Ethanol and Hormones
This post mainly covers how Ethanol affects the human body's Hormonal System (better referred to as the Endocrine System), but it starts briefly by carrying on from the previous 'Ethanol and Energy' post, i.e. Ethanol's affect on the human body's general Metabolism.
Please note that I have absolutely zero background in science, or at least zero post high school. If you have any information to add, or correct, please do so in the comments below. Also, I strongly urge that no one ever takes anything I say as medical advice nor information, but rather just as my own personal thoughts. There is obviously a clear difference there, and it is very important to me that this difference is understood.
Right… So, the first and most obvious effect Ethanol has on one's general Metabolism is that it slows it right down. Because your liver (and some other organs) are focused on dealing with the Ethanol, many of their other maintenance functions (such as protein synthesis for muscle growth) and so on will suffer as a direct consequence.
Hypoglycaemia, Hyperglycaemia, and Diabetes
If you are drinking straight liquor on an empty stomach, for instance, you are very likely to suffer from Hypoglycaemia (Low Blood Sugar), as your Pancreas isn't releasing enough of the hormone Glucagon to maintain a healthy blood sugar level, or the Glucagon is disrupted at the Liver. Symptoms of Hypoglycaemia are pretty horrid, such as nausea and cold sweats and heart palpitations and dizziness. If you suddenly switch from drinking beer each night to drinking liquor, or switch from regular coke to diet coke in your mixed drinks, you might also notice these symptoms start to happen.
Over time, chronic alcoholism generally causes a switch in the other direction, leading to Hyperglycaemia and, for some, Diabetes , due to a (gradually induced) reduced sensitivity to Insulin.
Ethanol, in reality, doesn't play nice with the human body's hormones, Insulin being just one… it's just a real bitch when it comes to one's Endocrine System.
As you all know, Ethanol is a Diuretic , meaning it's gonna make you piss a lot. The reason for this is that it impairs the release of Vasopressin , the 'Antidiuretic hormone'. What obviously follows is Dehydration, which besides making you thirsty causes a lot of other nasty symptoms, such as headaches and fatigue and dizziness and an increased heart rate… and in some really bad cases, confusion --> delirium --> unconsciousness --> death. Dehydration also interferes with other bodily functions that you won't be aware of, such as the repair of muscles, etc.
HGH andSlow Wave Sleep
Now, introducing HGH, or the Human Growth Hormone. HGH, whilst obviously playing a large role in one's growth during childhood and adolescence, plays a large role in maintaining one's organs, muscle mass, bone strength, and the immune system. Low HGH levels can cause issues such as reduced muscle and bone mass, reduced energy, impaired memory and concentration, increased body fat, and heart issues.
Sleep, for a normal person, is divided into Four Stages . The last two stages, 3 and 4, are what we call 'Deep Sleep' (scientifically known as Slow Wave Sleep ). It is during Slow Wave Sleep when the body, normally, releases ~50% of the day's dose of HGH. However, for an alcoholic, getting such sleep is most likely a pipe dream. Simply, the brain is drunk and sleep is a pretty complicated process. This means that the typical drunk sleep will be very light and most likely have little, if any, Slow Wave Sleep. If you add in middle-of-the-night withdrawals, when the Depressant Effect of Ethanol wears off and you are left with a Stimulatory Rebound (waking you), as well as REM Rebound (where Rapid Eye Movement sleep goes from near non-existent to a level that's very intense, leading to all those bizarre nightmares that can bleed into wakefulness and cause hallucinations, etc), and so on… the bottom line is that sleep becomes extremely difficult, let alone Slow Wave Sleep. This, thus, causes a large drop in one's daily HGH supply… perhaps as high as ~50%, whilst some estimate a reduction as high as ~70%.
Testosterone and Oestrogen
Testosterone is also massively affected by Ethanol. Whilst it's debatable whether Ethanol causes a decrease or rise in Testosterone levels within the 24 hours that follow it being imbibed - and there might not be a rule for that scenario, anyway - it's pretty much definite that Chronic Alcoholics will find that their Ethanol intake is responsible for a chronic and large drop in Testosterone. For some whose Testosterone is already too high, this isn't exactly a bad thing, though for others it might be. We're talking reductions of about ~25%, though some claim as low as 10% and as high as 50%. These are, relative to natural changes in Testosterone levels, not massively high, but the key factor is that they are chronic reductions, not temporary. Reasons for this drop are debatable, but could again be as simple as disrupted sleep or malnourishment. Other suggestions are that, in men at least, alcohol is directly toxic to the gonads… gonads (the testes and the ovaries) being responsible in both sexes for the production of Testosterone. In adults of both genders, low Testosterone can cause decreased libido and sexual enjoyment, fat gain, decreased muscle and bone mass, irritability, and depression. Blokes can lose their erection strength and fertility, too, as well as developing Gynecomastia, and shrinking balls to top it off.
Oh, and conversely, increased levels of Oestrogen are observed in chronic alcoholics. For the male symptoms, see above. Women though, in addition to the above, are put at increased risk of breast cancer.
Finally, the last hormone I'm going to cover is Cortisol. Cortisol is known as the "stress hormone", because - guess what - it's released by the Adrenal Glands during periods of stress (physical and mental… go monism). The released Cortisol then causes the increase of blood sugar levels (which gives your brain a boost), as well as constricting many of the body's blood vessels (increasing blood pressure and heart rate, whilst reducing the proximity of said blood vessels to the skin's surface), and also triggering an anti-inflammatory response throughout the body (which in turn reduces any pain caused by inflammation).
However, a high level of Cortisol, caused for instance by prolonged secretion, has many negative effects. And yep, alcoholics show highly elevated levels of Cortisol, with the relationship between Ethanol and Cortisol recently becoming increasingly understood.
Cortisol, being a stress hormone, is beneficial in the aforementioned ways, but at the expense of other bodily functions in order to divert the body's energies into maintaining a fight-or-flight state. For instance, to enable the increased blood sugar levels, it promotes the usage of the body's muscle tissue and even calcium stores (thus reducing the body's bone tissue) in order to achieve this. This, over time, leads to decreased muscle and bone mass. Other sacrifices include the digestive system, the reproductive system (increasing the likelihood of miscarriage and, temporarily, infertility), the immune system (due to its anti-inflammatory response), etc. The body's ability to repair itself also suffers, as does one's mental performance (particularly when involving the memory faculties). Cortisol also promotes fat storage, particularly around the abdomen (i.e. a beer belly).
Prolonged exposure to very high levels of Cortisol can constitute a diagnosis of Cushing's Syndrome, and the observed relationship between Alcoholism and Cortisol has thus led to the term 'psuedo-Cushing's Syndrome', where the symptoms are obviously very similar between the two… though, in the case of the latter, simple abstinence from Ethanol is luckily enough to reverse the symptoms of the syndrome.
Anyway, that's what I wanted to write about Ethanol's effects on the human body's Hormonal System.
« Last Edit: 19 June, 2014, 12:57 AM by Ash Simmonds »