As the holiday season approaches, so do the festive gatherings, parties, and the inevitable increase in opportunities to indulge in alcohol. But before you raise that glass, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the effects of alcohol on your brain and body.

In a recent episode of Dr. Huberman’s podcast on alcohol, a startling revelation about the impact of even minimal alcohol consumption on the brain cortex emerged. Alcohol, regardless of the quantity of consumption, has a detrimental effect on your brain, diminishing both gray and white matter, crucial components responsible for cognitive function. The disconcerting truth remains: moderation proves to be the key, as the cumulative effect, whether through a daily drink or weekend binge, culminates in a reduction in brain size. But why?

In the complex tapestry of alcoholic compounds, three main characters take the stage: isopropyl, methyl, and ethyl alcohol. Ethyl alcohol, commonly known as ethanol, is the only type of alcohol deemed fit for human consumption. However, beneath its seemingly innocuous exterior lies a toxic reality that unravels once ethanol infiltrates the human system.

This infiltration sets off a biochemical dance, orchestrated by the ubiquitous NAD molecule and its interconnected pathways. Ethanol transforms into acetaldehyde, a malevolent entity that surpasses its precursor in toxicity. Indiscriminately wreaking havoc on cells, acetaldehyde leaves destruction in its wake—a potent poison demanding the body’s swift counteraction. The NAD biochemical pathway steps in, converting acetaldehyde into a less harmful entity known as acetate.

The liver takes the brunt of the assault, as alcohol dehydrogenase metabolizes ethanol into acetaldehyde, a toxin notorious for causing cirrhosis and liver damage. The disruption of neural pathways under the influence of alcohol manifests in slurred speech and impaired motor skills, highlighting the immediate impact on cognitive and physical performance. Understanding this chemical narrative unveils a disconcerting reality: alcohol, consumed with casual familiarity, is, at its core, a poison transformed into an even more treacherous entity within the body.

The term “empty calories” aptly describes alcohol, as the entire metabolic process exacts a significant toll on the body’s energy dynamics, offering calories devoid of any substantive nutritional value. While providing an immediate energy boost, these fleeting benefits cannot be stored or utilized in any meaningful or beneficial manner, lacking essential vitamins, amino acids, and fatty acids. And this is why you wake up the morning after a night out of drinking feeling so lousy. Stay tuned next week as we dive into the science of alcohol’s negative impact on your brain health.