Avoiding alcohol can be a tough battle to win as drinking plays a big role in today’s societal norms. It is the most deadly and unhealthy substance legally allowed in the market. In Ayurveda, but holistic health in general, alcohol consumption is strongly advised against. With age, even just one drink can have life long impacts to your mental, emotional, and physical health.
Most people that do not regularly drink know that if they have one too many, they are going to reap the consequences. However, those that regularly drink are less likely to feel how badly alcohol really makes them feel. Whether you just drink socially, have a single drink at the end of a long day, or don’t drink at all, its important to know exactly what alcohol does once it enters your body.
As soon as alcohol touches your lips, it travel rapidly and is absorbed through your mouth, through your stomach, through your intestines and finally processed by the liver. This is why a shot of alcohol can hit you so quickly. If you have food in your stomach, the alcohol will absorb slower, but can hit you later however less intensely. Your blood moves alcohol through your bloodstream quickly meanwhile also stimulating your blood vessels. This is why your skin flushes and you feel warm. Although alcohol is a fleeting stimulant, it is mainly a depressant, making that feeling of warmth rapidly disappear causing a drop in body temperature and blood pressure.
As alcohol builds in the bloodstream, dopamine and serotonin are released making you feel good. As this happens, your central nervous system is depressed and interferes with your brains communication pathways causing slurred speech, blurred vision and dizziness. Your brain produces an antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which tells your kidneys how much water to conserve, however alcohol limits this hormone. Thus, making you pee more, resulting in dehydration, making you more drunk. The alcohol then makes its way to your liver and is processed into fat, water and carbon monoxide. Up to 8 percent of the alcohol that you drink is breathed out. Your liver’s capacity to process alcohol is one standard drink per hour. Any more than this amount builds up in the bloodstream and thus results in intoxication.
Alcohol in the Body’s Tissue
In Ayurveda, disorders stem from the tissues of the body (dhatus). Alcohol plays a huge role in causing disorder, especially in the fat tissue (meda Dhatu). This is because the liver processes the fermented sugar that makes alcohol and turns it into adipose tissues, or fat tissues. Excess consumption of alcohol causes an excess of sugar in the body. This leads to fatty changes in organs, especially the liver. Because sugar has the elements of water and earth, the fatty tissues build because they share the same qualities of water and earth. If a person lives a stagnant lifestyle, these fat storages are not used as energy and build up quickly.
The affect of alcohol is not just to the liver, but also to the brain. Men and women metabolize alcohol differently, putting women at greater risk for diseases like cirrhosis, cardiomyopathy (damage to the heart) and nerve damage. Excessive alcohol consumption in a person’s life can also lead to brain diseases such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is caused by a lack of thiamine, or B1 vitamin, essential for brain function and neurogenesis. Because of this, a person is unable to generate new neural pathways, making later life difficult to talk, walk, or recall memories.
In Ayurveda, the most dangerous affect of alcohol is to Ojas, or the pure, subtle essence of what you are. Ojas is stored in the heart, which is directly affected by alcohol. Ojas provides the body with vitality, immunity, and well-being. Without this, you will not survive. Alcohol in the bloodstream weakens Ojas, depleting the body of its vital nutrients and essence. This is one of the reasons you feel so terrible after a night of drinking. Have you ever wondered why you want oily foods when you are hung over? This is because oily foods build Ojas.
Some foods to eat that stimulate Ojas after a night of drinking:
- Coconut milk and oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Sweet potatoes
Alternatives to Alcohol
Although most alcohol consumption is advised against in Ayurveda, certain wine, in small quantities, is seen as medicinal. Consumption of an herb infused, organic wine after a meal can help the liver and blood flow in cold months. Only a small amount is recommended, about 5 tablespoons worth. This is where the difference in alcohol as a tonic and alcohol as a poison come into play. Carbonated beverages like beer are strongly advised against, especially for the Vata dosha, as alcohol is drying, and cold.
There are many alternatives to alcohol on the market these days. Kombucha is a great option because it comes with other health benefits like providing probiotics for the gut. There are also non-alcoholic sparkling wines, mocktails, and non-alcoholic brands that still give you a “buzz” without using alcohol or caffeine. Make sure to watch out for sugar content in any drink that you consume, as this is an ingredient many companies use to compensate for the flavor in their drinks.
Always take precautions when drinking alcohol; don’t drive, drink a full glass of water in between drinks, and make sure there is food in your stomach to help slow the down the alcohol from entering the blood stream. The immediate affects of alcohol may feel great at the time, but the life long effects can be dangerous, so know your body.
Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain, National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism
Alcohol: Balancing Risk and Benefits, Harvard University
Textbook of Ayurveda, Vasant Lad M.A.Sc.
Idiots Guide to Ayurveda, Regaining Ojas, Sahara Rose Ketabi