Alcohol and Health: Benefits and Risks

by Wendy Midgley, MEd, RD, LDN, CDE & Deb Brothers-Klezmer, BSN, RN-BC, CRRN, NCTMB

“Alcohol use can be a slippery slope. Moderate drinking suggests some health benefits. But heavy drinking can have serious consequences.”   –Mayo Clinic Newsletter–

Wine, beer and “drink” are part of the fabric  and social structure of our global world:  a big part of celebrations such as weddings, congratulatory events of all sorts, and sometimes called “a social lubricant.”  There is a light-heartedness portrayed in the camaraderie of  sharing ‘a drink’.  We may also experience great beauty and well-being, in walking through vineyards filled with sweet-scented grapes.  Even holy texts refer to wine:  its uses and its meanings.

Alcohol is here to stay.  However, it is wise to know both benefits and risks, and possible ‘dark sides’,  such as serious addiction.   Like so many things in life–genetics,  body type, personality traits, and psychological make-up–all have a role in how alcohol effects each person.    For one person,  1 glass of wine may be the perfect addition to a delicious meal,  or the solution to being a better dancer!  To someone else, it could mean the beginning of a drinking spree and the practice of dangerous behaviors with serious consequences.

In this BLOG article, we begin with the history of alcohol.  Medical, nutrition, health and disease aspects will be covered.  Pros/Benefits and Cons/Risks will be reviewed.   Tips to Consider are at the conclusion.

HISTORY:  Alcoholic beverages have been part of humanity since all of recorded history and likely before that.   We can imagine ancient people noticing that certain drinks and foods brought pleasant mind-altering effects!  Gradually, humanity learned to create fermented items on purpose.  Alcoholic beverages became part of world-wide cultures:  for celebrating, socializing,  and for rituals–including religious ones.

Most authorities agree that planned fermentation first existed very early in the cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia.  There is a general consensus that beer was the first freely available alcohol. (Rudgely, 1994)

“While no one knows exactly when beverage alcohol was first used, it was presumably the result of a fortuitous accident that occurred at least tens of thousands of years ago. However, the discovery of late Stone Age beer jugs has established the fact that intentionally fermented beverages existed at least as early as the Neolithic period (cir. 10,000 B.C.)”   (see SIRC-References)

Wine became the primary alcoholic beverage in much of Europe from first century AD on.  Distilled spirits in Europe appear to have come much later, with significant production not taking place in Europe until the twelfth century.

***FERMENTATION definition:  The production of an alcoholic beverage requires only the presence of a very simple organic process – by which sugar is transformed by the action of yeast to produce ethyl alcohol. Sugars, in forms of glucose, fructose, maltose and lactose are obtained from honey, fruits, sprouting grains and even milk.  (SIRC reference)

ALCOHOLs include chemical substances whose names end in –’ol’.    

Ethanol, (ethyl alcohol, “etoh”)  This is less toxic than others, and the form we drink.  Other forms include: methanol (wood alcohol) which is highly TOXIC if imbibed) and rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol).

–Sugar alcohols are used to sweeten foods. These are safe and NOT intoxicants–but in some people–can cause gas, abdominal discomfort, loose stools, nausea, and  general gastrointestinal distress. 

Common sugar alcohols include mannitol and sorbitol.   They are often used in “diet candy”, “protein bars,”  protein powders, and some sugar-free chewing gums.  Xylitol is also a sweetener used in chewing gum.   Erythritol is sometimes combined with Stevia to use as a sugar substitute.

Sugar alcohols have about 1/2 the calories of regular sugars and are known for NOT raising blood sugars appreciably.  Thus they are good for diabetics (but still may cause gastrointestinal distress.)

TODAY’s ALCOHOLIC DRINKS:  include wines, beer, malt beverages, spiked lemonades and teas, liqueurs, mead (made from honey), and  hard liquors like vodka, whiskey, Scotch, rum,  gin, tequila, as well as  “mixed drinks.”    Some are quite high in calories.

WHAT IS 1 SERVING of an ALCOHOLIC Beverage?:

  • 1 drink contains ~½ oz. (.6 oz.) or ~ 14 grams of pure alcohol, OR 1.2 Tablespoons pure alcohol.   (NIH (USA) standards for 1 drink)

Equivalents for this amount include:

  • 12 oz beer    (~150 calories;  100 calories if Lite beer)
  • 5 oz wine     (120-125 calories)
  • 10 oz wine cooler  (170-195 calories)
  • 1.5 oz (1 shot) hard liquor (1 jigger)  (~110 calories)

Calories:  14 grams of alcohol  x 7 calories per gram of alcohol = 98 calories from 14 grams of alcohol; plus whatever other calorie sources are present. Wine and beer have carbohydrates as well, so the total calorie count is ~120 or 125 calories  for a 5 oz glass wine,   and ~150 calories for 12 oz regular beer. Hard liquors do not contain sugar calories–all calories are from alcohol. Mixed drinks are a combination of alcohol, sugar, sometimes fruit juices, sugary sodas (colas or ginger ale) milk, and creams–and can be quite HIGH in CALORIES!

