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Beauty and the Booze: What Alcohol Does to Your Looks

Like so many women, I’m a sucker for the cosmetics superstore Sephora, that glittering rainbow of color and light with all its tantalizing promises of MORE: more youthful, more vibrant, more glowing, more visually appealing and aromatically pleasing.  So, when a jumbo Sephora outlet opened up just a few blocks away from my studio apartment in Hell’s Kitchen at a time of particular weakness, it quickly became a regular pit stop in my weekend circuit of bars, bookstores and restaurants.  As a heavy drinker in my late twenties, Sephora was my haven of hope. I regularly charged up hundreds of dollars on anti-aging creams, anti-acne washes and most notably, concealers- ones to dab on my persistent under eye circles and bags, ones to dot across the volcanic cystic acne that erupted across my chin, and ones to cover the squiggly red spider legs on my nose that appeared like firecrackers.

While I lacked the patience or self-care to seek out a qualified dermatologist at the time, my gut told me that this crisis on my skin was likely due to the fact that I drank far too much wine- about a bottle a night, on average, and twice that on the weekends. My face, after so many years of relying on booze and pills, was beginning to change- and not in a good way. The conclusion wasn't, however, “I should quit drinking now.” Instead, my circular reasoning looked like this:

"I look like crap." -> "Mmm, wine!" -> "I Still look like crap."-> "I need to go to Sephora and pick something up to fix this situation."

Ad nauseam. 
 

A rather sexist binge drinking awareness campaign. Point taken, however. 



A rather sexist binge drinking awareness campaign. Point taken, however. 

An intense relationship with alcohol, it turns out, is just like any other sordid affair and thus I became clinging and blind, hoping no one else would find out about these cycles of madness- least of all myself. I became at once careless and perfectionistic, wearing the same drab beige H&M wrap day in and day out while sparkling up my face with myriad concoctions that I somehow believed would scrub away whatever happened the night before. When I look back on it, it all just seems insane, but then again, we’re dealing with alcohol- baffling, cunning, and powerful.

While improving my personal appearance was not one of the major factors that finally brought me to quit drinking, seeing the positive changes once I put down the bottle definitely encouraged my sobriety. I began to notice that I wasn’t so preoccupied with hiding all the clues on my body pointing to a not-so-healthy life. Over time, those clues gently faded away with each alcohol-free day, each run, each meal of eating better. The red splotches on my nose disappeared within a year, while facial bloating subsided within a few months. The cellulite across the backs of my thighs gradually eased and the dark circles under my eyes gently faded. My weight, which had slowly been creeping up, began to come back down again. Unfortunately, the zits decided to stick around, although they're not half as aggressive as they once were. And, while I still probably spend too much money at Sephora, it’s certainly a lot more under control than what it used to be.

So, what does booze actually do to your appearance, scientifically speaking? A lot, it turns out.


The second photo is what I would apparently look like over time if I were to regularly drink 6-10 glasses of wine per week, according to the app, Drink Mirror: http://www.drinksmarter.org/  I can confirm that the facial bloating is real! 

The second photo is what I would apparently look like over time if I were to regularly drink 6-10 glasses of wine per week, according to the app, Drink Mirror: http://www.drinksmarter.org/  I can confirm that the facial bloating is real! 

Alcohol Accelerates Aging 

When you consume alcohol, the body treats it as a poison and immediately goes to work trying to remove the booze you've just ingested from your system. As alcohol enters your bloodstream, it also suppresses the creation and release of vasopressin, a hormone in your body that regulates water retention and keeps you hydrated. These shifts set your kidneys into high gear, forcing them to generate increased urine due to the reduction of vasopressin, which then results in dehydration. This dehydration, over time, promotes wrinkles while swapping out your natural glow for a dull, fatigued hue.

You might be thinking, “ok, so I’ll just drink more water with my booze.” While that may sound like the logical thing to do, your body won’t be able to hang onto this extra boost of H20 due to the chain reaction that’s occurred. In other words, you’ll just end up running to the bathroom more often.

