How Alcohol Makes You Fat

As I write this on a Friday evening, the kids are at friends houses, we are enjoying some quiet time, and I am already on my 4th glass of wine.  Just now starting to feel a little buzz, so I think my wife and I will wonder down the block to the wine bar, like we do on most Fridays and Saturdays. We’ll meet some friends and split a few more bottles of wine.  The next day when I wake up, I feel it a bit, but it doesn’t stop me from getting into work and doing what I have to do.   

Yeah Right!  I can’t remember the last time I had more than a single drink over the span of 7 days. I might have done that in my late 20’s or early 30’s, but I know now that alcohol consumption has much more of hormonal effect than most of us realize. It’s actually not about the calories or the fat or sugar content in alcohol it’s all about how it effects my hormone levels, and for some of us this can be the difference in not being able to lose body fat. 


One of my favorite things about prescribing these elimination diets to people is to watch the effect it has when I tell them no alcohol at all for 14 or 21 days.  They have no problem showing up for 21 days in a row and doing crushing workouts that bring you to your knees, or having no sugar, grain, or dairy.  It’s the glass or 2 of wine each night that you can’t live without.  At first it’s funny, but you would really be surprised at how many of you really can’t get through 3 weeks without having a single drink. 


The real question is does alcohol make me fat?  Forget about the havoc it can cause on your liver, kidney, blood lipid levels, heart, adrenals, and its addictive nature.  Yes, alcohol will make you fat, but not so much because it is high in Fat and most often sugar.  It won’t just make you fat like eating donuts and pasta… makes you fat because it shuts your metabolism down.  That’s right it makes it so that you don’t burn as many calories while you train or when you are at rest.  It slows everything down and causes you to gain weight.   


Let me explain.  Everyone has something called a thyroid.  This is what controls our metabolism.  Metabolism means how we break down things on a chemical basis to survive.  It starts with a part of the brain that releases TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone).  The TSH acts on the thyroid gland and causes the release of T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothronine).  T4 and T3 are what allow metabolism to increase or at least be normal.  If these are low, then our metabolism starts to slow down and we essentially gain weight.  Both T4 and T3 are good.  T3 is 5 x more potent than T4 and has 5 x more effect on metabolism.  Side note, for all of you on a synthetic version of T4, you should have your T3 levels checked.   

Here is the rub, T4 is converted into more active T3 in the liver.  That’s right, the same place that all your alcohol is being detoxed.  If your liver is busy detoxing all the alcohol consumption, then guess what I’m not able to do.  You got it!  I can’t convert T4 into T3 and basically I start to have low levels of the most potent hormone when it comes to metabolism. 


Ok, Ok, I can already see all the comments on this……don’t shoot the messanger.  I’m just letting you know what science and research shows us.   

What’s that?  You want to know what the minimal amount of alcohol is that you can have and still get T4 to conver to T3 in the liver?  Well, that depends on a lot of things.  Ladies who are usually 45 and over may have a slow down in thyroid naturally.  This means that you really have to limit intake.  Gentlemen, we also have a significant slow down as we age.  Basically, limiting yourself to 2-3 glasses of wine a week is a good idea.  For some of us, get rid of alcohol all together might have a significant impact on our health and ability to lose weight.   


Now I’m not saying that some alcohol doesn’t have good properties to it.  Such as antioxidants and reservatrol, which have proven to fight some cancers.  I’m not saying that a glass of wine can’t help with mental stress and help you unwind.  I’m just giving you information, so you can play around with what works for you best. 


I don’t polish off 3 glasses of wine a night, but I will once in a while have a glass of wine when I want to relax and unwind, and you should be able to limit your intake as well.