In most cultures, alcohol consumption has been part of socializing for thousands of years. And while the U.S. doesn’t top the list of alcohol-consuming countries — that honor belongs to the average Luxembourgish, who drinks about 15 liters of alcohol every year — the average American consumes about four alcoholic beverages per week (8.6 liters of alcohol per year).
Much has been written about the health benefits of alcohol, which have been attributed to increasing the blood concentration of HDL, or “good” cholesterol. But that may not be the whole story. More recent evidence suggests the increased life expectancy associated with consuming alcohol doesn’t have anything to do with its HDL-raising effects.
So what’s going on? There is great interest in the metabolic fate of alcohol, after it has entered our stomachs and been absorbed into our blood and cells. We know a lot already.
The human body absorbs alcohol quickly giving rise to a slight change in consciousness people call a “buzz.”
Quickly consuming two alcoholic beverages on an empty stomach, alcohol blood concentration peaks within thirty minutes but is removed from the blood within four hours.
Consuming alcohol with fat-containing foods slows alcohol’s absorption and extends the time it takes to get to peak blood concentration, thereby reducing the buzz — but making it last longer.
Alcohol is degraded in the liver, where two enzymes convert alcohol to acetate, the main component of white vinegar. Many of the physiological effects of alcohol can be duplicated by consuming acetate — except for the drunkenness part. Additional research may show that consuming acetate, an ingredient in many foods, including salad dressing, may be away to increase life expectancy without intoxication.
Some people are alcohol-intolerant because they lack adequate amounts of one of the enzymes that degrade alcohol to acetate. As a consequence, an intermediate product of alcohol metabolism called acetaldehyde accumulates in the blood and gives rise to an alcohol flush, a reddening of the skin.Many of the positive health benefits tied to alcohol may come from acetate, the main component in white vinegar Click To Tweet
A big question for scientists is: How does alcohol protect against heart attacks? One guess, with some experimental support, is that alcohol through its product acetate alters metabolism in fat cells. Future research will reveal whether this hypothesis is valid and whether acetate is a healthful substitute for alcohol.