Clear Minds, Clear Decisions

The Hidden Costs of Alcohol in the CEO’s World

I’m well aware I’m infringing on “holy” ground here. However, my business is health, and the facts are the facts. I thoroughly and truly understand that drinking in business has a large social benefit and even business benefit. I can also lay out a very defined context in which having a drink would have very little impact, but to be honest: very few people qualify for this biologically as their organs and systems are just not healthy enough to absorb the damage.

I urge you to keep an open mind and to put on your “rational hat”. In the resources, I linked a video of a professor of neuroscience for those who’d like a more expanded view. I’m confident, however, that the evidence speaks for itself. So let’s review this.

Defining levels of usage:

Let’s first outline what the “levels” of drinking look like, and put this all in perspective with the points to follow.

As defined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men. That’s a pretty low bar to set for drinking in moderation.

Heavy drinking:

For men, consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week.

Bine drinking:

NIAAA defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent – or 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter – or higher. For a typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in about 2 hours.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which conducts the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health defines binge drinking as 5 or more alcoholic drinks for males or 4 or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least 1 day in the past month.

So, we’re getting into some interesting territory here. Having an alcoholic drink a day isn’t moderate drinking from a health perspective, that’s already heavy drinking, which the below points will make clear. More specifically, point 2 of the 8 factors highlights this very well.

Source: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking

Cognition and decision-making:

Both are wholly dependent on the interplay of communication between all your organs and all the parts of your brain.

The prefrontal cortex plays a crucial role in decision-making, as it is involved in a range of higher cognitive functions such as problem-solving, reasoning, planning, and impulse control. Located at the front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex acts as the executive center, integrating information from various brain regions and helping to guide behavior based on goals, values, and consequences.

1. Evaluation of Options: The prefrontal cortex assesses the potential outcomes and consequences of different choices, weighing the risks and rewards associated with each option.

2. Working Memory: It holds and manipulates information relevant to decision-making, allowing individuals to consider multiple factors simultaneously.

3. Inhibition of Impulses: The prefrontal cortex helps regulate impulsive behavior by suppressing immediate gratification or instinctual responses in favor of long-term goals.

4. Cognitive Flexibility: It enables individuals to adapt their decisions and strategies based on changing circumstances or new information.

5. Future Planning: The prefrontal cortex allows individuals to anticipate and consider the future consequences of their decisions, promoting goal-directed behavior.

6. Emotional Regulation: It interacts with the limbic system (responsible for emotions) to integrate emotional information into the decision-making process, ensuring that decisions align with emotional states and values.

8 factors alcohol impacts that determine your decision making

1. Neuroinflammation

A neurotoxin, as described, is a toxin to our neurology. There’s truth to the cliche that alcohol kills brain cells (more on this in point 2). Our brain is our most important tool for high performance. The more toxins build up, the foggier we become. Blood flow is also reduced in the brain with alcohol, which impacts oxygen, nutrients, and communication in the brain.

When oxygen is reduced in the brain our performance significantly drops. The same about nutrient availability and partitioning (where is being sent and used).

Side note: alcohol is also cardiotoxic, something to keep in mind if you have a predisposition for cardiovascular issues.

2. Brain shrinking

Even a modest amount of alcohol impacts the brain. Several brain regions are heavily impacted by the neurotoxicity of alcohol. The hippocampus is one of them, which deals with memory storage and consolidation, it also serves as a key center of learning.

“reduced brain volume that began at an average consumption level of less than one alcohol unit a day (half a glass of beer or wine). The more people drank, the bigger the alterations in brain structure and size that are associated with cognitive impairments.”

Now, if alcohol shrinks and negatively impacts this part of our brain, why do we attribute it such a high value? An argument here is that most people use it to unwind, which “shuts down” (read: minimizes) the forward predictive processes and pattern tracking that are so prefrontal cortex heavy, thus giving one “a break”. However, it’s not an effective strategy.

