Alcohol is a part of the lives of a big chunk of the general population, whether as an occasional, moderate or frequent consumer or perhaps, a binge drinker. Unfortunately, it is also an established, major cause of kidney damage when continued unchecked, in the long term.
HOW DOES ALCOHOL AFFECT YOUR KIDNEYS?
The general dictum is, whenever, you take-in anything from the outside that does not “naturally” belong within you, your body will react and respond to it, process it and eliminate the unused part. What’s important is to note how toxic the processed part could be.
So, what exactly does alcohol do to harm your kidneys?
Dehydration (less water content in our bodies) is generally dangerous not just for our Kidneys, but for all our organs. Alcohol prevents kidneys from conserving sufficient water in our body by interfering with the functioning of the specific hormone that works with our kidneys to make this process to happen. Instead, alcohol “misleads” our kidneys to send all this water for producing more urine. So frequent drinking makes your precious kidneys go permanently “thirsty” and weak. Such kidneys ultimately give up in the long-run.
Damages your Liver:
Our liver diligently tries to “detoxify” all the alcohol that we pump into our bodies. However, it only ends up with extremely toxic chemicals and oxygen free-radicals that hasten cell ageing and cell death in general. Immediately upon production, these toxins start “terrorizing” your liver cells before moving over to the general blood circulation. Blood goes almost everywhere in our body. So, all cells that interact with these alcohol toxins undergo gradual, irreversible destruction over time. Kidneys happen to have one of the richest blood supply networks in the body. Hence, alcohol-mediated kidney damage is inevitable.
Plus, unlike in normal health, livers damaged due to chronic alcoholism fail to perform the critical function of regulating an optimum blood flow to our Kidneys at the precise blood pressure necessary for waste-filtration to take place. Reduced overall blood flow to our kidneys ultimately starves them of life-saving oxygen over time and paves way for chronic kidney disease.
Alcohol is actually, a chemical called Ethanol which is obtained by controlled fermentation of plant-based sugars (carbs).
For instance, Malt whiskey is obtained from sugarcane molasses, Wines from grape sugars and Vodka, by fermenting potato carbs. In a nutshell, Alcohol is laden with calories! Frequent, regular drinking will increase your fat reserves, especially around your belly (Fancy word: Truncal Obesity) and make you obese. This implies a disproportionate, unwanted increase in the number of fat cells (Adipocytes) in your body, higher metabolic turnover, cell-waste production and the volume of blood that needs filtration. Ultimately, obesity over-burdens our already hardworking kidneys.
Increases Bad Cholesterol levels
Alcohol intake promotes obesity, which in-turn increases bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in your blood. LDL tends to clog the blood vessels closer to your heart and promote heart disease. This literally “invites” a known kidney-terrorist — sustained High Blood Pressure — to set-in and paves the way for permanent kidney damage.
Causes High Blood Pressure (Hypertension):
Heavy drinkers run the risk of having high blood pressure attributed both, to unhealthy increases in bad cholesterol level and liver damage. Sustained high blood pressure is one of the commonest causes for Kidney Failure worldwide.
Clinical evidence suggests that having 3 drinks in a single sitting can cause a temporary increase in your blood pressure.
Repeated binge drinking can cause sustained increases in the long term.
If you are a known hypertensive already, alcohol can interfere with your medicines circulating in the blood and dampen their ability to regulate your blood pressure.
Raises blood glucose levels
Normally, insulin produced in our body regulates our blood glucose levels by “storing” excess blood glucose within our liver and skeletal muscles. Liver damage due to heavy drinking jeopardizes this efficient glucose regulation system.
Although our muscles try to compensate for the loss of this liver “storage space”, it’s only a matter of time before blood glucose starts rising beyond safe limits. Moreover, high body-fat interferes with glucose storage systems both in the liver & muscles.
Hence, obese individuals are at a greater risk of such lapses. This greatly hampers the critical blood glucose “balancing-act” in our bodies. If untreated, sustained high blood glucose could even lead to full-blown Type 2 Diabetes mellitus. Kidney disease is a common complication of Diabetes. As per the 2015 study on Global Burden of Disease (GBD) by the World health organization (WHO), high blood pressure and Diabetes account for over three-fourths of all chronic kidney disease and subsequent kidney failure cases worldwide.
HOW MUCH ALCOHOL IS TOO MUCH? IS THERE A SAFE LIMIT?
One drink technically refers to one 12–ounce bottle of beer, one glass of wine, or one ounce (one shot) of “hard liquor” as explained in the illustration below:
Earlier having one or two drinks (standard measures) occasionally was thought to be completely harmless in the long-term. Official 2016 guidelines in the UK, USA and Australia advised limiting alcohol intake to 14 units a week at the most, to avoid alcohol-related health risks.
However, a recent 2018 study published in The Lancet clearly confirms that no amount of alcohol consumption can be regarded as a “Safe Limit”. More than 4 drinks daily qualify as “Excessive drinking”. It doubles the risk of developing chronic kidney disease.
Combining this with smoking, magnifies the risk to five times, given smoking is another strong risk factor for kidney disease! If that weren’t enough, binge drinking (more than 5 drinks at a time) literally stuns your organs and can cause your kidneys to shut down suddenly.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
Depending on how much you drink and your health status, your medical team will advise you to either cut-back or completely abstain from alcohol. If you don’t drink at all, or do so once in a blue moon, fantastic.
Heavy and binge drinkers are always advised to cut-back their alcohol consumption to moderate amounts (Limited to 1 drink a day). Evidence points, those heavy drinkers who reduce alcohol intake to moderate levels succeed in effectively controlling their blood pressure. Please take care to modify your drinking habits over 1-2 weeks as opposed to stopping abruptly. Otherwise, interestingly, your blood pressure will shoot up.
Avoid or take no more than 1 drink a day if you are a habitual alcohol consumer:
- Over 65 years of age
- Have High Blood Pressure
- Are Diabetic
- Have a narrow body-frame
- Belong to the South-East Asian ethnicity
Completely abstain from drinking if you:
- Are pregnant or lactating
- Have a known medical condition such as Liver disease or Kidney disease
- Are on medicines that may be affected by alcohol
We understand the material above is probably unsavoury for all alcohol connoisseurs. But please understand, that is exactly what Alcohol is. A “Fatal Attraction”!
It is absolutely not our intention to restrict you from enjoying your life. Our philosophy at All Things Kidney – Official is straight-forward. Do what you wish to, but only after you inform yourselves sufficiently of all the pros and cons of your choice and decide on an approved safe limit of consumption customized to your health status. This is so that no unpleasant surprises spring-up on the way.
We love to help you all stay in the best of your health, by as much as is possible. That’s what we took our Hippocratic Oath for!
Choose wisely, people. Stay well.
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