People with Gilbert’s Syndrome can experience unpleasant reactions when they drink alcohol, although it doesn’t bother some people at all. Here is what happens in the body when you drink:
Alcohol is metabolized extremely quickly by the body – absorbed and metabolized before most other nutrients. About 20% is absorbed directly across the walls of an empty stomach and can reach the brain within one minute.
Once alcohol reaches the stomach, it begins to break down with the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme. This process reduces the amount of alcohol entering the blood by approximately 20%. (Women produce less of this enzyme, which may help explain why women become more intoxicated than men).
About 10% of the alcohol is expelled in the breath and urine.
Alcohol is rapidly absorbed in the upper portion of the small intestine. The alcohol-laden blood then travels to the liver via the veins and capillaries of the digestive tract, which affects nearly every liver cell. The liver cells are the only cells in our body that can produce enough of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase to oxidize alcohol at an appreciable rate.
Though alcohol affects every organ of the body, it’s most dramatic impact is upon the liver. The liver cells normally prefer fatty acids as fuel, and package excess fatty acids as triglycerides, which they then route to other tissues of the body. However, when alcohol is present, the liver cells are forced to first metabolize the alcohol, letting the fatty acids accumulate, sometimes in huge amounts. Alcohol metabolism permanently changes liver cell structure, impairing the liver’s ability to metabolize fats. This is why heavy drinkers develop fatty livers.
The liver can deal with about ½ ounce of ethanol per hour (about one drink, depending on a person’s body size, food intake, etc.). If more alcohol arrives in the liver than the enzymes can handle, the excess alcohol travels to all parts of the body, circulating until the liver enzymes are finally able to process it.
If you are looking after your liver, then it pays to not drink alcohol!
For people with Gilbert’s Syndrome alcohol will likely raise bilirubin levels, and can result in a hangover that’s pretty quick to appear and may last for days.