By Alecia Sexton
With beaches packed with sun seekers, late night bonfires and barbecues, summer is officially in full swing. Some people are bound to indulge in a drink or two during this time of year. While this article should only apply to legal drinkers, (individuals ages 21 and up) it’s blatant that there are many people who begin to drink before that. Regardless of who is reading, it’s important for everyone to understand how our metabolisms work and the effects that consuming alcohol has on our bodies. What is going on inside of us and underneath the ever so popular ‘buzz’ that so many people seek during these glorified summer months?
According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Abuse, each person metabolizes alcohol differently depending on their weight, liver size and individual efficiency rates of certain enzymes which aid in the breakdown of alcohol within our bodies. This explains why one person can feel the effects of alcohol consumption before another. The term “light-weight” tends to entice individuals to drink more so they can “keep up with the party.” While in actuality, this is the worst thing to do.
If you are a “light-weight,” you likely have a version of the alcohol metabolizing enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) that breaks down drinks faster than others.
This is not a promoting factor to consume more alcohol. People with this faster enzyme activity get hit with the toxic byproducts of alcohol metabolism faster than the average person.
One significant substance in alcohol is the carcinogen breakdown product called acetaldehyde. This substance affects the liver, gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, and brain tissue and is the main reason for “drunkenness.” People who have quicker acting enzymes are much more likely to develop dangerous conditions, such as cancer, because acetaldehyde hinders the body’s ability to build and repair damaged DNA.
People of Korean, Japanese and Chinese descent have a version of this enzyme that works efficiently, leading to facial flushing and unpleasant effects after drinking. These groups of people are not the only ones with this version of the ADH enzyme. Anyone can have this version and it is dependent on their genetic makeup. In fact, those who possess it actually have a lower chance of developing alcoholism since the unpleasant side effects tend to discourage recurrent drinking.
The general rule of thumb when consuming alcohol is to be aware that no one can see and know their genetic makeup. Any and all drinking should be done responsibly and moderately. Listen to your body because it knows better than you, and it most certainly knows better than the people who encourage and pressure others into excessive drinking.