We were ready to start enjoying our summer margaritas until we heard a controversial health claim taking TikTok by storm. Influencers everywhere are talking about how alcohol stops the body from burning fat for up to 36 hours after drinking. Is this true? We dove into the facts to find out.
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Whether scientists and researchers like it or not, TikTok has become a hub for diet and health-related information. Nutrition tips and fitness recommendations are shared every day, reaching millions of people in mere hours. The problem is that misinformation is disseminated hourly in catchy, bite-sized clips, causing mass consumer confusion and, at times, dietary hysteria. There is even a term, ‘TikTok Brain,’ where our attention span wanes after 90 seconds, leaving little to no time to cite sources of information…if any.
The latest viral claim — that alcohol stops the fat-burning process for up to 36 hours after drinking — has everyone worried about their “summer bodies” and health goals. Will this drink make me gain weight? Will the food I eat today be digested if I drink? While we are not saying—drink drink drink—we are saying, be careful what you read on the internet!
@dietitianwithtwins #alcohol #healthy #weightloss #weightgain #nutritiontips ♬ original sound – Courtney, MS, RD, LDN
@brycelynfit I’m just saying #gymtok #fitness #balance #tips #fyp ♬ Praise God – Kanye West
The good news? D2D is here to debunk these claims. Scientific studies are pointing in a different direction from this misleading headline. The bad news is that our bodies do see alcohol as a toxin, so we do want to be mindful of how much and how frequently we drink. Think of the questions your doctor asks you when you pay them your annual visit—“And how many drinks on average do you consume a week?”
Let’s start with how alcohol is broken down in the body to get a better understanding of this.
How does our body break down alcohol?
Fitness and nutrition influencers and the like consider alcohol the “fourth macronutrient” because it has no carbs, protein, or fat, but it contains ethanol, which our bodies can use for energy. This is why some of us may feel more social or energetic after a drink or two.
Alcohol is metabolized in the liver in two stages. During the first stage, the liver turns the ethanol, which we get directly from the alcohol, into acetaldehyde. What is acetaldehyde? Think of it as the bad part of alcohol that gives us all the negative side effects we experience during the dreaded hangover, like headaches, nausea, and an increased heart rate. This is because acetaldehyde is relatively toxic to the body.
Acetaldehyde is also carcinogenic because it can damage our DNA and stop the body from repairing itself. When DNA is damaged and can’t be repaired, a rogue cell can start growing too much and could eventually create a cancerous tumor. However, we don’t have to worry too much about this because stage two of metabolization lessens this risk.
This second step occurs in the liver enzyme of our mitochondria. During stage two of alcohol metabolization, the body works to get rid of the toxin acetaldehyde. It does this by turning it into acetic acid, otherwise known as acetate. Acetate is a less active byproduct that turns into carbon dioxide and water, which is when the body can easily get rid of it.
Since our body recognizes alcohol as a toxin, it’s going to do everything it can to get rid or metabolize the alcohol first. This means that any other calories consumed, sugar in the drinks, food eaten, etc., is put on hold to be metabolized until after the alcohol is gone.
While this isn’t an issue because we need calories, it’s when our hunger cues diminish during drinking and too many extra calories are consumed that fat build-up can occur. But try not to worry too much; one night of this won’t cause any long-term change. Making it into a habit, however, may lead to some weight gain.
Is the 36-hour claim true?
Now that we know how alcohol is broken down in the body, do we stop burning fat for up to 36 hours after drinking alcohol of any kind and any amount? Nope! Though your body works hard to metabolize and diminish the toxin that the body identified in alcohol, it doesn’t mean that all other bodily processes are stopped.
Currently, there are no peer-reviewed studies to back the claim that the body doesn’t burn any fat for up to 36 hours after drinking alcohol.
In fact, many studies show no positive correlation between normal alcohol consumption and weight gain.
A study by two Canadian researchers in 2015 specifically looked to see if there was any association between alcohol consumption and weight gain. They found that both light and moderate drinking do not lead to weight gain. They found that people who drink moderately frequently may even lead a healthier lifestyle than those who don’t. However, frequent heavy drinking can lead to some weight gain but mostly mitigates weight loss.
