A single evening of slamming back martinis can do worse damage than just a splitting headache the morning after. In fact, just one night of binge drinking can cause gut bacteria to leak from your stomach and release harmful toxins into your bloodstream.
For this study, researchers instructed 25 people (11 men and 14 women) to drink enough alcohol to raise their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to at least 0.08 percent. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as consuming alcohol to this BAC level within the span of two hours. Once their blood levels reached this point (for most people it was after 30 minutes), they stopped drinking. Their blood was drawn every half hour for four hours and again 24 hours afterward.
Here's what happened: BAC declined more slowly in women than it did in men. Even after a day, the women's BAC levels were still higher than the men's levels. But that's not all: Endotoxin levels—harmful toxins that are released when gut cells deteriorate and enter the bloodstream—rapidly increased after just 30 minutes of drinking and remained high for almost the entire experiment duration for both men and women. And similar to BAC, endotoxin levels were higher in women than men even after 24 hours.
So why should we be worried about this? Endotoxins can alter your body's immune response. This can cause muscle aches and force your body to retrieve nutrients from muscles—which is why you might be feeling achy and sore after a night of drinking, says lead study author Szabo Gyongyi, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Prolonged binge drinking also extends the existence of endotoxins in the bloodstream and can eventually lead to alcohol hepatitis (liver inflammation). Previous research has shown that women's bodies may be more susceptible to the effects of alcoholic consumption, which may explain the elevated levels found at the end of the experiment, adds Gyongyi.
Remember, this was only after one night. A recent study published in the journal Alcohol found that an entire weekend of binge drinking can even damage your DNA—yikes.
So play it safe and pace yourself the next time you head out for happy hour. If you do choose to imbibe, alternate every alcoholic drink with a glass of water, make sure not to drink on an empty stomach, and stick to the NIAAA's guidelines for moderate drinking of three or fewer drinks over the course of a night.
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