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Alcohol and its effects on human body.

Alcohol has been consumed since many years. It dates back its consumption even in Vedic times by the asuras or demons when the Gods and Goddesses were consuming the nectars, which was believed that could make you immortal. That is the belief in Hindu mythology.

In medical terms it is a drug and the chemical name for this drug is ethyl alcohol. The amount of alcohol varies between different alcoholic beverages and it may vary from 5%( in most beers) to 45% in whiskeys, Gin and Rum. Now there is another type of alcohol, which is methyl alcohol, which is very toxic even in trace amounts, and the metabolism of these two are different. Methyl alcohol is found in spurious alcohol and many times in rural area this misfortune happens and it may turn people blind.

I touch upon few aspects of alcohol. It is no means a comprehensive update on alcohol. My aim is send the message among common lay people what are effects of alcohol and few benefits of alcohol consumption. It was very interesting to read about the celebration of our St Peter’s feast in Mumbai and the debate over the serving alcohol in function and occasions. I do appreciate the sacrifice that my friends made in Mumbai with out alcohol. Three cheers for their sacrifice. It was nice to read the report from Diana Fernandes and later so much of debate over the alcohol consumption by different Barkurians.

Alcohol is a drug and if consumed in excess amount has got strong sedative effect. It acts on the central nervous system and depresses the brain function. It affects the way you feel, think and communicate. It mainly affects the cerebellum or hindbrain and affects the judgement, impairs the ability of the brain to concentrate, incoordination of the muscle movements and later produces slurred speech. Initially it produces a “energizing effect” or stimulating effects in small does and gives so called kick. It produces an effect called euphoria or “ feeling of well-being” and later depression of the brain. Chronic or long-term use produces habituation or dependency on the alcohol. The people who are dependent on alcohol and stop this drug suddenly can develop withdrawal symptoms. These are symptoms like headache, stomach pain, agitation, restlessness, inability to concentrate, increase in heart rate, involuntary movements, sweating and twitches of muscle, increase in blood pressure and other funny symptoms.

Not every one who drinks cannot be labelled as alcoholic. More than half of the adult in the world drink one time or the other. People who are dependent and who had to hit the bottle early in the morning before work are called alcoholic and this is bad news for the person involved and his unfortunate family. It is difficult to make a turn from here and unless alcohol de-addiction and good counselling is done very difficult to get them to their former health or to attain de-addiction.

Alcohol has got different effects on various parts of the body and organs. It produces initially stimulating and later depressing effects on central nervous system. It affects judgement, decision-making and gives that false sense of well being and that is why it is so catastrophic to drive with drinking. In Europe, America and other parts of the world drinking and driving is a criminal offence and they may strip your licence or heavy penalty and jail sentence if convicted. These are the days of breath analyser tests and even alcohol can be found in excess of legal limits even after overnight sleep and can produce hangover the next day.

Alcohol produces a diuretic effect on the kidney that it reduces the absorption of water at the distal convoluted tubule and collecting ducts of the kidney or nephron. It reduces the production of antidiuretic hormone and reduces water absorption and produces more urine or the urge to pass urine frequently. All alcohol produces diuretic effect including toddy and beer. It increases the hydrochloric acid from the stomach and increases the acid production from parietal cells of stomach. That is why there is increasing incidence of ulcer and gastritis in alcoholic and people who consume excess of alcohol. It delays the gastric emptying time and may increase intestinal motility. Alcohol produces the fatty degeneration of the liver cells and later the cells of the liver fill with fluid and fat and later produce cirrhosis of the liver. This disease initially shrinks liver and then liver gets enlarged and dilates all parts of the blood vessels and later all the vessels become weak and rupture and later cirrhotics vomit blood and that is very serious and a pre-terminal event and give rise to heamatemsis (vomiting of blood). Alcohol hastens the clot formation inside the blood vessel wall or intima (inner wall of the blood vessel) and that is why alcoholics have higher incidence of stroke, heart attacks (myocardial infarction), ulcers and ishaemic heart diseases, cardiomyopathy (dilated and ineffective heart) and atrial fibrillation (irregular and chaotic heart rate and rhythm) and sudden death and in pregnancy produces sudden foetal death syndrome.