Recent research has also found that alcohol damages a part of our cells that regulate aging, called telomeres. As time passes, these telomeres shorten until eventually, the cell dies and alcohol, it turns out, accelerates this process. According to the results of a study, telomere length was nearly half as long in people who consumed alcohol heavily as those that didn’t. Even minor alcohol consumption in midlife was associated with shorter telomere length in old age. 

Finally, alcohol interferes with both the sleep cycle and absorption of vitamins and minerals, which detrimentally impacts skin renewal and repair cycles. And, since women have thinner skin and less collagen than men, the negative consequences of alcohol on facial appearance are generally more profound (lucky us!)


Booze Packs on the Weight 

When a person monitors their caloric intake and chooses lower calorie alcoholic beverages, they'll still be able to lose weight while enjoying moderate drinking, right? That's the common assumption, however, there are a few significant factors to take into account. Alcohol in its pure form contains seven calories per gram- nearly twice as much as protein and carbohydrates- and has no nutritional value. The liver responds to alcohol as a poison and the metabolism redirects all of its energy to breaking it down and getting it out of your system as quickly as possible. When this process occurs, the body stops burning fat and instead uses the alcohol you've consumed for energy rather than utilizing any nutrient-rich foods you've ingested. Any excess calories consumed will then be stored as fat. 

In addition, when we drink alcohol, our logic and willpower both tend to decrease- a bad combo for anyone on a weight loss journey who already has a tough time turning down tempting foods and monitoring their overall intake. Research confirms appetite increases following alcohol consumption and that people eat more even after drinking small amounts of booze, although whether that's actually due to disinhibition or not is up for debate. Considering the impact that alcohol has on metabolism and appetite, as well as the high number of empty calories most drinks contain, it's not too difficult to gain weight as a moderate to heavy drinker, but it's quite tough to lose it. 

You may be surprised to read this here, but there is evidence that drinking a small amount of alcohol each day may actually be better than having none at all. Here's the rub, though- most people only count one half to one quarter of what they're actually chugging, be it wine, beer, or margaritas. So, if you're only having a 6 oz. glass of wine a day, you'll probably be able to manage your weight while still being able to enjoy it. Just make sure that that's really all you're drinking (for many, it's not). Consider that a bottle of merlot is the caloric equivalent of a McDonald's double cheeseburger and a large chocolate fudge brownie- with less nutritive value! 

Alcohol Dulls Hair and Eyes 

Remember how alcohol sets your kidneys into high gear and dehydrates your body? This impacts the hair as well, robbing the mane of its shine and replacing it instead with brittle, easily breakable strands due to lack of moisture and vitamin deficiencies. And, alcohol can radically impact the way your eyes look as well, enlarging the blood vessels and promoting a tired, bloodshot look. 

If your relationship with alcohol is a healthy one and you enjoy a drink once in a while or even a glass of wine at night, alcohol probably won't impact your appearance or weight loss efforts too much. However, if you're one of the (rapidly increasing) millions who regularly have three or more drinks most nights of the week, I can almost guarantee that it will catch up to you over time, especially if you're struggling to maintain a healthy weight. Charging up hundreds of dollars at Sephora or on "get slim quick" schemes won't help you here. Decreasing your intake or abstaining from drinking will, and the good news is that a lot of the effects are reversible. 

Thank you for reading! Have a bit of fun- check out the Drink Mirror app here and see what you think. If you missed the previous posts in "The Conversation," a series on drinking and women, head on over to the main blog page. What would you like to read about? Do you have any questions for me, or topics you'd like me to cover? Leave your thoughts in the comments section! I'd love to hear from you. 

