Updated: Jun 5, 2019
Seeing as many people are participating in Dry July I thought it might be a good time to write about alcohol and the impact on our health - and it's not ALL bad!
Alcohol was first discovered through the fermentation process of ingredients and used as an adjunct to sacrificial ceremonies by previous civilisations. It was sacred, medicinal and used sparingly. Recently in the media however, there has been a lot of concern with the amount of alcohol being consumed (especially by women) on a daily basis and often to excess.
So what does alcohol do to our health status?
Short and simple, alcohol is a drug. It contains few essential nutrients, only empty calories with little to no nutritional value. These empty calories are quick to add weight to drinkers as they contribute to calorific intake despite not contributing many health benefits.
Depending on an individual, 1-2 glasses will act as a stimulant although it is actually classed as a depressant which slows down the bio functions within the body.
If you require alcohol or find it a necessity to get you through a day or through the evening just so you can cope, then this may be a problem and also be causing a raft of health issues along the way.
Some of the common health issues caused by a
Dehydration is very common as alcohol causes an imbalance of the anti diuretic hormone - vasopressin. This hormone controls urination output whereas alcohol makes the body produce lower amounts of it therefore increasing urine output and in turn causing dehydration.
Drinking alcohol causes nutritional deficiencies such as B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacvin), B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (cobalamin), because your body uses up much of these vitamins by the liver to metabolise the alcohol alone. Along with these B vitamins there are often secondary deficiencies of minerals including zinc, magnesium, potassium and water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C due to alcohol acting as a diuretic and these essential nutrients end up in your toilet bowl and not in you!
Alcohol inhibits enzyme secretion by the pancreas which, along with regular alcohol drinkers often having an altered diet with fewer macronutrients consumed, leads to an inadequacy of nutrients for the body to perform properly. These include hindering the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K which work in conjunction with other essential nutrients in the body.
Intestinal permeability is common in regular alcohol drinkers which also leads to an inadequate absorption of nutrients as the digestive lining is unable to retain the essential compounds due to damage. This condition may also cause pain and lead to even further digestive issues.
Pain and inflammation is often reported by users and scientific studies have shown regular alcohol drinkers generally tend to have higher and more chronic pain tendencies.(1) On the flip side though, there have been some studies conducted to suggest that moderate alcohol intake may dampen pain sensations due to its psychoactive abilities which react on neurotransmitter systems within the body. These studies though have a long way to go in regard to learning how effective it truly is as a pain reliever. (2)
Alcohol is high in purines which creates uric acid in our bodies. This uric acid form crystals that are deposited in the joints and cause an acute inflammation. When too much of this acid builds up, this results in a type of arthritis called gout.
Depression is often a common cause for drinking as well as disorder suffered by those with alcohol dependence. Studies have shown a direct correlation between stressed individuals who use alcohol as a means of escape yet many results have further indicated that it is actually the regular consumption of alcohol that is increasing the risk of mood and mental disorders such as depression. (3)
Altered perceptions induced by alcohol have been attributed to poor decision-making processes, decreased motor skills, impaired cognitive function and perceptual alterations. (4)
Aggressive behaviour is often intertwined with excessive alcohol usage especially in those with underlying aggressive tendencies as it amplifies emotions.
Black outs or short-term memory loss are sometimes encountered by alcohol users as the alcohol inhibits neurotransmitter activity and disrupts hippocampal function.
High blood pressure is a common symptom from alcohol use and there are several different factors which may cause this. Some of these include excessive cortisol levels, an imbalance of minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium, central nervous system excitability and adrenal stimulation.
Liver and organ damage is high in alcohol intake as it promotes inflammation and cell death throughout the body. This also includes the brain where it causes neurodegeneration. The liver and digestive organs are the first line of defence and any toxins that infiltrate and promote inflammation, such as alcohol reduce the livers ability to aid in detoxification. Our liver is our inbuilt processing plant and increased cell damage to the liver from toxins may lead to further liver diseases.
Early ageing is something most people want to avoid, yet alcohol actually increases the ageing process both through cognitive decline (5) and also appearance. Alcohol causes dehydration resulting in less firm, plump and drier skin, it shortens telomere length and increases the likelihood of age related diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Now for the not so bad, yes it's not all bad!
Alcohol can be enjoyed - in moderation! I am a huge fan of the Mediterranean style of eating which also includes a a glass of wine (preferably red) to be enjoyed at a mealtime such as dinner. Mediterranean cultures savour their wine as much as their food, yet in Australia most drinking is done to excess, through binge drinking and without any mindfulness.
Enjoying a glass of red has been shown in various studies to help prevent heart disease due to the polyphenols, flavanoid content and antioxidants which reduce free radical damage throughout the body.
Some studies have suggested that small amounts of alcohol can reduce gall bladder issues, help lower the chance of diabetes and help raise high-density lipoprotein levels. More extensive studies are needed to further quantify the numbers conducted.
Then there are aperitif or digestives which are another Mediterranean custom where a small low alcoholic drink (preferably a herb based one) is beneficial in stimulating digestive juices and function thereby helping to break down food.
So in summary it is how and what we drink that matters, if you are going to drink alcohol, drink in moderation or not at all!
And just remember the risks far outweigh the benefits if you go to town on the alcohol!
Enjoy food x
If you do need to seek help please contact: