Health and Medicine Question #5303

Dunni, a 21 year old female from Nigeria asks on June 15, 2011,

Why do people who drink have pot bellies?

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The answer

Barry Shell answered on June 16, 2011

Small pot bellies are simply caused by the high calorie content of alcohol. Also beer contains a large amount of sugar. When you consider that alcohol (ethanol) can be used to fuel cars, you can understand that it holds a lot of energy. This energy is stored as belly fat in the body if it is not burned by exercise. Many drinkers just sit around drinking so they don't exercise much and the result is a fat belly.

However, sometimes you see a person, usually a man, with an incredibly large bloated pot belly--very often with a beer in his hand. This is caused by something else.

When some people (about 10 or 20% of drinkers) consume a great deal of alcohol over many years, they can damage their livers. The function of the liver is to clean the blood of impurities and all the blood in the body goes through the liver once every minute. Think of the liver as a kind of filter for the blood. Alcohol in large quantities is an impurity as far as the body is concerned and as it is degraded by the liver it creates other impurities such as acetaldehyde. In addition, alcoholic beverages contain impurities in trace amounts, but if a very large amount of alcohol is consumed these small impurities build up. All of these toxins must be broken down by the liver and in the process the liver can become scarred. NOTE: you have to drink incredibly large amounts of alcohol for many many years before this happens.

When the liver is scarred and damaged it does not function correctly. This is called cirrhosis. The liver becomes enlarged and the scarred liver refuses to let blood flow through it at the normal rate. This causes blood pressure to build up in the portal vein which is the large blood "pipe" that drains the abdominal cavity and delivers blood from all the body's organs to the liver. This high pressure causes fluid to seep out of the pipe and into the abdominal area causing a condition called ascites. This in turn can cause problems with the kidneys and other organs which causes more fluid to fill the abdominal area. All of this fluid causes the appearance of a giant distended beer belly.

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