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Seeking the Fountain of Youth? Head to the Weight Room

I will be the first to admit it- I have no intentions of aging gracefully. Frumpy polyester dresses will not find a home in my closet, nor orthopedic shoes or a stockpile of prunes bought with a senior discount. There will be no complaining over a plate of mashed peas, and you're not going to find me flapping my dentures at the local bingo hall. I will be that fifty year old figure competitor, that seventy year old marathoner, that octogenarian in red lipstick and heels...and if the words "auntie" or "granny" are ever hurled at me, watch out! 

The truth is, I am excessively sensitive about aging. I lament the years I lost to cigarettes, booze and depression, along with all the bad decisions and wasted time. Moreover, since I've made my amends and changed, I feel like I deserve those hours back, as if 2003-2008 in particular should be deleted from my genes. And let's not forget about vanity, a sin far more favorable than sloth. Can someone please tell me why splurging on hormone-free meat and gym memberships is worse than spending all of one's dough on junk food, beer and big screen TVs? 

This post is for all of you who believe that aging is a choice, who do not subscribe to the all too popular idea that getting older should be a reason for giving up, who balk at the words "retirement" and "can't." If you've been looking for the fountain of youth, I have it on good authority that you may want to sniff out a gym, a personal trainer, or just a set of dumbbells for the home. Consider Dr. Mariam Nelson's highly publicized study, which found that "after a year of strength training just twice a week, women’s bodies were fifteen to twenty years more youthful.” Or, take a look at the photos on the side of this post. Still doubtful? Keep reading on for eight reasons why weightlifting is the fountain of youth:

Reverses Loss of Muscle Mass and Strength:
As we get older, we lose about 20 percent to 40 percent of our muscle tissue. Research suggests that, after age 30, our muscle mass decreases by about 1 percent per year (or 10 percent every decade). This decrease in muscle mass results in loss of strength and accordingly, the ability to carry out some types of activities. According to The Framingham Disability Study on disability among the aging, 45 percent of women between the ages of 65-74 years and 65 percent of women between the ages of 75-84 years were unable to lift ten pounds.  A minimum of thirty minutes of resistance training three times per week is shown to not only reverse age-related muscle mass loss, but also build new muscle. And, there’s no real limit on when the benefits of strength training max out, so whether you’re turning thirty, fifty or sixty-five, you still have time to build a new physique. 

Increases Bone Mass:
An estimated 1 in 3 women over the age of 50 will experience at least one osteoporatic fracture, and 1 in 10 older adults are diagnosed with osteoporosis (which means “porous bones.” Falls are one of the primary causes of injury in senior citizens and bone density can make the difference between whether you are active or an invalid during your golden years. Many studies indicate that strength training can increase bone mass, particularly spinal bone mass. A study conducted by the incomparable Dr. Len Kravitz found that high-intensity and moderate-intensity resistance exercises improve musculoskeletal health and reduce the risk of falling.

Increases Growth Hormone:
Human growth hormone (HgH) has been all over the news recently, ever since Dr. Oz touted its benefits in slowing down the aging process, which is hotly debated in the fitness and medical communities. HgH is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland and is responsible for regulating muscle and bone growth, metabolism, and body composition. HgH is often referred to as the body’s natural “fountain of youth,” and as we age, the pituitary gland produces less of it. By the time we reach 60, we’ve lost an estimated 75 percent of naturally occurring HgH. While illegal to purchase without a prescription, you can stimulate its production with regular weightlifting and high intensity training. Cited increases range from anywhere between 300-770 percent following exercise, which is quite significant!

Improves Body Posture:
If one thing will age your body, it’s bad posture and unfortunately, in an age where most of us are huddled over our laptops, upper-crossed syndrome (hunched back, forward head posture and rounded shoulders) is becoming an all too common sight. Loss of bone density also contributes to poor posture. By engaging in weight training and focusing on corrective exercises that target muscles like the rhomboids and posterior deltoids, body posture can be improved. The confidence you get from regular exercise should also help!

