Most of us enjoy a drink, but we rarely wonder what our favourite tipples contain or are doing to our bodies. Yet the mere colour of a drink or where you guzzle it affects the body in different ways – and can lead to you becoming tipsy more quickly or having a bad hangover.
The bubbles in champagne really do make you drunk quicker. A 2001 study by the University of Surrey found that people drinking fizzy beverages which had the same alcohol content as still ones had more alcohol in their bloodstream. Six volunteers drank two glasses of flat champagne and another six drank the same amount of fizzy champagne. The latter group had an average of 0.15 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood. It’s still not clear why this happens, though. One theory is the alcohol is absorbed from the digestive system quicker, but we cannot be certain.
It’s common knowledge that brandy and lemon can soothe a sore throat, but not that having a drink could stop you getting a cold in the first place. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that people who drank more than 14 glasses of wine a week were 60 per cent less likely to get the sniffles than those who drank beer, spirits or nothing at all. It’s thought that the antioxidants in red wine can help ward off colds.
Travelling at high altitude in a plane can cloud your judgment and make it harder to think straight – and trying to string coherent thoughts together only gets worse if you are boozing during the flight. Professor of aerospace medicine David Gradwell explains: “Air at altitude is less dense on the ground, which affects the way the body processes oxygen in the bloodstream.” Flying – like booze – dehydrates you. Prof Gradwell adds: “The air in the cabin is drier so you are more prone to dehydration. You’re likely to feel the effects of alcohol quicker.”
Booze on the brain
Many people use alcohol to relax after a stressful or busy day. But did you know that your brain shrinks every time you have a drink? The amount it shrinks depends on how much you consume, but it never bounces back to its original size. That means that if you drink too much over a long time, it can cause vision and memory problems. Brain cells also lose water when you consume alcoholic drinks.
Darker drinks make hangovers worse
Beer before wine doesn’t necessarily make things fine. If you want to avoid nursing a thumping head on the morning after the night before, steer well clear of dark coloured drinks. According to Drinkaware, the darker the drink the worse the hangover. Clear spirits such as vodka and gin contain less toxins, known as “congeners”. Darker drinks, such as red wine and whisky, contain more congeners, meaning your head will hurt far more the next day if you’ve had a night on the brandy.
Women who plan a big boozy night out just before they are due to have a period are more likely to feel the effects of alcohol faster, because of hormonal changes in their bodies. According to the Stanford University School of Medicine in California, ladies are more likely to feel the effects of an alcoholic drink between the point when they ovulate and just before their period.
Where you have a drink can change its taste. It’s been proven that a cocktail supped in a shabby pub will not be as enjoyable as the same one consumed in a plush hotel. Why? It’s all in your head. In 2003 Professor John Edwards, from the University of Bournemouth, had participants taste the same dish in ten different locations, including a school, care home, Army base and swanky restaurant. The plusher the place, the more the participants liked it. In grubbier locations, it was described as disgusting. Sam Bompas of hospitality design company Bompas & Parr said: “It’s why places with nice atmospheres, lovely lighting, cosy seating, etc seem to have the best food and drink.”
Alcohol absorption: man or woman?
Drink affects men and women differently. If a man and a woman of the same height and weight drink the exact same amount of alcohol, the woman is more likely to get drunk. This is because she will still have more body fat and less body water than he does and cannot break down alcohol so effectively, so more of it ends up in her blood. Women have less dehydrogenase, an enzyme which breaks down alcohol before it enters the bloodstream. Because of this, women absorb up to nearly 30 per cent more alcohol into their bloodstream than men of the same height and weight, even when they have exactly the same amount to drink.
Drinks in space
In 1969, astronaut Buzz Aldrin sipped wine after landing on the Moon, but he probably thought it tasted funny. Taste also relies on sight and smell but, as Sam Bompas, of Bompas & Parr, explains: “In space you have to leave the tasting to your taste buds. “In this scenario you’ve lost two senses so its taste won’t be as strong. “That’s why more fuller- bodied drinks, such as brandy, are favoured by astronauts.”
Alcohol can affect the quality and quantity of a man’s sperm. According to extensive research done in 1982, alcohol destroys the ability for humans to absorb vitamin A – an essential vitamin for regeneration of sperm. Professor Paul Wallace from campaign group Drinkaware said: “Alcohol can affect the quality and quantity of a man’s sperm production and reduce fertility. “Excessive alcohol lowers testosterone levels and sperm quality and quantity in men.”
You may not feel the cold when you have a drink but booze can actually make you colder. Head of Alcohol Research at King’s College London, Prof Colin Drummond, says: “Drink dilates the peripheral blood vessels near your skin, so more blood – and heat – flows to these vessels. “That takes blood and heat away from the core of your body. “So while your skin feels warm, your vital organs aren’t as warm as you might think they are. “If you then go out into the cold you can lose heat very quickly. And that can be dangerous.”
Hot or cold drinks?
How warm or cold your drink is determines how quickly it enters your blood stream. Alcohol is absorbed the quickest at blood temperature level – so 37.5 degrees. The cooler it is, the longer it sits in your tummy. A mixture of heat and cold – such as scotch with ice, can confuse your body and leave you with indigestion.
We all know that downing a few too many can lead to erratic behaviour, but did you know that it’s because your brain starts to shut down? When alcohol enters the brain, it changes how it works. The nerve cells, which transmit valuable messages around the brain at an average speed of 200mph, change the way they respond. The chemical messages they transmit change. This can cause tearfulness, anger and giddiness among other things. The blood vessels in your brain also swell up, meaning you can get headaches before the booze has started to wear off.