Does Drinking Alcohol Slow Your Metabolism?

If you're like many people around the world, kicking your feet up with a glass of wine at the end of the day is how you shrug off the day's stresses. In moderation, alcohol has been shown to have some positive health effects, including slightly increasing — not decreasing — your metabolism.

One 5-ounce glass of wine per day is considered moderate drinking for women. (Image: Jon Feingersh/Blend Images/Getty Images)

However, alcohol is still high in calories and offers few nutrients. Drinking too much could counteract any of its positive health effects and make it harder for you to lose weight. Discuss your drinking habits with your doctor to be sure you're not overdoing it.

Metabolic Effects of Alcohol

Your body can't store alcohol as it does fat or carbs. Metabolizing alcohol is a complex process that requires your body to oxidize ethanol to acetaldehyde then to acetic acid, which is then turned to CO2 and water via a process called the citric acid cycle. Your body has to work a bit harder during this process, which is why the metabolism of alcohol may encourage your body to burn more calories, rather than slow your metabolism. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in January 2003 compared energy expenditure induced by four different meals rich in either carbohydrate, fat, protein or alcohol. Researchers found that the alcohol-rich meal increased diet-induced thermogenesis -- the calories burned by digesting and metabolizing food -- by 27 percent; the runner-up was protein, generating a 17 percent increase in thermogenesis.

Moderate Alcohol Consumption and Weight Loss

Moderate alcohol consumption is generally considered to be one drink per day for women and two drinks daily for men. One standard drink is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of spirits. Drinking alcohol in this amount is not likely to interfere with weight loss, as long as it's combined with a reduced-calorie diet. In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity in August 2004, overweight and obese adults were divided into two groups. One group ate a reduced-calorie diet with 10 percent of calories from grape juice, and the other group ate the same reduced-calorie diet, but got 10 percent of calories from white wine. At the end of the study, both groups had lost significant amounts of weight, with the white wine group having lost slightly more than the grape juice group.

Moderate Alcohol Consumption and BMI

Body mass index is a measure of your body fatness based on your weight and height. A normal BMI is 18.5 to 24.9; a BMI of 25 to 29.9 indicates overweight, while a BMI over 30 indicates obesity. Researchers analyzed six years of data on more than 8,000 respondents from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to assess the effect of alcohol consumption on BMI. After calculating the BMI of all respondents, the researchers found that those who drank alcohol moderately were less likely to become obese than those who didn't drink at all. Their results were published in BMC Public Health in December 2005.

Drinking Too Much Stalls Weight Loss

Aside from the slight metabolic boost that alcohol may provide and the findings showing that moderate alcohol consumption can help you control your weight, research is clear that drinking excessively will cause you to gain weight. The findings from the December 2005 BMC Public Health analysis showed that people who had four or more drinks per day, along with binge drinkers -- those who may not drink every day but drink heavily on regular occasions -- were significantly more likely to become obese. If weight control is your goal, moderation is key.

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