The Washington Post reports that alcohol consumption has spiked after the stay-at-home orders were declared. Stress, anxiety, or boredom has led the national population to reach for alcoholic beverages more frequently.
Linking excessive drinking to bad health isn’t a surprise, but how does it affect your cellular health?
Too much drinking triggers oxidative stress, an imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals in the body.
During the metabolic process to create cellular energy, your cells rely on your mitochondria, an energy-generating organelle of the cell. Your mitochondria produce a byproduct—reactive oxygen species (ROS) or better known as free radicals.
Your cells generate excess free radicals whenever you drink too much alcohol. The influx of alcohol can throw your cells into a state of metabolic stress, forcing them to shift into overdrive to metabolize those extra molecules.
Under normal circumstances, your body naturally produces enough antioxidant enzymes to neutralize most free radicals. But if your body produces too many free radicals and an insufficient supply of antioxidants to counteract them, the free radicals can damage your mitochondria. And damaged mitochondria become less and less efficient at generating energy.
The less efficient mitochondria become, the more free radicals they tend to produce, creating a vicious cycle that further damages your mitochondria.
The influx of free radicals can also damage your DNA.
One study conducted by the Research Society on Alcoholism confirms that those who drink excessively have shorter telomere lengths.
Telomeres are the caps on the ends of every strand of DNA, and they protect your chromosomes.
When the protective layer created by telomeres wears thin, the DNA in your cells incur so much damage, they can no longer carry out their assigned tasks within the body, creating a higher risk of contracting various age-related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia.
There are a number of things you can do to minimize the effects of oxidative stress in efforts to preserve your cellular health:
1. Drink less alcohol. The best way to counteract oxidative stress is to get to the root of the problem by simply drinking less alcohol. Reducing your intake can help re-establish a balance between your free radicals and antioxidants.
2. Consume foods that are high in antioxidants. It should come as no surprise that the best way to combat free radicals is to consume their counterpart, antioxidants. Antioxidants such as alpha-lipoic acid and coenzyme Q10 are key to protecting your mitochondria from free radicals. These can often be found foods such as colorful fruits, vegetables, and other foods containing high levels of vitamin E, vitamin C.
3. Take a mitochondria supplement. Sometimes, it’s difficult to get the necessary micronutrients needed to protect your mitochondria. For example, NAD+, or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, is an essential coenzyme that promotes cellular repair for critical components like your telomeres. However, elevating NAD+ levels naturally can prove difficult when NAD+ levels decrease over time. An NAD+ supplement is an easy step you can take to help fill in the gaps.
Reducing oxidative stress is one of the pillars of sustaining your cellular health. While drinking may curb the stress of your every day, it creates oxidative stress in your cells. And these small reactions can create larger consequences in your overall health.
Be mindful of your long-term goals and think about moderating your alcohol consumption so that you don’t overwork your cells.