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Is Your Drinking OK?

A simple enough question but the answer is often very blurred in response as more & more people seem to have lost grip on what constitutes a moderate level of alcohol consumption.  Our statistics in relation to alcohol consumption & binge drinking in NZ are fairly alarming and the normalisation of alcohol needs to change – its a legal drug that is more & more freely accessible (supermarkets!!) and is having a chilling effect of our healthcare system.  Has alcohol disturbingly become our accepted addiction?

As with most diseases & healthcare, the approach needs to shift from treatment to prevention.  We are all individually accountable for behaviour that puts us at higher risk of certain diseases & after all alcohol is a known carcinogenic so ‘why poke the bear’ right?  However it’s also society that needs to gather around and make a change, we got there with smoking so it’s well within our reach to sharpen up on the drinking culture.

As health professionals, our aim is to provide knowledge & information and in this case challenge you perhaps on where you think your level of  alcohol ‘normal’ is at?

Here’s a simple test if your not sure of your alcohol intake https://www.alcohol.org.nz/help-advice/is-your-drinking-ok/tool-is-your-drinking-okay

Mint’s nutritionist Jane has outlined below the health related impacts of alcohol consumption…just in time for a re-assessment before the silly season is upon us!

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol is often a central part of many people’s social life.  Having a healthy social life that helps us stay in contact with family and friends is vital to good health.  Alcohol helps us to unwind, relax, reduces anxiety, makes us feel more confident in social environments, and of course it can taste good.

When you’re out enjoying yourself, you’re probably not thinking about what alcohol is doing to your body.  Sure, you know it’s bad for you. But do you know why?

Brain

Alcohol affects our memory, by causing damage to the brain cells.  It also affects the release of our neurotransmitter’s dopamine and GABBA and other chemicals including endorphins.  Our GABBA and serotonin makes us feel relaxed and happy, but when they become overproduced then we get symptoms of shortness of breath, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and increased levels of both aggression and depression.  Endorphins are normally released upon rewarding actions, such as exercise, sexual activity, eating, etc. Too much endorphin release can cause depression, lower sex drive, low testosterone, infertility, and extreme fatigue.

Liver

A very important organ that is responsible for 500 jobs in the body!  These include removing toxins from your body, cholesterol and blood sugar regulation, fat and protein absorption, to name a few.  Alcohol hits the liver bad and when it impacts on its many vital roles, then the effects can be widespread throughout the body.

Stomach

Alcohol can make the stomach very acidic, leading to irritation and inflammation in the stomach.  This can cause damage to the stomach lining, which may result in ulcers or bleeding in the stomach.  This has a huge impact on our digestion, which can lead to many gut issues further down the tract, which then impacts on our ability to properly absorb all our vital nutrients.

Reproductive Hormones

Alcohol effects the way our sex hormones metabolising, putting us at risk of hormonal imbalances.  These imbalances can cause issues affecting fertility, libido, and estrogen driven cancers.

Pancreas

Excessive alcohol use can cause inflammation of the pancreas, which can lead to common cause of pancreatitis. Heavy drinking also impairs the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin, which impacts on the bodies ability to burn fat and build muscle as well as leading to diabetes.

Heart

Heavy drinking can be very hard on the heart. It causes cardiomyopathy, which is the stretching and drooping of heart muscle. It causes myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle, and it also causes arrhythmia, which is irregular heartbeat.  It can also increase your blood pressure and elevate your triglycerides (fat in the blood), which increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.

When does alcohol become a problem?

Alcohol consumption becomes a problem when we lose the ability to recognise what constitutes how much alcohol is safe drinking.  The latest research is suggesting that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.  As you can see the effects on the body is very wide spread – effecting every organ in the body.  Because it becomes toxin in the body, we cannot store it, so the body needs to remove it.  It takes about an hour for your liver to process one standard drink of alcohol.

Whats are standard drink?

So, what equals a standard drink?  A standard drink is one that contains 10 gms of alcohol

Here are some examples of what alcohol contains what

  • Spirits = 30mls
  • Wine = 100mls
  • Beer (3.5%) 330mls

That means if you have 3 drinks in one hour – you will need three hours to clear those drinks before your body can go back to its normal metabolic jobs.  This includes utilising fat, muscle growth and repairing and rejuvenation of all our cells to name a few.

The Take Home Message (that doesn’t come in a 6 pack!)

The simple take home message is … be mindful of your alcohol intake.

How about stepping outside your alcohol bubble & looking in – are you a responsible alcohol drinker?  How might your health be affected in the next 1, 5 or 10 years if nothing changes?

If you would like to make a change then Mint’s nutrition clinic is a good place to start for further help & support.

If your OK with your alcohol relationship, then a reminder to look after yourself,  keep a healthy life balance which includes exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress management + knowing yourself & your idea of happiness.