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The Effect of Alcohol on the Brain and Body

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  • By Katy Burkhartzmeyer
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The Effect of Alcohol on the Brain and Body

Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. is a Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine.
In episode 86 of the Huberman Lab podcast: "What Alcohol Does To Your Body, Brain & Health", Andrew Huberman takes a deep dive into all things related to alcohol, its consumption, its effects on the brain and body, alcoholism, and much more. He breaks down the physiological effects that drinking alcohol has on the brain and body at different levels of consumption and over time, genetic differences that predispose certain individuals to alcoholism, alcohol metabolism, and so much more in this must-listen episode.

Effect of Alcohol Consumption on the Brain 


“If people are ingesting alcohol chronically, even if it’s not every night, there are well-recognized changes in neural circuits, there are well-recognized changes in neurochemistry within the brain, and there are well-recognized changes in the brain-to-body stress system.”

- Alcohol consumption is shown to change the neurochemistry within the brain which affects the brain-to-body system as a whole 

- The neurotransmitter serotonin, which is responsible for emotions, appetite, mood and feelings of well-being is hyperactive in the brain when alcohol is consumed. In contrast, the toxic effects of alcohol disrupt mood circuitries, initially making them hyperactive, but ultimately decreasing serotonin levels diminishing your mood and increasing stress levels when not drinking 

- High levels of alcohol consumption  (12-24 drinks per week or more) is certainly causing neurodegeneration, in particular of the neocortex. The neocortex is a part of the brain responsible for regulating thoughts, actions and mood 

- Hangovers can cause feelings of nausea, headaches, and hangxiety due to the increase in cortisol in the brain and bloodstream 

- Alcohol lowers core body temperature and disrupts brain areas that regulate core body temperature, leading to hypothermia


Effect of Alcohol Consumption on the Body


- Alcohol consumptions disrupts the gut microbiome, leading to leaky gut and inflammation throughout the body

- Alcohol has been shown to disrupt your sleep waves, leading to poor quality sleep that is not restorative 

- Alcohol is a diuretic and causes dehydration and electrolyte imbalances

- Alcohol can alter DNA methylation and gene expression, leading to an increase in cancer risk, particularly breast cancer. A 4–13% increase in risk of breast cancer is associated with every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day

- Alcohol intake affects hormones, particularly testosterone and estrogen. Regular alcohol intake can increase the aromatization process of converting testosterone to estrogen. This increase in aromatization can lead to negative effects such as gynecomastia and decreased sex drive. Alcohol can increase the risk of estrogen-related cancers in females

If you do Choose to Drink 


- We are all human and may choose to indulge in alcohol from time to time to celebrate a special occasion or sip on an adult beverage during a well deserved vacation. If that is the case, here are a few tips to help reduce some of the negative effects that come from alcohol consumption 

- The effects of alcohol depend on various factors, including body weight and tolerance. Eating before or while drinking slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. Eating carbohydrates, fats, and proteins together slows absorption more than consuming only one or two of those macronutrients. Eating after becoming inebriated won’t sober you up more quickly, but it will blunt the effects of additional alcohol

- A good way to improve your gut microbiome health as well as reduce inflammation throughout the body is by consuming fermented foods. Two to four servings of low-sugar fermented foods per day has been shown to be beneficial. Some good options of fermented foods include, kimchi, miso, tempeh, kombucha or probiotic yogurt

- Replenishing electrolytes before and after drinking can help alleviate hangover symptoms. Disturbed sleep, disrupted gut microbiome, and depleted epinephrine and dopamine can worsen hangovers. There is no one magic substance to cure hangovers, but a combination of strategies such as replenishing electrolytes, fermented foods, deliberate cold exposure, and quality sleep can help

- As for supplements, many hangover cures include vitamin B12 and folate as they may help reduce cancer risk in individuals that consume alcohol as they help to regulate pathways that lead to tumor growth



Pelby, C. (2023, August 16). What alcohol does to your body, Brain and Health: Huberman lab podcast #86. Medium. https://medium.com/podcast-notes-unleashed/what-alcohol-does-to-your-body-brain-and-health-huberman-lab-podcast-86-bff01cfe121e 


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