Thursday, July 5, 2012

How Beer Works

Hey everyone! I'm sorry for my lengthy absence this week - I've been in New Jersey. I wanted to post this yesterday, but after a marathon 12 hour drive from the east coast back to Michigan, I could only manage a quick shower before passing out. Fortunately, my time spent on the beaches of New Jersey inspired a topic for this week: beer!

Today I will talk about the way beer works in our bodies. My upcoming posts will likely cover some bizarre beer from around the globe, and the history of alcohol.

"Proof That We Were Meant to Be Happy"

I remember drinking a Bug Light in front of my cousin, Alex. He didn't understand how I could drink something that "tastes so bad."

I smiled, "Well, no one really likes the taste at first. But after two or three, you stop noticing."

Truth be told, although I do fancy an occasional beer, I am not a recreational drinker. My tolerance for alcohol is pathetic. One beer gets me tipsy, two gets me silly, and anything beyond that becomes hard to remember the next morning. I can count on one hand the times I've drank to excess, and it would only take that same hand to count the number of times I've been hungover. And I refuse to touch the wheel of a car if I've had anything to drink.

But now that I've made my "responsibility disclaimer," I will admit to liking the taste of beer. There's a marked difference between a rich stout and a wholesome ale. I won't pretend to know the different types of beer or what goes into a beer that gives it such diverse flavor, but I do know a bit about how it affects the body.

First Stop: The Stomach

Over the lip and through the gums... You know the rest. Your stomach is the first gateway for dealing with alcohol. It boots the majority of your booze to your blood, but it can move a small portion to other places. For instance, about ten percent of the alcohol you drink will come out through your sweat or breath. This is why you can smell when people have been drinking heavily and why a breath-alyzer can determine your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level.

Second Stop: The Brain

Alcohol is a "depressant" because it slows down (depresses) brain function. The term depressant can be confusing, because of it sounds like the popular psychological disorder "depression."

Think of your brain cells as teenaged girls. Their whole lives revolve around calling or texting friends on their cellphones. With good service, very few (if any) messages are lost. However, when alcohol is introduced, signal strength between cell phones becomes weaker. Messages sent by one girl get lost before making it to another. Between teenaged girls, losing a text or a call can be frustrating, but in the brain, losing signals between neurons can have bigger reprecussions.

"Omigod, like, Sarah Bellum is totally NOT answering my texts!"
 The Hippocampus controls our memories. Depressing the hippocampus can make it difficult to remember recent things, or worse, can cause temporary blackouts.

The Cerebral Cortex controls our senses and inhibitory centers. Disturbances in this part of the brain make us more talkative, confident, and daring. However, it also makes us more prone to making poor or dangerous decisions.

The Frontal Lobe controls our thought patterns and decision-making abilities. Alcohol impairs these functions, making us more likely to act without thinking. It can also make emotions much harder to control.

The Cerebellum controls our balance and awareness. A drunk cerebellum causes us to be uncoordinated and confused.

Alcohol enters your bloodstream right from the start, which is why you can start feeling tipsy minutes after a drink.

Third Stop: The Liver

Your liver is the processing plant for most of your body. Some of your organs perform more specialized processing, like your kidneys handling cholesterol. But your liver filters most substances in your blood - including alcohol.

Upon reaching your liver, ethanol, the stuff in beer that gets us drunk, breaks down into less potent compounds. Although your liver is constantly filtering your blood, it takes the liver about an hour to process 12 ounces of beer (the same amount of time is needed for one glass of wine or one ounce of hard liquor.) Until your BAC drops, your brain will continue to lose signals between neurons, creating a feeling of drunkeness.

Last Stop: The Bathroom

Once the alcohol has been processed, it exits the body through the bladder. Because alcohol is a dieuretic, it takes a lot of water with it. This is why it's important to re-hydrate after a night of drinking to be sure you won't spend the next day with a splitting headache.

Well... HOPEFULLY it exits through your bladder...

But Wait! I Like Beer!

Drinking seems pretty bad when I list all of the effects like that. And while it's true that going overboard with alcohol can be very bad, studies have shown that moderate drinking might be beneficial for health.

Aside from preventing fatty liver disease, experiments have shown that some people solve problems better after light drinking. Not only that, but in a study that followed 1824 people between ages 55 and 65, those who drank moderately (one daily serving of alcohol) were 23 percent less likely to die than the rest. Some attribute this life-lengthening to the anti-oxidants in beer, however, other scientists attribute it to the social aspects that accompany drinking, not necessarily the booze itself.

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