Opting for a drink is not going to kill you, but you might as well have all the facts when making that choice. Research shows that even minimal regular alcohol use is associated with more belly fat, especially in men.
A new large-scale European study of more than 250,000 people from ten countries gathered data on body composition, alcohol use and related factors. Questionnaires on lifestyle and diet that had been validated were used, and participants had body composition taken by trained personnel. Data on alcohol was modified based on gender-specific definitions of a standard drink for each country surveyed.
For men, lifetime alcohol use, even one drink a day, led to increased risk of greater belly fat, and those who drank beer rather than wine had substantially more belly fat. Men who were heavy drinkers, consuming more than four drinks a day, were significantly fatter and had more belly fat than those who drank less. The more drinks the men consumed a day also correlated with increasingly larger caloric intake from food, possibly because alcohol lowers inhibitions.
For women, the results were less clear. Women who drank beer rather than wine were likely to have more belly fat. But in general, women were less likely to drink beer than men, and wine consumption was much more common in women. It’s likely that the beverage choice affects body composition, particularly visceral belly fat gain, and this may be one reason why researchers found less clarity in the results among the female population.
Why is it important to avoid alcohol?
It’s not just the added calories. When you drink alcohol, your body puts all other metabolic processes on hold until it has processed the alcohol. Your body can’t convert the calories from the alcohol to fat, meaning it needs to use them up, and will delay all other fat burning and energy use until the alcohol has been metabolized.
Drinking alcohol affects your hormones as well, increasing cortisol and modifying steroid metabolism in the liver. This results in lower androgens for both sexes. Women with higher levels of androgens and men with lower levels are equally at risk for belly fat gain, and for men, lower androgens mean less testosterone. Bad news!