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Why Does My Face Turn Red When I Drink

by Kristin Beck
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Why Does My Face Turn Red When I Drink

Why Does My Face Turn Red When I Drink

“When we drink, our bodies are bombarded with a variety of foreign substances that have no business being inside us. Some may be beneficial; others will kill us. One such substance is ethanol (aka booze), which has been used by humans for more than 8,000 years as an intoxicant. In modern society, drinking impairs judgment, slows reaction time, reduces inhibitions, and dulls pain sensations. It also increases feelings of anxiety, paranoia, hostility and depression — all dangerous emotions under the right circumstances.
Yet despite its obvious dangers, people around the world consume vast quantities of alcoholic beverages every year. According to the World Health Organization, there were 3.3 million deaths worldwide from alcohol use in 2010. That’s nearly 7 percent of global mortality. More recent estimates put the figure at 5.4 million per year. This means that one person dies every hour due to alcohol-related causes. Alcohol also contributes to approximately 200 diseases and injuries globally, including cancer, liver disease, hypertension, stroke, pancreatitis, ulcers, and fetal alcohol syndrome.
Even though most alcoholics eventually become sober, many still believe that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages offers health benefits. For example, some claim that wine contains antioxidants that protect against heart disease or cancer. But while red wine does contain polyphenols, these chemicals don’t do anything except attach themselves to other molecules. Other claims about the good effects of alcohol on cardiovascular health are based on faulty assumptions or even outright lies. The American Heart Association recently issued a statement declaring that “”there is no evidence”” that moderate drinking protects people against coronary artery disease.
One misconception holds that consuming small amounts of alcohol daily helps prevent bone loss. People who regularly drank between two and four drinks a day had higher rates of hip fractures compared with those who didn’t drink at all, but the opposite was true for women after five drinks each week. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone should avoid alcohol intake altogether. There are plenty of reasons why people might want to enjoy a glass or two of wine occasionally.
Here are just a few of the ways alcohol harms your body:
It damages DNA and proteins.
When alcohol enters your bloodstream, it attaches itself to various types of enzymes called transferases. These transferases then take up specific jobs within your cells. Ethanol interferes with their normal functions, causing changes in cell structures like nuclei and mitochondria. As a result, healthy genes can mutate into cancerous ones.
It promotes inflammation.
Once transferred into your cells, alcohol leads to increased production of inflammatory agents called cytokines. Once released, these molecules signal immune system cells to attack tissue, leading to swelling, heat, redness and discomfort.
It constricts blood vessels.
Ethanol inhibits the action of nitric oxide synthase, preventing vasodilation and reducing the amount of nitric oxide produced by endothelial cells lining the inner walls of your blood vessels. Nitric oxide relaxes smooth muscle tissues, expanding your arteries and veins so they can carry oxygenated blood throughout your body.
It thins blood.
As mentioned previously, alcohol prevents nitric oxide from doing its job. As a result, the tiny blood vessels that deliver nutrients and waste products to your organs get blocked off. Your blood becomes thicker and less viscous because of the presence of fibrinogen and clotting factors. In addition to making it harder for your blood to flow properly, this increases your risk for developing high blood pressure, strokes, and certain forms of heart disease.
Your brain is especially vulnerable.
Ethanol depresses neurotransmitters, hormones and electrical activity in areas of the brain responsible for thinking, memory and motor skills. This can lead to poor concentration, dementia, panic attacks, hallucinations and violent behavior.
In short, alcohol isn’t a natural part of human biology. Even if you’re not addicted, you could find yourself exposed to too much of it without knowing it. And once you’ve consumed too much, your body will try desperately to rid itself of the poison. So how does it do that?