Alcohol Content of Common Beverages:

The alcohol percentage in common alcoholic beverages is:  5% most beers, 13-15% in winesMalt beverages (including fruity flavors)–5-10% ethanol. Whiskey, vodka, rum and brandy are ~50% alcohol.  (50% alcohol = 100 Proof).

METABOLIC break-down time of alcohol: The average time it takes the body to process, metabolize, and rid itself of the alcohol for 1 standard drink is approximately 1 hour. Additional alcohol will accumulate in the blood and body tissues until it can be metabolized.  High blood alcohol concentrations can last for several hours.  Weight, height, age, health and medical issues also are factors.***  (Brown University Health Services.)

INDIVIDUAL TOLERANCES and GENETICS:

Women  have a lower tolerance than menWHY?

  1. Men have more lean tissue and a greater blood volume in which to dilute a given amount of alcohol.   In women, the same amount of alcohol becomes more concentrated.
  2. Women also have lower levels of  the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) which breaks down alcohol in their stomachs, so they absorb more alcohol per drink than men do,  of the same weight.
  • Asian or Native Americans have a lower tolerance than Caucasians.
  • Black men tend to have a lower alcoholism rate than white men; but have higher medical consequences when alcohol is an issue
  • There is a higher rate of alcoholism in North America than in Europe

MORE FACTS about ALCOHOL:  (textbook NUTRITION: Concepts and Controversies by Sizer and Whitney)

  • Americans: ~6-10% of total calories are from alcohol. 
  • Moderate drinkers suffer far fewer issues (as well as some benefits) compared to  heavy drinkers.
  • 1/3 of US college students have consumed alcohol in BINGE patterns. (90% deny this).
  • 30% of all binge drinkers are 18-25 yrs old, largely white men.
  • Small amounts of alcohol may offer possible benefits, such as relaxation and cardiovascular benefits; but we have to weigh the pros and cons. (more coming on this)
  • Alcohol can promote weight gain. Alcohol provides 7 calories/gram. (carbohydrates: 4 calories/gram; proteins: 4 calories/gm; fats: 9 calories/gm.).   Not only does alcohol provide extra calories; but it may also interfere with normal metabolic processes and displace healthier food items in the diet.  Extra alcohol calories seem to promote fat deposition in the abdominal area.  “Belly fat”  or “central obesity”, also called  “bad fat,” is associated with increased rate of diabetes and heart disease.
  • Alcohol is a psychoactive, mood-altering drug.  It can produce ‘euphoria’—(when taken in small amounts)
  • It is a DEPRESSANT to the nervous system, even though many consider it a social stimulant or relaxant.   Alcohol may help people put issues “on the back burner,” but in the end,  it is a depressant.
  • It is a TOXIN–an “intoxicant” in excess. The liver must clear it—and can only clear so much at a time. Brain, heart,  and other organs are affected.
  • Too much alcohol DEHYDRATES the tissues.
  • Excess chronic alcohol intake is associated with malnutrition and loss of vital minerals such as magnesium, potassium, zinc and Vitamins A, C and B vitamins B12,  folic acid, thiamine, and niacin.  Chronic alcoholics can develop severe diseases of malnutrition such as scurvy (total lack of Vitamin C), night blindness, pellagra (niacin deficiency),  and Protein-Calorie Malnutrition (PCM) starvation syndrome.  Intestinal linings in alcoholics are often inflamed, making proper absorption of nutrients difficult.

       ***Alcohol abuse disrupts every tissue’s metabolism of nutrients.***

  • Alcohol denatures cell’s protein structures inside the cell (once its inside the cell, it can kill the cell).
  • Some alcohols kill microbial cells—so, is useful as disinfectants, antiseptics

SOME HEALTH and MEDICAL FINDINGS (overview): 

  • Categories of drinking alcohol range from: abstainers to light-moderate (or social) to heavy chronic drinkers and/or bingers.
  • Mild to Moderate drinking MAY be associated with the following benefits: anti-atherogenic (anti-plaque formation in the arteries), improved cholesterol profiles, improved clotting function, improved insulin sensitivity, lower stroke risk, and lower dementia development and progression rate.
  • Heavy chronic drinking is often associated withhypertension, increased hemorrhagic stroke, certain cancers and numerous medical problems, faster cognitive and memory decline, numerous psychosocial issues, accidents,  and risky behaviors.

Longevity

MODERATE drinkers tend to live longer than those who either totally abstain OR those who drink heavily (study findings may vary.)

