Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

2nd Plenary Session: ‘Body-weight balance and regulation’

Role of substrate utilization and thermogenesis on body-weight control with particular reference to alcohol

Yves Schutza1 c1

a1 Institute of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Lausanne, Rue du Bugnon 7, CH-1005 Lausanne, Switzerland


Alcohol (ethanol; EtOH) provides fuel energy to the body (29·7 kJ (7·1 kcal)/g, 23·4 kJ (5·6 kcal)/ml), as do other macronutrients, but no associated essential nutrients. The thermogenic effect of EtOH (on average 15 % of its metabolizable value) is much greater than that of the main substrates utilized by the body, i.e. fat and carbohydrates (CHO), suggesting a lower net efficiency of energy utilization for EtOH than for fat and CHO. EtOH cannot be stored in the body and is toxic, so that there is an obligatory continuous oxidation of EtOH and it becomes the priority fuel to be metabolized. In contrast to CHO, its rate of oxidation does not depend on the dose ingested. As with CHO intake, it engenders a shift in postprandial substrate utilization (decrease in fat oxidation), but by a non-insulin-mediated mechanism. A limited amount of EtOH can be converted to fatty acids by hepatic de novo lipogenesis (as occurs with high levels of CHO feeding) from acetate production, which inhibits lipolysis in peripheral tissues. There is no evidence that EtOH consumed under normoenergetic conditions (i.e. isoenergetically replacing CHO or fat) leads to greater body fat storage than fat or CHO. However, there is still a lack of experimental studies on the influence of EtOH on the level of spontaneous physical activity in man. This effect may well depend on the dose of EtOH consumed as well as other intrinsic factors.


c1 Corresponding author:Dr Yves Schutz, fax +41 21 692 55 05, email

c2 *The other papers presented at this meeting were published in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society (2000) 59 no.3