So, what counts as light or moderate drinking, and what counts as heavy drinking? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, or NIAAA, defines heavy drinking in men as more than four drinks in a day or more than 14 drinks in a week. For women, heavy drinking is more than three drinks in a day or more than seven drinks per week. Moderate drinking is defined as no more than four drinks a day for men and three for women, and a maximum of 14 drinks a week for men and 7 for women. Light drinking is anything less than this.
Alcohol in Men vs Women
Other studies from the National Library of Medicine from 2018 and 2020 looked at how alcohol affects weight loss in both men and women. Both found that heavy drinking may mitigate weight loss but did not lead to weight gain and that this is especially true for people with diabetes or who are obese. Weight gain only occurred when hunger cues diminished and people engaged in overeating while drinking. Since the body is focused on getting rid of the toxin, these extra calories from overeating sit in the body and may become fat if they are not used for energy.
It’s important to remember that it’s not what you sometimes do that matters; it’s what you do most of the time. Everything is in moderation. If you have one night of more than your typical amount of drinking and maybe indulge in too much pizza, you may feel bloated and inflamed the next day, but you won’t gain permanent weight. If you make a habit of this and do it every weekend or several nights a week, then you will experience some effects.
Is there anything we can do to speed up the process?
If the toxin acetaldehyde is what’s causing the negative effects of alcohol (headaches, nausea, etc.), is there anything we can do to speed up the metabolization process so we don’t feel the effects? In fact, there are multiple products on the market right now that do just that.
Though most acetaldehyde turns into acetate, some acetaldehyde doesn’t make it to the liver and sits in the gut instead. The gut isn’t able to process all of it into acetate, so it builds up in the gut giving us those dreaded hangover symptoms the following day.
Zbiotics is a supplement that you take before you start drinking. It’s a genetically-engineered probiotic bacteria that produces the same type of enzyme in the liver that’s used to process alcohol, but in the gut. This way, it can help break down more of the acetaldehyde so that you don’t experience the dreaded hangover in the morning.
The technique Zbiotics uses is called homologous recombination. The team at Zbiotics designed a piece of DNA that has the enzyme to break down the acetaldehyde encoded in it, but it also has stretches of DNA that are identical to what’s on the bacteria’s chromosome. This makes the bacteria do a kind of “find and swap” in the body — finding identical chromosomes in our bodies and swapping the enzyme that are needed in our gut.
Other companies with similar products include Cheers Health, NAC, and Over EZ. All of these products can be purchased online and range between $35-100 for a 12-dose pack. However, there are other ways you can avoid the negative effects of alcohol naturally.
As an aside, at Dirt to Dinner, we believe in responsibly drinking so you don’t need to use these products. And, of course talk to your Dr. if you do decide to take them.
How to Avoid the Effects of Overdrinking
The best things overall that you can do to mitigate the negative effects of alcohol and keep your body healthy are:
- Opt for drinks that have fewer calories and less sugar, like hard seltzers, light beer, and red wine. This way, you can enjoy the alcohol without having the worry about all of the extra calories. For example, a Corona Premier has 90 calories and only 2 grams of sugar, while a margarita has 274 calories and 36 grams of sugar in an 8-ounce serving. Now, we all love the occasional margarita but try to consume them in moderation.
- Drink lots of water! This one seems obvious, but some people forget that staying hydrated is the most efficient way to flush out any alcohol in your system. If you plan on drinking, be sure to drink lots of water before so you are hydrated going in, drink water between each alcoholic beverage, and drink water before going to bed.
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep. Sleep is also one of the best resets for the body. By getting proper sleep, your body will wake up refreshed and with less chance of a hangover.
- Exercise! Exercise is also a great natural detox for your body that keeps your metabolism moving at a steady pace.
The Bottom Line
There are no studies that state your body stops burning fat for up to 36 hours after drinking alcohol. However, that does not mean you shouldn’t be mindful while drinking. Consume plenty of water, exercise, get good sleep, and opt for drinks with less sugar. This way, you can enjoy your night and the next morning, too.