On The Wagon 2018

I’m going on the wagon.

I’ve never been a heavy drinker (well, other than my freshman year in college) but over the last couple of years, drinking a couple of glasses of wine or a couple of beers at night has become a more regular occurrence. I don’t drink to get drunk but there are times that I certainly drink past the point of simple relaxation.

For a variety of reasons, some practical, some for the cause of science, I’ve decided to climb on the wagon for the month of July.

Stomach Discomfort

File this under both practical and science. Practically (and the primary driver for this), something has been causing me stomach discomfort over the past few months: bloating, gas, etc. I’ve been trimming gluten and dairy from my diet, and although I feel better overall, it is still occurring. However, in times when I’ve taken a week or two without a drink, my digestive issues have been relieved. So I’m conducting a science experiment to decide whether alcohol is the culprit.

Sleep

Essentially everything you read on the Internet (which, of course, is true) points to alcohol’s ability to disrupt sleep patterns. More specifically, a 2013 review of scientific studies on alcohol and its effect on sleep concluded “At all dosages, alcohol causes a reduction in sleep onset latency, a more consolidated first half sleep, and an increase in sleep disruption in the second half of sleep”.[1] My own experience is that I have no problem falling asleep, but have an incredibly hard time staying asleep. By 3 or 4 am, I’m awake, wishing I wasn’t.

Sleep is huge to me (and should be, to you). It affects testosterone levels, fat buildup, and repair and recovery after strenuous exercise. I want as much quality sleep as I can get. If avoiding alcohol helps, then I’m on board.

Attitude

Frankly, I’m cranky when I drink. It’s probably related to the loss of quality sleep. But on more than one occasion I’ve found myself low on patience with my wife and kids and I feel like it’s attributable to drinking the night before. Nothing is more valuable than those relationships. If anything is impairing my relationships with those I love most, then it should go!

Testosterone

This is less of a factor, but there are indications that high alcohol use impairs testosterone production. Again, I don’t drink excessively, but if there’s any chance that drinking a few beers is cutting into my T-levels, then count me out. Add to this the effect on sleep mentioned above, which also affects T-levels, and I’d rather do without the booze.

Muscle Building

I’ve written before (here) about the importance of Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) and the importance of adequate protein intake as we age because of sarcopenia (age-related muscle wasting). There is research showing that drinking inhibits muscle protein synthesis after exercise[2] (at least in rats).

Money

If there is anywhere my life is out of control, it’s my finances. Raising five boys (three of whom are in college) takes a toll on your budget. Cutting expenses is one way to help bring things back into line. Eliminating booze is easy money. Sure, a $10 six-pack or bottle of Cabernet doesn’t seem huge. But when it’s a six-pack per week, across 52 weeks a year, that’s a couple of utility bills, a few new tires, or a handful of college textbooks. Much better uses of funds.

Conclusion

I’m writing this on July 2, day two of my experiment. I’ll keep you posted.

Anyone want to join me? Chime in in the comments, below. I’m sure this would be easier with some company.

[1] Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. “Reviewing alcohol’s effects on normal sleep.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2013.; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130122162236.htm;
[2] “Alcohol impairs skeletal muscle protein synthesis and mTOR signaling in a time-dependent manner following electrically stimulated muscle contraction.” Journal of Applied Physiology, November 15, 2014.; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25257868

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