It produces dehydration and depletion of water from the body, dilates the skin vessels and as a result body loses lot of water and later increases the rate of respiration. It is safe to drink more water after alcohol consumption and decrease the rate of breathing and tachypnoeic. It is common to for people to get up after sleep to consume more water after having alcohol. People who are obese and snore and drink excessively may obstruct their airway and may may suffer hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and even death. Alcoholics have higher incidence of lung cancer, breast cancer and liver cancer. Long-term alcoholics may have decreased immunity (body’s ability to fight infection) and delayed wound healing after the operation and may increase the chance of bleeding.

Paradoxically, alcohol has got beneficial effects on the heart and blood vessels. In one of the study incidence of heart disease in France is 50% lesser when compared to France. The dietary consumption of animal fat is same in both countries. It is do with high consumption of red wine and other alcohols. Red wine is high amount of anti-oxidants or flavonoids, which protects the heart. It increases the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is protective on heart. HDL lipoproteins remove the cholesterol from the arteries supplying heart and send the cholesterol to the liver to be metabolised. LDL (low density Lipoproteins) is harmful o the heart.  A substance called resveratrol that is found in alcohol beverages reduces the clumping or stickiness of platelets and reduces the clot formation and has got anti-coagulant effect and may be the reason of alcohol having a protective effect on heart. It is believed that 2 small drinks are healthier in man and one small drink in woman. Woman metabolise alcohol slower and this is evident in short stature woman and in small in physique. But woman who drink regularly may have tolerance effect as their liver metabolise alcohol faster and excretes it faster from the body. Alcohol reduces the clot formation from the inner wall (intima) of the coronary arteries and reduces the chance of strokes, heart attack. But alcohol in excess produces sudden death due to cardiomyopathy and atrial fibrillation. Alcohol is one of the main risk factor for the ishaemic heart disease and heart attacks and one of the controllable factors, which can be preventable and can reduce the risk of dying of heart disease.

The risk factors for heart diseases can be classified in to

A. Controllable risk factor

  B. Non-controllable risk factor


Controllable risk factors are

1.Hypertension or high blood pressure

2. Diabetes

3. Obesity

4. Smoking

5. Changing life style or remaining active

6. High cholesterol or hypercholesteremia

7. Alcohol consumption

8. Stress

Among other factors alcohol consumption is one of the most important preventable or avoidable risk factor for coronary heart disease.


Non- controllable risk factors


1.      Age: Heart disease is a disease of old age..  85%of the heart diseases occur after the age of 65.

2.       Gender- males suffer heart disease earlier than females. But females die of heart disease earlier. Most females succumb to death with first or 2nd heart attack

3.      Familial- Chance of dying of heart disease is higher or incidence of getting heart disease is higher if your father or mother or other sibling had heart disease.

To conclude and to summarize that alcohol is detrimental to health but if consumed in moderate amounts may be beneficial to heart and may be good appetizer before food. But at the same time it is the number one factor for the modern epidemic of domestic violence, social and health problems. It is common cause for poverty; homelessness, marital disharmony, suicides. Crimes perpetrated under the influence of alcohol like vandalism are in legions and have a staggering effect on the society. We all have bad habit of doing things in moderation. It has caused immeasurable distress and damage to the families and the children where man alone is the breadwinner. My strong advise is do not do anything in excess and do not drive after drink and for safety if you drink travel by public transport.

American Heart association warns people not to drink for people who never drank before as the detrimental effects far outweigh the beneficial effects. Now it is up to you decide whether alcohol should be served in function or not. It is up to you to choose what is best for you and make a prudent decision. I leave the jury that is you to decide what is best and more appropriate to you.


D. Nagarkar.


Barkur, located in Udupi Taluk, Karnataka, India. 576 210

Copyright Kishoo, Barkur 2002.