Intermittent Fasting & Alcohol: How Alcohol Affects Fasting
- May 03, 2021
Intermittent Fasting & Alcohol: How Alcohol Affects Fasting – Thomas DeLauer
How does intermittent fasting effect alcohol metabolism, and how does alcohol consumption effect intermittent fasting and your overall results? Well, I’m going to do a deep dive on this; I’m going to talk about how alcohol is actually metabolized, all the different enzymatic functions from soup to nuts, A to Z. I’m going to give you a breakdown so you know what’s happening in your body, and then I’m going to circle it back to talk about how it intertwines with fasting and how you can start utilizing some different tactics, but also how you can truly understand and appreciate the amount of effort that goes into simply processing alcohol, and how it can effect fasting.
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All right, let’s talk about this. First and foremost, before I go into anything, I do want to say this for those that have a short attention span and just want to get to the gist of it: alcohol does break a fast. Alcohol contains seven calories, which means there is a strong metabolic response within the body to process alcohol. It will break a fast. When we look at it, we actually have to remember that alcohol is almost like the other macro-nutrient. Remember the old campaigns for pork, “the other white meat?” Well I would almost argue that alcohol is the other macro-nutrient. Protein has four calories per gram, fats have nine calories per gram, carbs have four calories per gram, and woohoo, here comes good old alcohol with seven calories per gram. There’s a lot of enzymatic functions; it still metabolizes, it does break a fast, but I don’t know who would want to really break a fast with alcohol in the first place.
Let’s get down to the science: let’s talk about how this actually works. All right, so as soon as you consume alcohol, it begins being broken down in your body through something known as “alcohol dehydrogenase.” Now alcohol dehydrogenase is a simple thing. Just like the name implies, it takes away hydrogen atoms. It ends up breaking down by breaking apart the hydrogen. It does this pretty simply; it does it as soon as it hits the mouth, and it does it as soon as the alcohol hits the stomach. Then from there, the alcohol, which is now partially broken down, travels through very, very small capillaries throughout the entirety of your liver. I’m talking every nook and cranny. Remember, the liver is made up of lots of small micro-capillaries that it can filter things. When it comes down to it, we are getting alcohol into every portion of our liver so that our liver can handle it. Then our liver uses two enzymes to break the alcohol down even further. It uses, again, our friend alcohol dehydrogenase to begin breaking the alcohol down into something known as “acetaldehyde.”
Here’s the thing: acetaldehyde is about 30 times more toxic than alcohol. You might be wondering, “Why does the body take something that’s already toxic and make it even more hepatoxic?” Well, the answer is simple: it’s a smaller molecule. It’s a less complex breakdown, so even though it’s more toxic, it’s easier for the liver to handle. Point is, you don’t want this acetaldehyde in your system for very long. You want your liver to be able to handle it at a moment’s notice and be able to take it out of your system before it does some serious damage. That’s where the second enzyme comes in, something known as “aldehyde dehydrogenase.” This aldehyde dehydrogenase’s job is to break down the acetaldehyde. It just basically does what the alcohol dehydrogenase did, just one step further. It further breaks down even more hydrogen atoms so that this acetaldehyde, this very toxic substance, can be broken down very efficiently. It’s broken down into something that’s rather harmless called “acetate,” and then this acetate is broken down into good old fashioned water and CO2.
Yeah, it’s pretty complex. It’s amazing that the body can take alcohol, something so toxic, and through a series of enzymatic functions in the liver, actually turn it into water and carbon dioxide. Pretty amazing, but then it goes one step further. We know how it’s actually processed in the liver, but it actually does some other things. You see, there’s one very specific enzyme. This enzyme is called “cytochrome P450.” I know it sounds like something out of Star Wars, but it’s not. Cytochrome P450 is a specific enzyme that breaks down alcohol in an entirely different way, and cytochrome P450 is only really active in those that drink regularly.