[artwork by Alex Binnie]
BY ELIZABETH FIEND LIVING EDITOR Booze — it’s intoxicating, complicated stuff. Light drinking can extend your life, heavy drinking will end it prematurely. Consuming a small amount of alcohol prevents platelets in the blood from sticking together and forming clots, thus preventing heart attack and certain types of stroke. (Aspirin helps prevent blood clots in a similar way.) But anything more than one drink a day for women and up to two a day for men is a bummer for your health. Drinking more can cause stroke and heart disease, and also messes up your liver and kidneys and can contribute to arthritis and a variety of cancers. It can make you malnourished or overweight; hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic. Alcohol can mess up your unborn baby; and make you depressed, anxious or suffer from insomnia. And you can become addicted.
Currently, doctors recommend a drink a day for women, and one to two drinks a day for men. This is a sea change from the 1980s, when if you told your doc you had a drink every day, she’d have a sit-down with you to discuss your drinking problem. At that time a drinking problem was suspected because you “had to” have a drink every day. Still, the key is to spread those seven drinks over the course of seven days. Seven drinks over two days — say Friday and Saturday night — qualifies as binge drinking.
You heard that right, today any more than one drink a day for women is considered heavy drinking, and if you’re a gal and have three drinks you’re on a binge. (Add one drink to each category if you’re a he). Way back in the ’50s, the doc would have joined you for a martini or three at lunch. The new recommendation arose because study after study has shown that the only way to get the heart-healthy benefits from alcohol is one drink a day for the ladies and one to two a day for the gentlemen. So now you know. If you drink any more than that or consume in any different pattern, there are no health benefits associated with drinking, only consequences.
Now before you go and say, “well I’m a big girl so I can drink more,” let me caution you: Weight alone is not the reason why the girls get the short end of the booze stick. Our biology is different. Our stomachs actually produce less of the enzyme dehydrogenase which breaks down alcohol. But that’s not the only reason we’re cautioned to drink less.
Yep, chronic alcohol consumption has been associated with an increase in certain types of breast cancer. The amount you drink and the number of years you do so contribute to the increased risk. There are many theories about the what causes the increased risk. One is that alcohol increases production of estrogen, a known cause of breast cancer. Studies are mixed but my man, Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard, says there’s enough evidence to urge babes who booze to use caution.
Men, you’re not off the hook, there’s plenty of bad news that’s gender-neutral. It’s thought that acetaldehyde, a product of alcohol metabolism, impairs a cell’s ability to repair its DNA. This increases the likeness that mutations will occur. Cell mutations are the beginning of cancer, all kinds of it.
Alcohol messes up the way your body processes nutrients. Reduced levels of zinc, iron, vitamin E, A, folic acid and other B vitamins are common in people who drink more than two alcohol beverages a day. This can affect every bodily organ but is especially tough on the digestive system and the liver. To make matters worse, the same nutrients alcohol consumption depletes are the ones that you need to prevent cancer and a variety of other illnesses.
Alcohol is rich in energy. Translation: it’s full of empty calories. Translation of translation: it’s fattening. And like pure sugar or fat, it’s void of nutrients. If you drink a lot you’ll gain weight. Weight gain leads to increased risk of diabetes among other health concerns. On the flip side if you go beyond over-drinking and become an alcoholic you’re probably drinking instead of eating and you’ll become underweight and malnourished.
Although alcohol affects every cell the body, its most dramatic effect is on our body’s filter, the liver. Negative changes in the liver can be observed after just a single night of heavy drinking. Accumulation of fat in the liver due to over drinking prevents the “filter” from filtering. This can lead to a domino effect of negative consequences on the rest of your body.
Alcohol consumption can suppress the human immune system, weakening it and making you more susceptible to infectious diseases, especially if your nutrients are already depleted by the booze.
Alcohol has recently been classified as a known human carcinogen, bad enough, but it’s also believed to be a carcinogen enabler. This means drinking is bad for you and it makes other bad things even worse.
SMOKING AND DRINKING
Drinking and smoking is a double whammy for your health. Alcohol enhances tobacco’s ability to stimulate tumor growth. The risk of esophageal, tracheal and mouth cancers go up 35 percent for smoker-drinkers. And it’s not just the cool factor of the bar scene; it’s now known that alcohol does actually physically cause you to crave more smokes even among light smokers.
