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Alcohol

JESSICA MAWU-KOENYA BANSAH
JESSICA MAWU-KOENYA BANSAH

Alcohol! Historically, alcohol has been used for so many purposes: religious events, social events and sometimes used in medicine. Nevertheless, alcohol proves to be the cause of many illnesses, disorders and even death. While others experience this, a few do not experience such consequences. Hence, in this article, we will go on to explain alcohol, what it does and why some people have huge setbacks after drinking it.

Alcohol

Firstly, no food contains alcohol naturally unless it is prepared except for an alcoholic drink itself. An alcoholic drink is a drink that contains an ingredient called ethanol. It is made when yeast ferment sugars in food such as grains, fruits, cereals.

For instance, beer is made when yeast ferments a mixture of grains such as malted barley, sorghum, corn and so on. Wine is made when yeast ferments fruits such as grapes and some others. Cider is made when yeast ferments apple juices.

During fermentation, yeast or bacteria must break down sugar and starch that is found in food such as grapes, grains, cereals to form ethanol, organic acids or gases (carbon dioxide). Fermentation can occur with either bacteria or yeast.

Bacteria fermentation

In yoghurt preparation, bacteria is added which serve as a probiotic agent. Probiotics are the live good or friendly bacteria that when ingested will fight with the bad bacteria present in your body. Food such as yoghurt which contains probiotics help to get rid of certain bacteria in the gut and is usually recommended for people with ulcers. (Note: probiotics needs foods substances such as wheat, garlic, tomato to depend on to grow well and continue kicking the bad bacteria or microorganisms from your body).

Yeast fermentation

Yeast fermentation can only happen in the absence of oxygen. That is why in bread preparation, the bakery room is kept warm and shielded from air to increase carbon dioxide concentration for the yeast to work. In preparing bread, yeast is added to the mixture to cause the bread to rise or bloat. The yeast will only work in the presence of carbon dioxide or the absence of oxygen. As made mentioned, yeast is the microorganism responsible for producing ethanol(alcohol) in alcoholic beverages.

What separates alcohol(ethanol) found in food and alcoholic beverages is the fermentation process and additional processes. For instance, wine has a longer fermentation process and longer additional processes such as ageing which can last for months or even years. This increases the alcohol content. Also, spirit which is made when mashed grains is fermented goes through an additional process called distillation. During distillation, all the other by-products produced are removed to increase the alcohol content. Spirit is used in hospitals to disinfect the skin before injection.

Alcohol(ethanol) is produced in foods such as soy sauce, bread and kenkey but the alcohol is insignificant to cause the brain to react.

How alcohol is consumed

Unlike most foods which are broken down before being absorbed into the body, alcohol does not follow that same process. It is directly absorbed into the body and that is why people who drink excess alcohol feel the effects almost suddenly. In fact, this is one of the reasons why pregnant women are asked to abstain from alcohol. Alcohol will move directly to the growing fetus(baby) who has not yet developed a system to excrete the alcohol from its body and can lead to disabilities.

The liver is the organ responsible for breaking down the majority of the alcohol consumed. Just a small part is excreted from the body via the skin, the lungs (through breath, that is how you can smell alcohol from a person) and urine.

As alcohol is absorbed into the blood quickly, the amount of alcohol in your blood depends on:

· The amount of alcohol in your drink- a larger percentage of alcohol in drinks will cause alcohol to stay in the blood longer.

· How fast the alcohol was consumed and how often you drink( a person who drinks alcohol regularly can control the sedation effect more than a beginner)

· Other factors such as gender, age and race. Females tend to absorb alcohol into the blood than men because their bodies contain less water. Men have more water in their system and can dilute the alcohol present in the blood, unlike women. Also, the enzyme responsible for breaking alcohol is lesser in women than in men. Hence, men will quickly break down alcohol more than women.

1. When a person consumes alcohol, a tiny percentage moves into the blood vessels of the mouth and oesophagus.
2. The rest move into the stomach. If a person has an empty stomach, almost all the alcohol will rush into the small intestine. However, if the alcohol was taken after a meal, the alcohol will stay in the stomach for a while. This is because a muscle at the end of the stomach called the pyloric sphincter will close when the tummy is full. Alcohol then moves from the stomach into the blood vessels.
3. The rest, about 80%, move into the intestine and move directly into the blood in the blood vessels.

NOTE: unlike other foods, alcohol is directly absorbed into the bloodstream without being digested.

Alcohol in blood

1. All substances absorbed must first make their way to the liver to be processed before moving to the heart and other regions.

2. The liver can only break a certain amount of alcohol at a time (6 to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of spirits)

3.  Hence, if more is consumed, it will circulate to other regions of the body till the liver is ready to break down the next batch of alcohol in the blood. The liver breaks down the alcohol into useable forms such as glucose and energy for the body to use.

4. As the liver tries to break down some amount of alcohol, the rest of the alcohol present in blood moves to the heart and is pumped to all areas of the body such as the brain, the lungs, kidneys and placenta if the individual is pregnant.

Unlike adults, a growing baby in the fetus cannot break down the alcohol that has just moved from the placenta into its system which will result in major consequences.

Effects of alcohol in the body

Alcohol reduces the force by which your heart muscles contract. It causes blood vessels to relax and pump less blood but will return to normal after some time.

In the brain, it acts as a sedative if taken in higher doses. If it is taken in moderation, it can lead to euphoria and talkativeness. But if taken in higher doses, it tells the nerves in the brain responsible for reasoning and thought to take a break. This causes communication with the brain and the body to reduce. You begin to feel drowsy, sleepy and will end up forgetting things that happened at that moment. Alcohol also causes the brain to produce antidiuretic hormones which prevent you from forming urine and causes you to become thirsty.

This cycle will continue till the liver is able to break down all the alcohol in the blood.

Effects of alcohol on health

· Alcohol poisoning- it occurs when a person ingests too much alcohol at a time which overwhelms the body because it cannot break it down. It results in vomiting, slower breath, and even passing out. Passing out means the person loses consciousness and might fall into a coma or get a stroke if care is not taken.

· Alcohol can affect the major organs if taken in large quantities or regularly. For instance:

1. Heart

a. It can cause cardiomyopathy-stretching of the heart.

b. Stroke

c. Irregular heartbeat

2. Liver- it is the main organ responsible for dealing with alcohol.

a. Fatty liver

b. Cancer of the liver-cirrhosis

c. Alcoholic hepatitis

3. Brain

It can affect how the brain looks over time and will eventually end up disrupting the mood, behaviour, thinking and movement of a person.

4. Pancreas

It can cause the pancreas to be inflamed with time.

· Cancer – people who drink alcohol are usually at a higher risk of getting cancers especially throat, oesophagus and mouth cancers.

· Alcohol weakens the immune system and makes the individual susceptible to diseases.

Takehome message

Alcohol should be avoided or taken in moderation because the consequences are dire.

References

  1. NIH. Alcohol effects on the body. Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body
  2. What happens when you drink alcohol. Retrieved from https://www.alcohol.org.nz/alcohol-its-effects/about-alcohol/what-happens-when-you-drink-alcohol

JESSICA MAWU-KOENYA BANSAH

A young lady who is excited to influence the society and world with the knowledge she has acquired.