The good and the bad of alcohol

First the good of alcohol — it is kind of sparse, but there can be some benefits if you stretch it a bit. However, Live Science does report some marginal benefits to drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, notwithstanding the calorie load and the emptiness of those calories.

One gram of alcohol has 7 calories, second only to fat (9 cal/gram) in caloric count. Protein and carbohydrates have each about 4 calories per gram. You don’t have to be a math whiz to figure out that alcohol can really put on the weight and not add anything to your nutrition (There are about 30 grams in an ounce).

Studies reported by Live Science have shown that alcohol can reduce blood pressure when taken in small moderate dosages. However, it can also cause high blood pressure when consumed to excess. Red wine can lower cholesterol levels but so can exercise and abstaining from fatty foods.

Because alcohol can help clear fat from the arteries when consumed in small amounts, it can help prevent both heart disease and ischemic stroke.

However, because alcohol “thins” the blood, it can make the impact of a hemorrhagic stroke worse. Exercise and eating healthily can also reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, while you are burning unwanted calories instead of taking them in.

Alcohol can help people fall asleep, but the quality of sleep is inferior because it interferes with REM sleep which is the most restful sleep phase. Alcohol is a diuretic so it leads to dehydration rapidly, especially when beer is overconsumed and the individual is already warm. It also interferes with medications, especially those processed by the liver. The liver processes alcohol quickly and to exclusion of other substances, which can interfere with the timing of medications.

Some believe that alcohol enhances social behavior, because it is a psychotropic. Unfortunately this means that some people become more sociable and pleasant after a drink or two, while others react in the opposite way.

So much for the “benefits,” now on to some very real and serious downsides of alcohol consumption.

Aside from the obvious, alcoholism, disrupted family life, poor financial management and other social issues surrounding overuse of alcohol, recent research reported in the journal Addiction and also noted on the Live Science website has found strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites in the body.

The evidence states a causal relationship between alcohol and cancer of the throat, the larynx, the esophagus, the liver, the colon, the rectum and the female breast. Live Science writers stated that the reason that cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and liver are caused by alcohol is that one of the first breakdown products of alcohol is acetaldehyde which causes DNA damage to those tissues.

The link between alcohol and female breast cancer may be that it causes an increase in estrogen which is linked to an increase in breast cancer rates. It is stated that there is also emerging evidence suggesting a strong association between alcohol and other cancers, among them being, cancer of the prostate, pancreas and melanoma.

The studies indicate that the more alcohol an individual drinks, the higher the cancer risk becomes for the seven noted cancers.

One of the limitations to the study was that it relied on studies which analyzed self-reports of drinking and it is very common for people to under report how much alcohol they actually consume.

The U.S. has the highest declared “safe” daily drinking limit of up to three drinks per day for women and up to four drinks per day for men with a weekly upper limit of seven drinks for women and up to 14 for men. A large glass of wine is considered two drinks. Other countries state an upper safety limit of one drink per day for women and two for men as well as abstaining for several days a week to lower the risk rate.

Doesn’t seem like much of an upside, does it? Please, for your own sake and the sake and safety of those around you, drink responsibly.

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Jane Riley is a certified personal trainer, adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com or (808) 212-8119 and www.janerileyfitness.com

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