Alcoholism is a serious illness which, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, affects 18 million Americans. People addicted to alcohol continue to drink even thought they know it’s ruining their health, relationships or ability to be financially solvent. For some people, alcohol is physically and psychologically addictive.
So what to do?
Get help if you have a problem and can’t fix it on your own. Duh, right?
Well, real life is tough, it’s full of hard knocks and backaches and our brains are actually hardwired with receptors which enable us to enjoy all kinds of drugs including alcohol. Therefore, isn’t the ability to get away from it all in some sort of altered-consciousness type-of-way a necessity for the well-being of a lot of people? Having a drink can make life a little bit sweeter at times.
If you want to drink. Really, this is the best advice. Stop when you have a buzz. Just like dieting, portion control is the key. Decide before you start drinking how many drinks you want to have, and count as the night progresses — actually look at the clock and pace yourself.
Consume plenty of water between drinks. I do the one-for-one method. I have a drink. I have a large glass of water (and actually always drink it).
Brewers yeast is high in folic acid and other energizing B vitamins. I eat a tablespoon dissolved in water every morning. Even for teetotalers, brewers yeast is a good addition to your stay-healthy arsenal.
Eat something before, after or during drinking to help your stomach digest the alcohol better.
Every day eat a diet high in vegetables, fruit and whole grains. (Ye of little faith, of course I can work vegetables into an article about booze.) A diet high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can counteract and better protect you from the negative effects of alcohol.
Don’t take acetaminophen, like Tylenol, for that hangover. This accentuates damage to the liver. Best to avoid a hangover in the first place, if you have a hangover, you drank too much.
Of course, never drive while drunk. Don’t drink while preggers. And now you know that it’s not just peer pressure, drinking actually makes you want to smoke more and smoking cigarettes increases other risk factors of alcohol so be on the look out for this. Put the pack away.
DRINK OF THE WEEK
Moersheto (pronounced: Mer-she-toe)
A vodka based Mojito
To create the taste of a Mojito, but without using sugar make “lime-aide” out of white grape juice and lime juice. Sure, you get a little extra nutrition and cardio-protection from the grape juice.
Crush a few leaves of fresh mint with a fork inside a tall glass
1.5 oz vodka
3 oz white grape juice
1 oz lime juice
3 oz club soda
Top with a slice of lime
Serve over ice
Sources and For More Information:
Alcohol and your health:
Alcohol and breast cancer:
Dr. Walter Willett: http://www.sciencewatch.com/interviews/walter_c_willett.htm
Alcohol and cigarettes:
White grape juice and cardio-health:
ABOUT THIS COLUMN: At no time in recorded history have we possessed so much knowledge about health and nutrition, nor have we ever had such vast and effective machinery for disseminating that knowledge — and yet, for all intents and purposes, we live in hi-tech Dark Age with the vast majority of the global population essentially ignorant or confused about the basic facts of their own biology. How did this happen? Well, that’s a whole six-part mini-series in and of itself, but the short answer is that the bottom line of many a multi-national corporation is dependent on that ignorance, and vast sums of money are expended to maintain it. The global warming argument is a classic example. When scientific fact did not favor Big Oil, they hired their own scientists to to conduct and publish studies that contradicted the peer-reviewed facts about the environmental impact of carbon-based emissions. As a result, whenever the latest global warming news is relayed to the public, it always comes with the caveat that “some dispute these findings.” There was time when newspapers saw it as their duty to truth squad these debates, but that’s long since become a luxury most papers can no longer afford — better to hire another gossip columnist and give the people what they want. To fill this crucial gap, Phawker began publishing the JUNK SCIENCE column by Elizabeth Fiend, beloved host of Big Tea Party. Every week, Miss Fiend connects the dots to reveal a constellation of scientific facts that have been hiding in plain sight — scattered across the vast, cold reaches of the Internet. With a background in punk rock and underground comics, and longstanding employment as a library researcher, Miss Fiend doesn’t pretend to be a scientist or an expert. She does, however, know how scientific facts become diluted by corporate-sponsored non-facts, and every week she separates the smoke from the mirrors. Why? Because she loves you.