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Heavy Drinking Leads to Muscle Loss and Weakness, Research Shows

— June 27, 2023

Excessive drinking takes a significant toll on the body.

A study from the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Medical School has provided another significant reason to curb overconsumption of alcohol. The research showed that heavy drinking in a person’s younger years increases the risk of muscle loss and frailty in later life. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol, which can be found in 12 ounces of 5% beer, 8 ounces of 7% malt liquor, 5 ounces of 12% wine, and 1.5 ounces of 40% or 80-proof distilled spirits. Conversely, heavy drinking is denied as the consumption of 8 or more drinks per week and 15 or more drinks per week for women and men respectively. 

Excessive alcohol use is known to cause both short-term and long-term health risks. The short-term risks stem from heavy drinking include impaired judgment leading to risky behaviors which could result in sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancy, injuries from falls, vehicle accidents, violence including suicide, homicide, intimate partner violence and sexual assault, alcohol poisoning, and other unwanted consequences. The long-term risks include cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, breast, liver, colon, and rectum, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, liver disease and digestive problems, heart disease and stroke, learning and memory impairment including dementia, mental health problems including anxiety and depression, and social impairment including job-related problems such as unemployment and family problems such as divorce. 

Heavy Drinking Leads to Muscle Loss and Weakness, Research Shows
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These risks increase exponentially for people younger than 21 years who begin drinking excessively, and for those who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, suffering from pre-existing physical conditions, taking prescription medicine, driving or planning to drive, with a history of mental health problems, and those who have a predisposition towards addiction. 

In a university news release, Professor Ailsa Welch from UEA’s Norwich Medical School said, “Alcohol intake is a major modifiable risk factor for many diseases, so we wanted to find out more about the relationship between drinking and muscle health as we age.”

The researchers used data from the UK Biobank for about 200,000 people aged between 37 years to 73 years and found that the people with the lowest muscle mass drank alcohol the equivalent of one bottle of wine or 4 or 5 pints of beer daily. The research was scaled for body size and factored in physical activity and protein consumption. 

Jane Skinner, also of UEA’s Norwich Medical School said, “Most of the people were in their 50s and 60s. We found that those who drank a lot of alcohol had a lower amount of skeletal muscle compared to people who drank less after we took into account their body sizes and other factors.” 

The muscle mass and alcohol consumption were measured at the same time which makes it uncertain to establish a causal link. However, the research proves that heavy alcohol consumption could have harmful effects on muscle mass, and since losing muscle mass (referred to as muscle atrophy and Chronic alcoholic myopathy specifically in those who abuse alcohol) with age is already an established fact, people shouldn’t add to the issue by drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.


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