Alcohol and the human body

Endocrine system

Endocrine System

The endocrine system produces hormones, which are chemical signals produced by glands. The endocrine system helps regulate growth, signals the beginning of puberty, and is involved with metabolism, tissue function, and moods.

How does it work? Each hormone is secreted from a specific gland and distributed throughout the body. The hormones act on tissues at different parts of the body. Two areas of the brain, the hypothalamus and the pituitary, release hormones, as do other glands, such as the thyroid and the pancreas.

Hormones control four major areas of function in the body:

  1. Production, utilization, and storage of energy
  2. Reproduction, or the creation of new life
  3. Maintenance of body systems responsible for regulating blood pressure and bone mass
  4. Growth and development, or how we mature as we age.

The timing of hormone release is complex. They must be released at the right time, to the right tissues in the body. Alcohol can impair both the functions of the glands that release hormones and the tissues to which they are being sent.

For example, take the pancreas. This gland produces insulin, which is a hormone that is needed to regulate the amount of sugar (or glucose) in the blood. During digestion, glucose moves into the bloodstream. In response, the pancreas releases insulin, which triggers the opening of body cells so that glucose may enter and be used for energy. As glucose moves into body cells, the amount that remains in the bloodstream falls. When it falls below a certain point, the pancreas releases another hormone called glucagon. This hormone triggers the release of stored glucose from the liver. Through the work of the two hormones, insulin and glucagons, the body maintains a stable level of glucose in the blood.

Drinking heavily can cause a steep rise in blood sugar. When blood sugar rises, the pancreas responds by producing insulin to lower the blood sugar. But if the blood sugar rises too steeply, overproduction of insulin can actually lead to low blood sugar, a condition called hypoglycemia. This is especially dangerous for diabetics, especially those taking certain drugs to lower their blood sugar.

Another way that alcohol affects the endocrine system is by interfering with how the body absorbs calcium, a chemical needed for strong bones. As a result, people who drink heavily may be at a higher risk for osteoporosis, a disease in which bone density declines. If bones aren’t strong, there is a greater possibility of fractures. These fractures often occur in places where people usually don’t break bones, such as the ribs, hip, or wrist. Osteoporosis is most common in women over fifty who have gone through menopause.

Men or boys who drink large amounts of alcohol are at risk for side effects related to the endocrine system. They can experience loss of testosterone, the hormone that regulates male sexual function and semen. As a result, they could experience erectile dysfunction and emotional changes. Heavy drinking also may be responsible for easy bruising or acne.

As you can see, alcohol use doesn’t just affect one part of the body. Because all the systems are connected, each drink has an impact on multiple systems. So alcohol can cause considerable damage.

Next: Impacts of Underage Drinking