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5 Ways Alcohol Causes Signs of Premature Aging

We all know that excessive alcohol consumption isn’t good for us, but a glass or two of wine each night can’t hurt… can it? Sadly, even moderate alcohol consumption can contribute to premature signs of aging. Here are some of the side effects of alcohol that you might not know. 

1. Alcohol is a diuretic

two people drinking beer

We’ve known for centuries that alcohol has diuretic (dehydrating) effects. Even Shakespeare joked about it, writing in Macbeth: “Drink sir, is a great provoker of three things… nose-painting, sleep, and urine” (2.3.24-27). Unfortunately, one of the first places that dehydration shows is your skin. Without essential moisture, your cellular turnover cycle slows down. This results in old, tired skin cells hanging around for longer. And that leads to a dull appearance and uneven texture.

Dehydrated skin is prone to wrinkling. Without water, tissues get thinner, which exaggerates the appearance of fine lines and leads to the formation of new ones. Thin, dry skin is also at greater risk of cracking, causing even more damage. All of this will make you look old before your time.

To avoid these effects, limit your alcohol intake. You should also alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Drinking a large glass of water before and after consuming alcohol can also help reduce the effects of dehydration.

2. Alcohol depletes healthy nutrients

two women talking over drinks

A study on “The Adverse Effects of Alcohol on Vitamin A Metabolism” found that alcohol breaks down vitamin A and other retinoids in the body. In fact, one of the symptoms of alcoholism is vitamin A deficiency. Even consumed in smaller quantities, alcohol still has the same effect.

Vitamin A is important for our immune health, eye function, and the production of new skin cells. Without it, the cellular turnover cycle slows down dramatically. Retinol deficiency also triggers excess keratin production in hair follicles. This can cause uneven skin texture and raised papules.

Alcohol is also high in sugar, which can disrupt your skin’s natural microbiome. Too much sugar in your diet leads to inflammation, one of the primary causes of acne. If you suffer from sensitive skin that’s prone to conditions such as rosacea or eczema, a night of drinking can result in a flare-up.

Finally, alcohol affects your digestive system. Because your body can’t get any nutrients from the alcohol itself, it wants to get rid of it as fast as possible. That means making it a priority to metabolize, at the expense of anything healthier that you’ve consumed. Alcoholism can lead to malnutrition because your body is too busy trying to process alcohol to absorb nutrients from your food.

3. Alcohol reduces collagen levels

two women drinking wine

Studies have shown that vitamin A stimulates collagen production. That means one of the side effects of excess drinking is lower collagen levels. 

Collagen is a critical protein used as one of the main building blocks for many bodily tissues, such as hair, muscles, and skin. Our bodies make lots of collagen when we’re growing, but starting in our mid-20s, collagen production begins to slow. Without collagen, skin loses elasticity and structure, leaving it wrinkled and sagging.

4. Alcohol is a vasodilator

young man drinking beer

Vasodilators are substances that widen blood vessels, increasing blood flow around the body. This is particularly noticeable in areas where there are lots of vessels near the surface, such as on the face. The red flush some people get after drinking is a direct result of increased blood flow. While the effects will subside once the alcohol has been metabolized, repeated drinking results in the blood vessels becoming permanently widened. The red and blotchy complexion that widened vessels cause also become permanent.

In some instances, the smallest blood vessels, known as capillaries, burst under the increased pressure. This is most likely across the nose and cheeks. Burst capillaries leave behind highly visible red and purple “spider veins,” and they never go away on their own. Only treatments such as laser therapy can repair the damage.

If alcohol consumption affects the liver it also causes a similar symptom. This is known as spider telangiectasia or spider angioma. These skin lesions look like a red mark with burst capillaries radiating outward from the center. They resemble small spider webs, hence the name.

5. Alcohol reduces REM sleep

two laughing women drinking whiskey

Sleep is super important to our health, and therefore to maintaining a youthful appearance. While we sleep, our bodies repair the damage sustained at a cellular level throughout the day. Without enough sleep, our cells never enter the “repair” stage of their lifecycle. This leads to the accumulation of damage, increased likelihood of cell mutations, and higher rates of decline.

Alcohol disrupts the stage of sleep known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM). This stage is named for the fact our eyes move constantly, although they’re closed and we don’t register seeing anything. It’s the part of sleep where we dream most vividly. REM sleep also triggers the release of growth hormones that signal our cells to start repairing themselves. Without REM sleep, we don’t dream and we don’t heal.

While most of us think of alcohol as a sedative, studies have shown that we don’t enter REM sleep until alcohol has been metabolized out of our systems. Even when the alcohol is gone, however, it still disturbs our sleep because of something called the “rebound effect." The disruptions alcohol causes, like stopping REM sleep, are reversed once alcohol has been metabolized. This reversal of the normal sleep cycle causes its own disruptions, leading to more disturbances.

Not only will you have a poor night’s sleep and wake feeling tired and not looking your best, but drinking regularly over a long period will disrupt your body’s healing processes, leading to accelerated signs of aging.

In conclusion

We all like an occasional drink, but even light alcohol consumption can have a significant effect on your body and metabolism. If you do intend to drink, it’s important to avoid drinking every day, to give your cells time to recover. Otherwise the damage done by alcohol becomes cumulative, resulting in premature signs of aging.

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