3. Reduced sleep

For many alcohol, as a nightcap serves to unwind, already speaks of dependency and inability to regulate stress without something inherently negative to our health. In extremely few cases sleep improves from alcohol consumption. At “high” consumption, it just knocks you out, but very little actual sleep occurs. Deep sleep is typically killed by alcohol, which means a lot of our repair goes out the window. A brain that can’t repair is a brain in decline.

4. Gut damage

The gut damage occurs in several layers: negative gram bacteria and mold (wines overall have a high likelihood to contain molds) build up in the gut. These bacteria and molds inflame the bowels which in turn breaks down the gut lining (which is a cell-width wall to keep things out of our bloodstream). Furthermore, we have little tentacles intertwined with our gut lining that are supposed to absorb nutrients, when inflamed they effectively fold inwards or contract, making it harder to absorb nutrients.

The damage to the gut lining leads to bigger particles making it into the bloodstream which the immune system will react to, driving up inflammation around the gut (and globally). When these negative gram bacterias make it through the gut lining more inflammation occurs. You can clearly see that a damaged gut lining is a recipe for disaster. Especially if we factor in that there are various direct and indirect connections from the gut to the brain.

5. Liver damage

Liver damage by alcohol isn’t some fable. Alcoholic fatty liver disease is aptly named for what has caused it in the first place. The liver is a large part of our ability to detox. It’s not just alcohol it is supposed to be detoxing, which is already a flawed statement seeing that the amount of alcohol a liver would detox would be the natural production from eating certain fermented foods, not the modern drinks of high alcohol levels. The liver is burdened by all the environmental toxins it needs to clear.

When it is overburdened by environmental toxins, alcohol, stress, too many carbs, too many stimulants, and too much food in general (especially processed foods) it’s going to run into some issues. We don’t want to add more toxic burdens to our livers. In fact, it stands to reason we want to minimize our toxic burdens as much as possible so we avoid further metabolic insults. Because when the liver is becoming sluggish the metabolic processes break down and become altered.

6. GELDING theory

GELDING stands for Gut Endotoxin Leading to a Decline In Gonadal function. What it speaks of is that these gut toxins start messing with our sex hormone production. You read that right, you are essentially killing your testosterone production. Alcohol is a big factor in this, as a matter of fact, beer is highly estrogenic in general. Cutting out alcohol goes a long way in making sure your hormones get a fighting chance to optimize.

7. Lack of focus

When we add up everything we’ve read here, then it starts to become very clear why brain fog and lack of focus occur. The blood vessels in the brain constrict with inflammation and stress, and inflammation in the body (beyond a certain level) is seen/experienced by the body and brain as stress. With an inflamed gut, we also have lower levels of hormonal and neurotransmitter production. Our ability to perform and think clearly highly depends on the state of our brain and the state of our gut. Effective neuronal communication can’t happen when inflammation and high amounts of stress are present.

8. Lack of inhibition

I’m sure most people have experienced issues with inhibition. Self-control tends to go out of the window after a few drinks, and as a matter of fact, is already greatly reduced after one drink. Now, this of course has implications over the board given what we read about brain alterations due to alcohol consumption, meaning that inhibition due to neurotransmitter issues, communication, resource, and energy issues is far more prevalent. Another factor of low inhibition is the tendency to eat poorly, and thus drive up inflammation even further.

Conclusion

“Mens sana in corpore sano” A healthy mind in a healthy body. The Romans (despite their heavy drinking culture) had a good understanding of this principle. Clear minds lead to clear decisions. When we put together the 6 points of the prefrontal cortex and decision-making, and the 8 factors of how the body is impacted, a clear picture starts to form.

Either way, you spin it or put it, alcohol isn’t good for you, especially not if you want to keep doing business at a high level for a long time to come. If or when you are making deliberate trade-offs, that’s one thing, but I’d argue awareness and education (on this topic) are huge to create a better framework for informed decisions.

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