Alcohol on Obesity

Did you know that alcohol is chemically related to sugar? In fact, to create alcoholic spirits, brewers usually start out with a mash of sugary material. From barley to potatoes to high-sugar content mash made up of wheat, brewers have discovered how to turn sugar into alcohol.

Think of Alcohol as Sugar…

Chemically, your body still processes alcohol like sugar. This is why many alcoholics develop a fatty liver, since their bodies turn the alcohol they consume into fat droplets that are stored in the liver (and elsewhere). Similarly, people who eat a lot of sugar tend to develop fatty livers. The impact of alcohol on obesity (and of course health in general) can be quite significant.

I’ve written elsewhere about the dangers of sugar to dieters. The sugar in alcohol can poison your weight loss goals. Spiking your blood sugar causes hunger, is bad for digestion and gut health, and has other serious health and weight consequences.

Growing a Beer Belly

The impact of alcohol on obesityThe main reason why many guys who love beer tend to develop ‘beer bellies’ is the fact that beer alcohol is chemically similar enough to sugar. This results in your body converting sugar into fat, and your ‘spare tire’ of abdominal fat continues to grow.

If this process of your body turning sugar into fat sounds surprising to you, you might want to keep in mind that, unlike plants which store energy in the form of sugar, animals (like human beings), store extra energy in the form of fat.

Since your body can’t eliminate all the sugar you ingest from alcohol, the extra sugar that isn’t burned by the mitochondria of your cells is then stored by your body in the form of fat, and belly fat is a frequent target zone for this fat storage. In the past, having a beer belly wasn’t as big a concern, because people’s lifestyles often involved enough physical labor at work that this extra flab actually helped people through harsh winters and other seasons where food was scarce.

Now that we have more sedentary lifestyles, we simply don’t move around enough to burn off our “spare tires”, and beer drinkers’ beer bellies tend to remain – and often get larger with time.

Getting Tipsy Turns Off Your Satiety Signals

Besides storing sugar, whether in the pure or fermented form, in the form of fat, the other impact of alcohol on obesity involves how our brains process satiety signals. When you eat, your stomach sends a signal to your brain saying ‘I am full.’ When you’re healthy and your brain and nervous system are functioning well, your brain will perceive the signal loud and clear and you feel satisfied. This hopefully results in you putting down that cupcake, passing on that extra serving of chicken, or resisting a sugary or creamy treat.

However, when you have had more than a few drinks, your brain can’t handle the satiety signals your stomach or body is sending. As a result, you keep eating and eating, and you load up on your caloric intake. Paired with low levels of exercise (or no exercise), your body has more calories than it can burn, and your body ends up storing these extra calories in the form of fat.

Again, unlike plants which store extra energy in the form of sugar and starch, we store extra calories from alcohol or elsewhere (extra energy) in the form of fat. And this all gets exacerbated when you drink enough alcohol to mess with your brain’s satiety signal processing system.

If you want to eat less, don’t get tipsy. While some Europeans, such as the French or Italians, may be very healthy on average yet regularly drink wine, they normally don’t drink until they’re tipsy. Keep this difference in mind. You can still enjoy the health benefits of red wine while still keeping calories (and by extension your waistline) in control – just keep it down to one glass.

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3 Responses to The Impact of Alcohol on Obesity

  1. SaraQ July 28, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    Most Americans love indulging in a mug of beer day in and out and thus suffer from the beer belly. I think if you can not simply give up beer then limiting it and drinking it in moderation will surely help fight obesity.

    • DrBruce July 29, 2014 at 9:34 am #

      That makes sense, Sara. Sometimes it’s a matter of finding a healthy substitute, too. On a hot day, instead of a cold beer, reach for a mug of chilled fruit tea (without sugar). It’s delicious AND healthy. Easier on the budget, too.

  2. zararian November 7, 2014 at 4:39 am #

    I do not drink any alcoholic beverages simply because I think it is generally unhealthy. Aside from beer belly and being obese, there are other health issues or diseases one can get from drinking too much of it on a regular basis.

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