During this festive time of the year, it is common for people to drink alcohol, maybe even to excess. Alcohol doesn’t just affect your judgment – but wine, beer and cocktails also have quite an effect on your feet and legs. Here are some of the ways drinking alcohol affects your feet and lower limbs and why cutting back or stopping is better for your feet.
An alcoholic drink is a drink that contains ethanol, a type of alcohol produced by fermentation of grains, fruits, or other sources of sugar. This is a drug that has many adverse effects on the entire body.
How much is too much?
Moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men – but it is best not to drink alcohol at all. A standard drink contains approximately 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is the amount typically found in 12 ounces of regular beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. Research suggests that about two percent of those who drink within these suggested limits have an alcohol use disorder.
Here’s how alcohol affects the feet
Alcohol makes your limbs feel heavy: Consuming alcoholic beverages can cause muscle weakness, tingling, numbness and a heavy feeling because it depletes the body of vitamins and minerals essential for muscle health. The side effect is temporary, however, over time, heavy drinking can lead to permanent muscle degeneration that leaves the legs and arms weak and painful.
Alcohol causes foot and leg swelling: Drinking alcohol can cause lower limb swelling. When you drink alcohol, you are consuming water, ethanol, as well as sugars and fats, depending on what’s mixed in your drink. Your body stores sugar, fat, and water but it has no way to deal with the alcohol. Alcohol is treated like poison and the body tries to filter it out as fast as possible. The kidneys don’t function so well, especially when filtering the alcohol from the blood and handling electrolytes like potassium and sodium. The body works on getting the alcohol out first, so water and sugar are stored. This leads to an increase of water in your body after drinking that can present itself as swollen feet and hands. After you stop drinking, you may start to see the swelling go down.
Boozing can cause gout: Alcohol is also a diuretic, which means it causes your body to lose water through urine and lead to dehydration. Gout is a type of arthritis that affects the big toe, mostly, causing excruciating pain, redness and swelling. It occurs when high levels of uric acid in the blood goes in the joints as tiny, sharp crystals. Drinking alcohol as well as eating meat and seafood are strongly associated with the development of the condition, which is why gout is sometimes called “the disease of kings” and “rich man’s disease”. The dehydration also leads to higher uric acid levels and gouty attacks.
Alcohol causes osteoporosis: According to the Portman Group, research shows that people who drink excessively in their 20s have a much higher chance of developing the bone thinning disease called osteoporosis later in life. Osteoporosis can be very painful and lead to bones that can be broken easily. Because 25 percent of all the bones in your body are located in your feet, it’s a disease that definitely affects foot and toe health.
Heavy drinking can lead to seriously dry, scaly feet: One side effect of heavy drinking is the development of psoriasis, a skin condition that leads to red, scaly patches of skin all over your body. When psoriasis affects a person’s feet, simple things like walking can become extremely uncomfortable. Psoriasis can also cause unsightly pits in the toenails. Meanwhile, drinking dehydrates your entire body, which can lead to heel fissures as well as flaky, cracked skin on the feet.
Heavy drinking can cause alcoholic neuropathy (alcohol leg): Alcohol can have a toxic effect on nerve tissue. One of the more serious ways alcohol can affect your feet and legs is a condition called alcoholic polyneuropathy, or “alcohol leg” for short. Alcoholic neuropathy is a neurological disorder in which many of the peripheral nerves throughout the body are damaged by the alcohol and don’t work well anymore. Common symptoms can last for weeks or years and include pain, numbness, tingling, weakness and burning in the legs and feet but some people also experience muscle spasms, diarrhea, incontinence, impaired speech, impotence and sexual dysfunction. People with alcoholic neuropathy who stop drinking or get treatment for alcoholism may alleviate their current symptoms and prevent further nerve deterioration. Adding vitamins such as B1 (thiamine), B12, folate and vitamin E to your diet may also help. Damage to nerves caused by alcoholic neuropathy, however, is usually permanent.
Salty foods are often paired with alcoholic beverages but they also contribute to swelling and inflammation in the legs and feet. High amounts of salt can make you retain water. This can also raise your blood pressure, and lead to heart disease. Excessive amounts of alcohol can also increase your blood pressure. A diet high in salt and alcohol raises your blood pressure even more by thickening the walls of your blood vessels to cope with the extra pressure. When you limit salt intake, and stop drinking alcohol, your blood pressure will go down.
Researchers would like to say there is some good news – that alcohol isn’t entirely bad for your feet. Studies have proven that a glass of red wine mid-flight can help prevent DVT blood clots from forming during long air travel. However, this benefit is from the Resveratrol which is found in the skin of grapes. It may be better to drink grape juice rather than alcohol during your flight, which will not act as a diuretic.
The best way to avoid these alcohol effects on the feet is to stop drinking and they will all gradually resolve except for the alcohol neuropathy. If you choose to drink, here are some tips to help with the effects:
• Swelling after a night of drinking is usually temporary and may be gone within 24 to 48 hours.
• Drink lots of water to help flush the alcohol out of your system and avoid a hangover.
• Elevate your feet to help ease discomfort from swelling and inflammation.
• Soaking your feet in cold water can also provide some quick relief to swollen feet. Adding Epsom salt to the soak may also help.
• For more information, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.apma.org. To see a podiatrist, telephone 325-2996 for an appointment, visit Bahamas Foot Centre on Rosetta Street, or call 394-5824 for an appointment; or visit Bahamas Surgical Associates Centre on Hilltop Medical Centre off 4th Terrace Collins Avenue. In Grand Bahama, call Lucayan Medical Centre at 373-7400 for an appointment.