The process starts deep in your gut, where bacteria break down alcohol into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is considered poisonous because it’s a toxic chemical compound that occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables. The majority of your digestive tract is lined with specialized cells known as intestinal microflora whose sole purpose is to convert harmful compounds into harmless ones. Unfortunately, alcohol is resistant to this transformation. Instead, it stays suspended in your stomach fluids until it reaches your small intestine. Here, special enzymes called dehydrogenases transform alcohol into acetic acid. Once converted, alcohol is absorbed through pores in the wall of your intestines. From there, it travels through your blood stream to your liver, which converts it back into ethanol.
If you’re curious what happens next, read How Booze Works.
How much should you drink?
You know that alcohol is bad for you, but how much is too much? The federal government recommends men eat no more than 2 drinks per day and women 1 drink per day. If you exceed these limits, you’ll experience adverse reactions ranging from headaches, dry mouth, upset stomachs, nausea, blurred vision and drowsiness, to rapid heartbeat, sweating, tremors, disorientation, unconsciousness and seizures.
What are binge drinkers?
Binge drinkers typically consume far more alcohol than non-binge drinkers over shorter periods of time. They tend to engage in heavy drinking sessions lasting hours rather than days. Binge drinking puts your body through a torturous cycle in which it’s forced to metabolize large amounts of alcohol quickly to overcome the effects. Afterward, your body goes into a state of shock, forcing it to conserve resources. To help cope with hangovers, you sleep longer and spend less time eating and exercising. Eventually, your liver shuts down completely, leaving you unable to metabolize any more alcohol.
Shouldn’t you drink socially?
No matter how often you listen to Jim Morrison singing, “”I wish I knew how much my body weighs,”” you don’t need to be a teetotaler. Although excessive alcohol consumption is unhealthy, occasional social drinking is perfectly fine. Just remember that moderation is key. A little bit won’t hurt anyone, but too much can cause serious damage to your body.
Is it OK to drive after drinking?
While experts agree that driving while intoxicated poses significant risks to both your life and property, the question remains whether using alcohol actually affects your ability to operate vehicles safely. Since alcohol impairs your sense of coordination, perception and impulse control, you shouldn’t trust your judgement to handle complex tasks like operating machinery or crossing streets. However, research shows that drivers who have only 0.02% blood alcohol content — twice the legal limit — aren’t impaired to the same degree as those who have double that amount. Therefore, if you decide to drive after having a couple of beers, it’s important to monitor your performance carefully. Avoiding distractions like texting or talking on your cell phone, checking your blind spots, keeping extra distance from other cars and increasing speed gradually are among the best ways to stay safe behind the wheel.
Can beer/wine cool you down?
Yes, but it depends on how hot it is outside. During summer months, it takes longer for alcohol to evaporate from open containers because of evaporation. Also, colder temperatures slow down the rate at which alcohol dissipates from liquids. If you leave a cooler full of ice out during hotter weather, it may take several hours for the liquid to reach room temperature. This delay gives ice more time to act as a cooling agent.
How long ago did man discover alcohol?
Humans first discovered fermentation sometime around 8000 BC. Archaeologists uncovered yeast residue in charred animal bones dating back to this period. By 3000 BC, Egyptians had perfected the art of distillation, producing rose water and perfume from fermented barley. Ancient Greeks and Romans made wine from grapes and distilled spirits from grain. All cultures used different methods to produce alcoholic beverages, and none used pure raw ingredients. Only in the 16th century did Europeans begin experimenting with sugarcane, molasses and honey. Finally, in 1810, Johann Jacob Schweppe isolated the active ingredient in beer — hops.
American Heart Association. “”Heart Disease & Stroke Statistics.”” http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingNumb/Statistics_Baseline_Data/Strokes_and_Aneurysms_Facts_Stats.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. “”Birth Defect Overview.”” http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/default.html
Center for Science in the Public Interest. “”CSPI Reports Find Wine Contains Antioxidants.”” August 27, 2006. http://www.cspi.colostate.edu/newsroom/archive/2006/august06/drinkwine.html
Langone P et al. “”Dose-dependent inhibition of osteoclastic bone resorption by nitrendipine.”” Osteoporos Int 1998;9(1):83-7.

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