Saturday, July 26, 2008

Addendum to my June 16, '08 blog "Why Does Alcohol Make You Hungry"

I love to learn! I wish I had had this insane craving to make sense of what I hear or to understand things down to their most basic elements as a child and young adult- I'd probably have been an engineer or a scientist of some sort if I was more focused . At any rate, I was with my husband at a seminar recently when I learned about the liver's role in glucose production, and immediately I realized that my June 16th blog was incomplete.

In addition to that information, there is another character in the mix, which totally completes the story. So here's the scenario: It's 3pm and you're on a virtually empty stomach - 3+ hours since you last ate. You either have "one of those days", or you're like me, with such an appreciation for the smooth tannic taste of a big, bold, chewy Cabernet blend or the refreshingly crisp-dry tingle of a Pinot Gris in the summer - a glass of vino sounds ever so appealing at this point because you've learned to make an experience out of a glass of wine and view of the Gulf of Mexico! At any rate, wine, specifically dry wine, is very low in carbohydrate. Why didn't I pick this up in my June 16 blog? Shoot, we might as well debate why carrots or radishes make us hungry when we eat them, versus a low carb wine!

Well, there is a science-based reason for this "phenomenon", and it's because of the liver's role in glucose production. Who knew? (I sure didn't, and I'm certainly not afraid to admit it!)

So, let's recount a bit: What I had known to date is that the pancreas (a small organ situated near the stomach & liver) secretes a hormone called insulin. Insulin is released based on the amount of glucose (converted from the foods we eat) in our bloodstream. The insulin hormone is the key that opens the muscle and fat cells to allow glucose to enter to be used for energy and/or stored (as glycogen) for later use. Insulin basically ushers glucose out of the bloodstream and into our bodies cells, both for energy, and to ensure there isn't too much glucose circulating in our blood, which in of itself causes bad things like kidney dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, arteriosclerosis and premature aging, to name a few. Got it? Me too!

The liver also produces and stores glucose, and releases glucose when you are not eating, or between meals when blood glucose levels may drop below what is normal for your body. The human body cannot go 8 hours without glucose. We (humans) were created with a bit of a compensation mechanism where the liver is able to produce small amounts of sustaining glucose throughout the day and night to keep enough glucose (energy) for survival in our bloodstream. Our brains need glucose to function, as well. When we start eating, the liver "gets the message" and stops producing insulin. It resumes when blood glucose levels are low.

If, however, we drink alcohol on an empty stomach when the liver is active producing glucose (among it's many other talents), the liver must stop its task of producing glucose to process the alcohol, as it is the only organ in the body that can break down the alcohol circulating in your blood and process it. Detoxification is one of the functions the liver performs for the body - and apparently it can't do two things at once!

So, we're on an empty stomach and our body is void of food and the liver is providing us with the glucose we need in our blood stream, which is preventing the dreaded low blood sugar symptoms - and all without our thinking twice about this process! I must digress:

It is amazing to me - all the things our bodies naturally do to try do to keep us healthy and functioning at an optimum level (like maternal instincts)! Yet a big part of our society disrespects the body and feeds it crap - overprocessed, unnatural crap - that makes it so difficult for our bodies to do their jobs. Imagine if we thought this way: the systems in our bodies are what keep us alive! These intricate systems help us feel good so we can go to school, perform our jobs well to make money to support our families, play softball with the buds, care for, play with and nurture our kids. Because of all our bodies do for us, in turn, we treat our bodies well. We consume whole foods from naturally occurring, earth made sources - without chemical or pesticides to reduce the natural vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and amino acids that we get from food; we give our bodies enough rest, and exercise our bodies to keep our bones and muscles strong and our joints fluid. What would happen if we all thought and acted this way? American might not be one of the fattest and self-inflicted disease ridden countries in the world - and I did say "one of the", as I know we're not the only one. End digression.

Our amazing bodies are just doing their jobs - keeping us feeling healthy and good...which is why we probably want that glass of wine: we feel good - ahhhhh, more pleasure! So, we have our wine. The liver stops producing glucose to process the alcohol, and since the wine is seriously low (1-2 grams) in carbohydrate, there is no longer a source for glucose in our bodies (no food, no liver-produced glucose), and we finally DO suffer those low blood sugar symptoms - particularly HUNGER! Wala! I'm sure it's oh so much more technical than that, but in a layman nutshell, there it is. Nuts and low fat cheese...great pairings for our glass of wine, and a much needed preventative snack for alcohol-related hunger!

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