***Longevity benefits are likely associated with cardiovascular effects and relaxation.***

  • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports: lowest death rate from all causes occurs at level of 1-2  drinks per day.
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation (1-2 drinks/day for women,  2-4 for men)* was found to reduce risk of mortality significantly according to meta-analysis of 34 studies of alcohol and total mortality among 1,015,835 men and women around the world.  http://www2.potsdam.edu/alcohol/AlcoholAndHealth.html

*The US Food and Drug Administration’s Rule of Thumb for safe drinking:  up to 1 drink/day women, up to 2/day men.*

  • In moderation, modest alcohol intake (FDA’s guidelines) reduces inhibitions, eases social interactions, and produces feelings of euphoria.   Enough to elevate one’s mood without incurring long-term health damage.
  •  EXCESS alcohol impedes social interaction, goes past euphoria,  can lead to dangerous behaviors, and create health problems.

***ALL social drinking: including both alcoholic and NON-alcoholic drinks– may ease social unease to some extent by setting a different tone and opening up a conversation.  For example, this could happen with a cup of coffee or tea (for some folks)–not just alcohol.  Having social connections is a predictive factor in longevity.***

“Moderate drinking” seems to provide more benefits for the MIDDLE AGE group, over age 35,  re: lower risks heart attacks, stroke, dementia, diabetes and osteoporosis.   There are increased risks of death for young folks (in their 20’s), even for “light drinkers”–compared to the middle age group.  The elderly also cannot handle alcohol as well–due to high intake of medications, as well as aging liver and organs not working as well.

Problem Drinkers and Alcoholism (Addiction)

“Problem drinkers” include those who drink alcohol daily or chronically (in unsafe amounts), and/or they may be “bingers.”   They may engage in irrational and dangerous behaviors when drinking too much, including:  out-of-control driving, violence, arguments, relationship issues, and risky sexual behaviors, They are more likely to suffer psychological issues such as depression and low self-esteem, physical illness, and malnutrition. For some, it is simply too difficult to “drink in moderation”.   Physical, mental, emotional, and psychological addiction to alcohol is an issue.

Binge Drinking Definition:  at least 4 drinks in a row for women, 5 or more drinks in a row for men. Typically occurs in young adults, like college students.   Some have 8-10 drinks in a row. VERY Dangerous.   Some drinks have caffeine added as well!  Not good! Caffeine does NOT  “X-out” the alcohol.  It still takes the same amount of time for alcohol to get out of one’s system.

***PROGRESS:   Binging and heavy alcohol use rates in persons aged 12-20 years fell from 19.3% to 15.3% and 6.2% to 4.3%, respectively, between 2002 and 2012..***   http://www.medscape.com/features/slideshow/alcohol-and-the-brain?src=wnl_edit_specol&uac=201775CZ

NOTE:  With heavy drinking, the body can’t keep up metabolizing alcohol at the average break-down rate of 1 drink  per 1 hour.   Alcohol can still be in the system well into “the day after”–especially when large quantities consumed.   Drinking too many,  too quickly can result in DEATH, if a person passes out with too much in the system.  (Alcohol’s effects continue to accelerate after a person has gone to sleep. Death is due to anesthetization in deepest brain centers that control breathing and heartbeat.  A person usually passes out before reaching a lethal dose—fortunately.)

***Alcohol and Accidents:  Alcohol is involved in  ~20 % all boating accidents, 23 % all suicides; 39 % traffic fatalities; 40% residential fire fatalities; 47% homicides; 65% all domestic violence incidents.***

ALCOHOL’s JOURNEY Through the Body:

  •  Alcohol Enters the Body through the mouth and travels down the esophagus.
  • Tiny alcohol molecules can go right through the stomach walls.
  • These molecules reach the brain within a minute.
  • Excess alcohol with no food in stomach–can trigger vomiting.
  • With food: more alcohol enters the small intestines and more is absorbed there.

***Food slows downs alcohol’s entry into the brain. With food in the stomach–a stomach enzyme destroys some of the alcohol. But whether food is there or not, it is still rapidly absorbed in the small intestine.***

***Approximately 20% of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and most of the remaining 80% is absorbed through the small intestine.*** (Brown University Health Services–hand-out on Alcohol Education)   

***~10% of alcohol is not metabolized:  5 % is released through the breath and 5 % goes out in the urine.     The Breathalyzer test is fairly accurate in figuring out the degree of intoxication.***

  • If a person drinks slowly enough, alcohol will be collected by the liver after absorption and processed without as much effect on other parts of the body.
  • If a person drinks more rapidly–some of the alcohol bypasses the liver and flows for a while through the rest of the body and the brain.
  • In the brain, alcohol depresses anti-diuretic hormone and so urination is increased.
  • With increased urination,  excess fluids and valuable minerals are lost in the urinemagnesium, potassium calcium and zinc–which are important for fluid balance and nerve and muscle coordination.
  • Alcohol also DEHYDRATES the tissues.