Prevents Disease:
It’s well established that a fitness lifestyle in general dramatically decreases illness, improves cardiorespiratory fitness and immune function, and reduces inflammation- one of the primary causes of disease. New studies also indicate that weightlifting may prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Japanese researchers from the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology found that older adults with amnestic mild cognitive impairment who participated in a program that included strength training, balance training and aerobics experienced improved cognitive performance. Another research group from the University of Pittsburgh discovered that, after a year of regular moderate-intensity activity, older adults showed increases of volume in the hippocampus and improved memory overall.

Controls Body Weight:
Once again, the age of 30 tends to bring some often unwelcome physical changes, including a reduction in muscle mass and overall ability in physical fitness, which can lead to weight gain over time. Our metabolism also slows down, and if you’ve been dieting frequently throughout your life, metabolic damage from very low energy intake can begin to catch up with you. Menopause and a sedentary lifestyle add to the challenge, and before you know it, you may find that the jeans you wore in high school would be better suited as socks or bracelets. Regular weight training will increase muscle mass, thereby boosting your metabolism and creating a more conducive physical environment for shedding weight while gaining definition.

Promotes Healthier Eating:
When you’re engaged in an exercise program, the last thing you want to do is sabotage all of your hard work by bingeing on empty calories that attack your waistline and starve your muscles of the lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and amino acids they need to grow and perform. A fitness-oriented nutrition plan that includes colorful fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, nuts and whole grains can slow down the aging process, thanks to the antioxidants, omega-3 acids and other nutrients these foods contain. 

A Word on Creatine:
Creatine is a naturally occurring acid produced in the liver that supplies energy to muscle cells. Creatine supplements have become widely popular for their ability to increase muscle mass, improve strength and aid in recovery. They're also being recognized for their potential to offset the aging process by increasing strength, muscle mass, long-term memory, and even life span. Researchers in Germany found that mice fed a daily supplement of creatine lived an average of 9 percent longer than their cohorts. While more studies on the connection between creatine and anti-aging need to be conducted, this supplement is definitely one to watch.

So, did I convince you? Are you ready to drink from the fountain of weights? What concerns you most about aging and how are you being proactive in slowing down the process? Leave your comments- I'd love to hear from you! 

-Aimee 






Fitness expert and figure competitor, Laura London, age 47- a mom of 3 who began weightlifting regularly in her 40s. Image:   http://www.lauralondonfitness.com/

Fitness expert and figure competitor, Laura London, age 47- a mom of 3 who began weightlifting regularly in her 40s. Image:  http://www.lauralondonfitness.com/

Ernestine Shepherd, the oldest female bodybuilder in the world, age 76. Image:  http://ernestineshepherd.net/

Ernestine Shepherd, the oldest female bodybuilder in the world, age 76. Image: http://ernestineshepherd.net/

Maxine Johnson is a 55 year old figure competitor who decided to make the change and get fit at the age of 36.

Maxine Johnson is a 55 year old figure competitor who decided to make the change and get fit at the age of 36.

Singapore's own Agnes Lee, still fierce at age 60. Image:  http://sg.sports.yahoo.com

Singapore's own Agnes Lee, still fierce at age 60. Image: http://sg.sports.yahoo.com

Fitness model and mom, Kim Dolan Leto, age 44. Yep, she lifts heavy weights. Image:   http://www.kimdolanleto.com/     

Fitness model and mom, Kim Dolan Leto, age 44. Yep, she lifts heavy weights. Image:  http://www.kimdolanleto.com/

 

Fitness author, triathlete and Paleo promoter Mark Sisson is 58 years old.     I mage: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/   

Fitness author, triathlete and Paleo promoter Mark Sisson is 58 years old.    Image: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/
 

Tosca Reno, weightlifter, publisher and creator of the "Eat Clean" series, who is age 54.  http://www.toscareno.com/

Tosca Reno, weightlifter, publisher and creator of the "Eat Clean" series, who is age 54.
http://www.toscareno.com/

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