When alcohol enters your system, it can have an impact everywhere. It can affect every body system – ie. heart, blood vessels, even your skin – because it’s a small molecule that can reach every part of a person.
We know of the dangers of alcohol and their backlash, but why do the effects of alcohol seem more prominent post-40?
‘The organs that metabolize alcohol such as the liver and the stomach shrink as you get older, so alcohol stays in your system longer,’ says Dr. Tony Rao, consultant old age psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.
‘Plus, the total fluid in the body is a lot less – we get more dehydrated as we get older – so because alcohol is distributed in blood which will be more concentrated, it won’t be broken down as quickly as it would in the bloodstream of a 20 year old.’
Well that explains stuff like the infamous two-day hangover for middle-age folks. Here’s what else alcohol does to specific areas of your body after 40:
‘Alcohol gets through the blood-brain barrier where it works as a depressant,’ explained Paul Wallace, emeritus professor of public health at University College London. ‘We feel quite excited and stimulated when we drink because it’s having a depressing effect on controlling behaviours such as judgment, self-monitoring, planning and reasoning’.
These temporary effects from a night of drinking can develop a higher propensity for psychological problems like anxiety and depression.
Alcohol can also cause brain damage over time, even in casual drinkers.
‘I always say to my patients ‘Your brain is affected a lot earlier than your liver’’, says Dr. Rao. ‘Before we see the cirrhosis, we see depression and problems with impulse control, moodiness, [and] problems making complex decisions.’
Alcohol can cause skin flushing in certain drinkers.
‘This can trigger rosacea, a chronic redness in the skin because the blood vessels enlarge and produce more blood flow. Though the redness can go down, over time it can lead to a permanent enlargement of the blood vessels and visible thread veins on skin,’ said Professor Nick Lowe, consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation.
And if you’re a heavy drinker, you skin will eventually look very worn over time. It causes the skin to dehydrate, and the loss fluids lead to flakiness and puffed-up eyes.
Plus, the excess sugars from beer and wine damage DNA in the skin, leading to more rapid aging.
If you’re a binge drinker over 40, you’re dramatically increasing your risk of stroke. Drinking excessively raises blood pressure, and can also inhibit the heart’s ability to pump blood, known as cardiomyopathy.
And what about that ‘glass of red wine a night is good for the heart?’ That’s true – but for only under a glass of wine. Another more doesn’t do any good.
In terms of cancer risk, no level of drinking is safe.
Simply, the more you drink, the higher your risk for cancer because ethanol in alcohol is broken down into acetaldehyde, which damages DNA and directly impacts cells that cause cancer.
And if you’re drinking and smoking at the same time, the risk for mouth and throat cancers rise exponentially; alcohol makes cells more responsive to tobacco’s toxins.
Surprisingly, alcohol contains seven calories per gram, almost as many calories as fat. And when you drink, the body singles out the toxins from alcohol and breaks them down first, even before food. So when its time for the food to metabolize, the calories won’t be needed by the body – which in turn becomes fat.
Studies also show that drinking can suppress the hormone leptin, which controls appetite and enables people to over eat when drinking.