If drinking red wine in moderation is one secret to living longer, too much alcohol in any form is the downside of the story. Now to the million-dollar question: does drinking alcohol age you? The simple answer is always “yes.”
Research shows that excess alcohol consumption of alcoholic beverages can cause both accelerated aging – in which symptoms of aging appear earlier than normal – and exaggerated aging, in which the symptoms appear at the appropriate time but in a more exaggerated form.1 “If you want to get older, go ahead and drink,” said Dr. Jairo Rodriguez in a recent interview with Vogue Magazine. On the other hand, evidence also shows that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may decrease mortality risks and protect healthy adults from developing coronary heart disease.3 4 This means that drinking your usual red wine in moderation should help lower your cholesterol levels and benefit your heart.
But how exactly does alcohol age you? Does alcohol cause wrinkles? Here are 5 ways how alcohol can make you look older.
1. Dehydration & Wrinkled Skin
Most of us know that alcohol dehydrates our body. Alcohol can rob your body of fluids, and while we all know drinking lots of water is one of the main keys to aging well, we tend to forget this while splitting a bottle of wine with a friend.
But did you know that this dehydration wrinkles our skin? When we’re dehydrated, our skin is dry from the inside out. This makes it wrinkle more quickly. Fine lines and wrinkles appear, which continue to grow deeper with time.
Drinking too much also depletes the body of key nutrients like vitamin A, a key antioxidant that regenerates skin cells and produces retinol and collagen, which are essential to skin smoothness and elasticity.
A good tip to remember for aging well is to alternate between alcoholic drinks and water.
2. Vasodilation & Red Face
So, the stereotype of the wino with the big red nose? It actually has some basis in fact. This is because alcohol acts as a vasodilator, widening blood vessels, which are the reason for all of that redness. While this redness (and sometimes puffiness) will generally go away as the alcohol makes its way out of your system, permanent red, spider-like veins can appear on your face due to the repeated overconsumption of alcohol. Combined with the wrinkles the alcohol is also causing, this leads to premature aging.
3. Aging Eyes
Drinking alcohol can cause premature aging to our eyes. Drinking causes irritation of the blood vessels in our eyes. This is why heavy drinking often results in bloodshot eyes. Over time, excessive drinking repeatedly robs your body of the nutrients it needs for eye health. This can impair eyesight, which leads to the need for glasses or other corrective appliances.
4. Sleep Deprivation
When it comes to the aging process and aging well, sleep can be your best friend. Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep, but it reduces the amount and quality of REM sleep that you get, which is what is most rejuvenating and important for aging well.
5. Hair Loss and Zinc Deficiency
The dehydration our body undergoes from alcohol intake also affects our hair. This dryness makes the hair weak, brittle, causes split ends and gives a dull look to locks. Drinking too much alcohol can contribute to deficiencies or malabsorption of key nutrients – in particular, there’s evidence that drinking large amounts of alcohol can deplete our body of zinc. 5 What happens when we experience zinc deficiency? Hair loss. Too much alcohol and you may look like grandpa long before your time.
Other health issues
In addition to everything described earlier, excess alcohol consumption may have consequences on the following key organs, leading to premature aging:
- Heart – Just one night of binge drinking—and most certainly chronic heavy drinking over an extended period of time—can cause high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and stroke.
- Liver – Alcohol is a hepatotoxin, so heavy drinking can lead to early and avoidable degeneration of the liver, in the form of fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis (end-stage liver disease).
- Pancreas – Problem drinking can lead to pancreatitis, characterized by inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas.
- Brain – Alcohol-related brain damage can involve the premature onset of dementia and dementia-like symptoms.6 On brain imaging scans of chronic alcoholics, this damage is evidenced by a visible shrinkage in brain volume and deteriorating fibers.
Prevent Premature Aging
At the end of the day, the short and long-term effects of alcohol can range from a positive impact on your wellbeing to a health catastrophe. The best way to prevent premature aging from consuming alcohol is to reduce daily consumption to a moderate level. After all, drinking small amounts — especially of red wine — is linked to various health benefits.
Another good way to prevent premature aging from alcohol is to drink lots of water in order to stay hydrated. Other drinks and foods can help you stay hydrated. However, some may add extra calories from sugar to your diet. Fruit and vegetable juices, milk, and herbal teas add to the amount of water you get each day.
And lastly, you might want to consider a high-quality multi-mineral and vitamin supplement. As you know, alcohol depletes a number of key minerals, particularly zinc, and magnesium, which are crucial for brain and mental health.8 9 Remember, zinc deficiency is linked with hair loss.
Bottom line is that moderate drinking is key for healthy aging. Try to keep a healthy balance, have fun, and take good care of yourself.
- Alcohol, Aging, and the Stress Response, RL Spencer and KE Hutchison, Alcohol Research & Health, Vol. 23, No. 4, 1999
- Alcohol use, misuse, abuse, and dependence in later adulthood
- Alcohol and Heart Health
- Late-Life Alcohol Consumption and 20‐Year Mortality
- The effects of dietary zinc deficiency on voluntary alcohol drinking in rats
- Alcohol’s damaging effect on the brain
- Alcohol’s effect on the body
- Trace elements and alcohol
- Intravenous magnesium sulfate rapidly alleviates headaches of various types