We've all probably heard that drinking too much alcohol can cause depression, dehydration and, in extreme cases, cirrhosis of the liver. Plus, let's not forget about the dreaded hangover and upset stomach. But the reality is that imbibing can bring on a host of other health issues you may not have considered.
And you don't even have to get wasted in order to experience these unsavory effects. According to the National Institutes of Health, it can take about a week to 10 days for the body to rid itself of all the toxins that alcohol creates. "Even if you're exercising and eating well, having one drink a night means that you're always carrying around damaging poisons in your system, keeping you feeling mediocre," says James Swanwick, creator of the 30 Day No Alcohol Challenge. Besides this general "meh" vibe, here are nine lesser-known effects of drinking that may make you think twice before heading to happy hour.
1. Heart Arrhythmia
According to New York-based award-winning cardiovascular surgeon Dr. David Gruener, drinking to excess on a particular occasion, especially when you generally don't drink, can trigger irregularities that affect how your heart beats. "The heart depends on an internal pacemaker system to keep it pumping consistently and at the right speed," he explains. "Alcohol disturbs this system and causes the heart to beat too rapidly or irregularly. In these cases, the problem is nicknamed 'holiday heart syndrome,' because people who don't usually drink may consume too much alcohol at parties during the holiday season." Over the long term, binge drinking can even change the course of electrical impulses that drive the heart's beating, which creates arrhythmia.
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2. Fertility Problems
In men in particular, alcohol is known to cause serious -- and seriously embarrassing -- sexual dysfunction. But in addition to ED and inability to orgasm, imbibing can also decrease testosterone. Additionally, having just five drinks a week can also decrease sperm quality and quantity, according to Sarah Suzuki, licensed clinical social worker and substance-abuse counselor specializing in moderation management counseling for alcohol. "Zinc is not absorbed, leading to malformed 'heads and tails' and even nonviable embryos, leading to miscarriage," she explains. But it's not just men who can suffer fertility issues related to alcohol. A handful of studies over the past 20 years have found that increased alcohol intake in women correlates to decreased fecundity.
3. Fatty Liver
"Women really do have it worse, unfortunately, when it comes to metabolizing alcohol effectively," Suzuki explains, which is why she says that they might experience a higher likelihood of fatty liver from drinking than men. Fatty liver occurs when fats build up in the liver, just as the name suggests. While a little fat is normal, more than five to 10 percent is not. This disease is most common in heavy, consistent drinkers and may not have any symptoms besides feeling tired (which could easily be confused with a hungover feeling). According to LiverFoundation.org, abstaining from alcohol can typically reverse fatty liver if the condition has not yet advanced.
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4. Eye Twitch
According to Dr. Gary Heiting, an eye care provider and the senior editor of All About Vision, drinking alcohol is one of the eight major causes of mini-contractions in your eye area. "If you've recently increased your alcohol intake, it can cause eyelid twitches," he says. "Fortunately, eye twitches are rarely serious, albeit very annoying, and normally go away once you reverse the behavior causing them."
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"Alcohol increases inflammation in the body. Therefore, if you have arthritis, drinking can exacerbate its symptoms," says clinical nutritionist and personal trainer Jennifer Cassetta. She explains that joint pain can increase when you regularly consume alcohol, but the necessary amount would be different for everyone, depending on the stage of arthritis and the amount of pain felt. For some, this may be a drink a night; for others, more.
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6. Hormone Imbalances
The adrenal glands are our bodies' hormone powerhouses: In addition to sex hormones, they oversee glucocorticoids (notably, cortisol), which affect our blood sugar, inflammation and immunity, and mineral corticoids (including aldosterone), which regulate blood pressure and fluid balance. "Alcohol can cause stress and depletion to your adrenal glands," says Dr. Gabrielle Francis, a naturopathic doctor, chiropractor and acupuncturist. Even if you eat healthy, one night of drinking -- especially if you consume sugary cocktails and not enough food -- can cause temporary hypoglycemia (low glucose) and even impair your body's hormonal response to hypoglycemia. According to Swanwick, even just one drink a day causes a drop in your blood sugar, which makes you more likely to crave unhealthy, sugary and carb-loaded foods.
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7. Candida Overgrowth
Francis says that another way alcohol can make you crave sugary foods is because it encourages candida growth. "Candida is a normal flora yeast that lives in harmony with our probiotics, or good bacteria, on the lining of our digestive tract (known as the GALT)," she explains. "When you drink too much alcohol, candida may grow out of control and turn into an 'opportunistic infection.'" She explains that candida overgrowth may cause relentless cravings for alcohol, sugar and carbohydrates, and you may experience symptoms like weight gain, puffiness in tissues, allergies, skin infections, gas and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, frequent infection and sinus congestion.
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8. Acid Reflux
Acid reflux occurs when acid from the stomach moves up into the esophagus, causing heartburn and other uncomfortable effects. Board-certified internist and diplomat of the American Board of Addiction Medicine Dr. Damon Raskin says that even having just two to three drinks daily can cause acid reflux. However, studies show conflicting results as far as which types of alcohol are the main culprits of this condition. Some found that hard liquor is the worst offender, while wine has little effect. Monitoring your own responses to what you drink is likely the best way to know for sure.
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9. Skin Problems
Board-certified dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., an attending physician at the University of Southern California, says that alcohol can spark significant skin conditions: "Psoriasis can be triggered and worsened by alcohol in people who have a predisposition to develop it, and alcohol flares rosacea in patients who already have it," she says. But even just one drink, she explains, can cause skin bruising and thin the blood -- impairing your ability to clot for hours after imbibing -- even in those who don't typically bruise easily.
What Do YOU Think?
Do you drink? Do any of these effects of alcohol surprise you? Have you experienced any of these health issues as a result of drinking? What's your typical weekly alcohol intake? Tell us in the comments below.
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