One small glass of wine can stay in the body for around two hours.
Once it’s past your lips it’s not just your liver that bears the brunt of the booze. Alcohol affects every cell, organ and system in your body.
Your mouth is the first place to be hit by alcohol when you drink. Even just a couple of glasses can result in damage to the mouth, teeth, gums and tongue. In a Brazilian study, women who drank more than one glass of wine a day were three times more likely to have gum disease (although the same was not true for men in the study).
The stomach and small intestine
Your stomach absorbs about 20 per cent of the alcohol you drink and the rest is absorbed by the small intestine before entering the bloodstream. Just a small amount of alcohol can increase the production of gastric acid and relax the muscles at the end of your oesophagus, which can cause stomach irritation and heartburn. Alcohol also delays the speed at which food moves through the stomach and small intestine, which can result in feelings of constipation and stomach discomfort.
Once in the bloodstream, alcohol causes the blood vessels to relax and dilate, allowing more blood to flow through them. This causes your blood pressure to drop and, in a bid to compensate, your heart beats faster. Research has shown that consuming a moderate amount of wine, particularly red wine, and beer can be beneficial in the prevention of heart disease and in increasing lifespan. However, alcohol consumption in excess of moderation can cause stretching and drooping of the heart muscle, irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure.
While that glass of bubbly might make you feel pumped, alcohol is actually a depressant. When you drink, the part of the brain that controls judgement, reasoning and reaction times becomes affected, followed by the speech, vision and memory centres, as well as the parts of the brain responsible for coordination, motion and balance. Our ability to process emotions also becomes impaired.
The kidneys and bladder
Alcohol acts as a diuretic, tricking your kidneys into getting rid of too much water – which explains those frequent trips to the toilet. This loss of water can lead to thirst and dehydration, which in turn can result in those major hangover symptoms of headache, nausea and fatigue.
In a study from the British Journal of Cancer, women who drank one or two alcohol beverages a day were at increased risk of breast cancer compared to those who rarely drank. Scientists believe that alcohol boosts risk of breast cancer by increasing oestrogen levels, which have been shown to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells.
Ever wondered why you look sweaty and flushed after drinking? It’s down to the increase in blood flow to the skin. Alcohol also robs the body of vital nutrients, especially B vitamins, which play an important role in skin health. This, coupled with dehydration, can results in fragile and damaged skin.
Alcohol consumption affects the pancreas, causing it to temporarily malfunction and secrete its digestive enzymes internally rather than into the small intestine. These enzymes, together with the toxins produced from the breakdown of alcohol, can cause inflammation of the pancreas and lead to pancreatitis, as well as preventing the complete and proper digestion of food.
The liver is responsible for breaking down around 90 per cent of the alcohol we drink, so that it can be removed from the body. The remaining 10 per cent leaves the body through our sweat, breath and urine. The liver can only break down around one unit per hour – the equivalent of a single measure of spirit (25ml), though the rate at which it does so can be affected by factors such as body weight and gender. Women tend to take longer to process alcohol than men. Chronic alcohol consumption can result in fatty liver (where the liver accumulates fat and swells), hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) and cirrhosis (when liver cell damage becomes irreversible).