5 ways alcohol affects the aging process

See the different ways drinking affects healthy aging. 

Can drinking alcohol really speed up the aging process? Well, the truth is that yes, it can make you age faster by causing wrinkles. This includes premature wrinkles, loss of collagen, elasticity, redness, dehydration and puffiness. However, it’s the amount and frequency of your drinking that really matters.

Here are a few ways alcohol affects the aging process:

1. Ever wake up the morning after so thirsty you can't believe it? Not surprising. Plain and simple, alcoholic beverages dehydrate your body. By hindering the production of vasopressin (anti-diuretic hormones), alcohol forces your kidneys to work double time to remove excess water from your system and leaves your organs (remember, skin is your largest one) parched. Skin that's dry from the inside out not only wrinkles more quickly than nice, moist skin does, but it can take on a pale or gray cast, a condition that is exacerbated by the fact that alcohol also robs the body of vitamin A, an antioxidant that's critical for cell renewal and turnover.

2. Also, Intoxication increases the risk of accidents, including falls, fractures and car crashes at any age. But balance and stability pose more of a challenge as people age. Older adults are more likely to suffer falls, with worse injuries - like hip fractures - and longer recovery periods. Alcohol ramps up the risk even more, as it slows the brain's activity. Alertness, coordination, judgement and reaction time all decrease with drinking.

3. In much the same way that alcohol causes broken capillaries on your face, it irritates and enlarges the tiny blood vessels on the surface of your eye (the sclera) causing a "bloodshot" appearance. Not vain enough to be put off by a few red lines? How about blindness? Because excessive drinking robs the body of some nutrients required to maintain eye health, it can lead to a condition called alcoholic optic neuritis, which impairs eyesight and, over time, can result in blindness.

4. In the same way that drinking alcohol desiccates your skin, it dehydrates your hair. The problem, of course, is that dry hair is weak, brittle and more prone to split ends. Excessive alcohol use can also trigger a zinc deficiency in the body, which has been shown to cause hair loss.

5. Alcohol hits harder with age since tolerance for alcohol can decline over time, possibly due to changes in body composition, says Robert Pandina, a professor with and former director of the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies. Hormonal changes appear to increase alcohol sensitivity among women and men alike. As you age, the proportion of fat to muscle tends to increase, even if your weight remains stable, he says. So you develop a higher blood alcohol content even if you drink the same amount you used to. Reaction times and motor ability tend to slow with age - and drinking reduces these abilities further.

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