How Is Alcohol Metabolized in the Human Body?

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Created On: Saturday, 12, October 2019
Modified On: Thursday, 17, October 2019

When people drink beer, wine or spirits, roughly 2 to 8 percent of the liquid will be lost through the urine, breath, or sweat. The remainder of the alcohol that is consumed will be metabolized through the body, and when it is broken down, it is converted to acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a by-product of alcohol metabolism, that is poison and is a carcinogen that will cause damage to our bodies and can lead to cancer and other diseases. Acetaldehyde is always circulating in the blood at a very low concentration, but when alcohol is consumed, it spikes the acetaldehyde concentration to very high levels for a short time. The ethanol that is in alcohol is quickly converted into acetaldehyde; the body can attack the increased acetaldehyde with other enzymes and molecules it produces.

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However, large quantities of alcohol eventually make this impossible for the body to keep up with, leaving the toxins in the body for longer than expected, essentially causing the body to be poisoned, leading to a hangover. The liver produces a molecule called glutathione, which essentially helps prevent disease. Glutathione and another enzyme help attack the increased amount of acetaldehyde, but the liver can only produce so much glutathione and will run out. When the liver runs out of this molecule, the poisons are left in the body longer, while the liver produces more of the molecule to attack the acetaldehyde, eventually removing everything from the body.