Most of us enjoy a glass of something alcoholic now and then. The only problem is – alcohol and skin isn’t a good mix and as we grow older – the health effects of alcohol on the body become more obvious.
So, for those of us who are serious about looking younger and aging well – it’s important to understand just how alcohol accelerates the aging process.
Most of us already know that excessive consumption of alcohol causes liver damage – but did you know that that drinking alcohol makes you more likely to develop a whole host of health problems including a weakened immune system and osteoporosis?
Alcohol depletes calcium
Alcohol and aging are related in several ways and one of the worst is the depletion of calcium caused by drinking.
Alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium so the more alcohol you drink – the greater the risk of brittle bones and other related calcium deficiency problems.
Calcium loss over time means low density bone mass and the bent and frail physique we associate with the elderly.
The widespread health effects of alcohol have been known for some time as research studies pinpoint the damage excess alcohol can inflict on the body and increasingly on the brain.
Alcohol and accelerated brain aging
Anyone worried about retaining maximum brain function as they get older should examine their own alcohol intake.
Alcohol is a nueurotoxin which can damage the frontal lobes of the brain causing premature aging of the brain and Alzheimer like symptoms – a condition now known as Alcohol Related Dementia.
A research study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2008 suggested that alcohol related dementia may be a silent epidemic as drinking patterns change and consumption rises.
According to Dr Gupta – author of the study – the consumption of more than 6 units of alcohol a week can increase the risks of alcohol related dementia for women and excess alcohol consumption (28 units per week over 5 years) puts women at a high risk of the condition.
It is the total alcoholic consumption over time that matters but the pattern of drinking can increase risks. In a recent Finnish study (December 2010) researchers found that binge drinking – defined as drinking one bottle of wine or the equivalent in one drinking session once a month – doubled the risk of developing Alzheimer’s like symptoms in later life.
Women in particular are more at risk as the harmful effects of alcohol kick in for us at a lower level of drinking than for men. Whether we drink more than we should on a daily basis or indulge in binge drinking every month consuming too much will harm us more.
Stress and alcohol
It’s very common to reach for a drink after a stressful day – the alcohol appears to relax us.
The reality is that according to recent research – alcohol consumption may increase stress hormones in the body and contribute to their negative effects on health and aging.
The release of cortisol – the key stress hormone – helps us deal with short term stressful situations.
Prolonged exposure to stress hormones – where the body remains in an heightened state over long periods of time – is harmful resulting in problems like raised blood pressure and suppression of the immune system. We all know that under stress we are more likely to get sick.
Not only does this impact our health but cortisol has a bad effect on our skin – cortisol reduces the rate at which collagen is produced in skin tissue which is vital for youthful looking skin.
Alcohol and skin aging
Alcohol is notoriously dehydrating – it increases the rate at which the body excretes water and limits the absorption of nutrients vital for skin health. Dehydrated skin ages more quickly so regular drinking means deeper lines and facial wrinkles.
Alcohol has a directly aging effect on the condition of the skin. Alcohol causes the small blood vessels to widen, producing flushed, coarse skin and broken veins.
Not only is alcohol aging in itself but if you smoke as well as drink then you get something of a double whammy as far as your skin is concerned. Smoking accelerates skin aging even more than alcohol and together the effect is much worse.
Alcohol depletes the skin of nutrients
One of the worst effects of alcohol as far as skin aging is concerned is the fact that alcohol restricts the uptake of vitamins and minerals that are essential for the bloom and radiance of a youthful complexion.
Alcohol limits the absorption of amino acids, minerals and vitamins and makes your body less efficient at metabolizing fatty acids. Consuming alcohol has a negative impact on most of the key nutrients that skin needs to retain moisture and resist inflammation which is one of the triggers of skin aging.
In particular alcohol inhibits the uptake of the following nutrients essential for healthy youthful looking skin:
Vitamin A: essential for the maintenance and repair of skin tissue, even a small drop in levels of vitamin A in the body can result in dry, flaky skin
Vitamins C: vital in the formation of new collagen which gives skin its elasticity – alcohol increases the excretion of vitamin C and all water soluble vitamins
Vitamin E: well known as a key antioxidant vitamin and anti inflammatory – protects the skin from free radical damage
B1 (Biotin) – the most important of the B complex vitamins for skin – forms the basis of skin cells, low levels result in dermatitis
B6 (Pyridoxine) helps skin retain moisture
B2 and B3 – both important for skin health in protecting from inflammation
Omega 3 – drinking alcohol makes your body less efficient at metabolizing essential fatty acids which are key for moisture retention in skin cells
Accelerated skin aging from alcohol worse for women
The health effects of alcohol are worse for women than men. Women process alcohol differently from men and retain a higher blood alcohol level for longer even when the same amount is drunk.
This makes women more susceptible to all the harmful effects of alcohol (liver damage, heart muscle damage, osteoporosis, brain damage).
As far as skin damage is concerned things are even worse.
Not only do we have the disadvantage of not dealing with the alcohol as well as men but we have thinner skin which is more likely to show alcohol damage earlier than men.
Alcohol and weight gain
Carrying excess weight as we get older is bad for health and our looks. Consume a lot of alcohol and you are getting ‘dead’ calories.
In fact – as a rough calculation – we need to walk one mile for every unit of alcohol we drink in order to walk off those added calories. If we don’t rid ourselves of calories from alcohol, they’ll most likely be stored as fat around the abdomen, hence the term “beer belly”.
One beer or a full unit of alcohol every evening adds 15 pounds to your stomach in a year. On top of that – drinking alcohol is likely to stimulate your appetite causing you to eat more than you need as well.
Gaining weight in middle age is not an inevitable process. Weight creeps up through small daily amounts of uneccessary calories we consume without thinking and alcohol is one of the easiest ways to gain that aging middle aged spread.
The key is to accept that alcohol is a toxin that has the potential to damage your health and make you age more quickly.
Drink wisely and the effects of alcohol on the body can be neutralised. Drink more than you should and your looks and health will suffer.