***Loss of body water leads to THIRST.  One SHOULD DRINK WATER as a RESPONSE to drinking alcohol,  and to the sensation of THIRST.  i.e. don’t just drink another alcoholic drink if one is thirsty!!***   

***RULE of THUMB: Consume 8 oz of water for each alcoholic drink. Drink the water in-between the drinks. Don’t save it up to drink all at once.”

  **WATER: THE ONLY FLUID To REALLY RELIEVE DEHYDRATION**     

  • Next in the alcohol journey: Alcohol arrives in the brain.   People become more uninhibited.  Alcohol sedates inhibitory nerves—allowing excitatory nerves to take over. A TEMPORARY effect.
  • BRAIN CONSEQUENCES:    In even moderate drinking: some working brain tissue shrinks.  Addicts are more prone to brain hemorrhages, stroke,  and to toxins invading cells.  Free radicals are released in oxidation– causing INFLAMMATION.   Abstinence–with good Nutrition–may reverse some brain damage.  For long-term heavy drinkers:  recovery is not guaranteed.  Severe harm may occur in vision, memory, learning, reasoning speech, other brain functions.
  • Alcohol arrives in the Liver–via capillaries from the digestive system, which merge into veins which travel to the liver.

***The LIVER is the site of most of the body’s alcohol processing machinery.  The LIVER detoxes alcohol and other toxins before it gets to the brain and heart.  ALCOHOL is one of the body’s highest priorities for breakdown.  Toxic alcohol CANNOT be stored in body tissues without it first being converted to something safe.

REMINDER: The liver can process  only ~1/2 oz (~.6 oz, or “1 drink”) per hour–depending on body size, male/female, alcohol history, food intake, general health.  The liver’s maximum rate of alcohol clearance CANNOT be accelerated.  Only TIME restores sobriety. 

Coffee does NOT help (it just creates “a wide awake drunk”).   Walking doesn’t clear it because muscles cannot metabolize alcohol.  Aspirin, tranquilizers, drinking more alcohol breathing pure oxygen, exercising and/or drinking miracle cures are pretty much useless.

Yes, drinking more water may help to speed things along–re: re-hydrating the body’s tissues; but for sobriety, TIME is the cure. 

  • The liver’s enzyme: ADH (alcohol dehydrogenase) removes hydrogen ions from alcohol to break it down.
  • ADH converts ~80% of the alcohol to acetaldehyde—the major breakdown product of alcohol.   (Other enzymes are involved, too).   Additional ADH works on the acetaldehyde to break it down into acetate and free radicals.  Acetate is used for energy or changed into FAT and stored. Free radicals increase oxidative stress: a condition linked with inflammation and the development of cancer, diabetes,  liver damage, and other organ damages

***The maximum amount of alcohol a person’s body can process is limited by the amounts of alcohol ADH in the liver. If too much alcohol arrives at once, the extra alcohol circulates again and again through the brain, liver, and other organs until enzymes are available to degrade it.***

ALCOHOL’s BURDEN on the LIVER:

  • The liver does its best to handle small-moderate amounts of alcohol being filtered through it (beyond the numerous other functions it serves).
  • Excessive amounts of alcohol put a special burden on the liver.
  • FATTY LIVER is more common in those who drink excessively.  The 1st stage of liver deterioration. (FATTY LIVER also can happen in cases of excess calories and obesity.)
  • FIBROSIS, the formation of scar tissue,  is 2nd stage deterioration.  Both fatty liver and fibrosis have possibilities of reversibility with good nutrition and abstinence.
  • CIRRHOSIS:  Stage 3 liver deterioration.  In cirrhosis, the liver cells harden, turn orange and die, losing its function forever.  It may take 10-20 years for cirrhosis to develop–the cumulative effects of frequent episodes of drinking.

Alcohol Breakdown in the Stomach

  • Stomach walls also produce ADH. Some alcohol is broken down in the stomach by ADH before reaching the bloodstream.

Hangovers, what are they?

  • A hangover is a mild form of drug withdrawal.   “The DTs” are hangovers in their worst form (e.g.,  in chronic alcoholics who go “cold turkey.”)  Hangovers depress mood, disrupt sleep, cause fatigue, increase anxiety, reduce cognitive ability, and reduce one’s ability to deal with stress.
  • Congeners:  are other ingredients in the drink besides alcohol—that account for some physiological reactions.  They affect taste and appetite AND contribute toxic hangover effects.
  • Dehydration of the Brain: Alcohol decreases water content of brain cells. When they RE-HYDRATE the next day to normal size–this swelling results in nerve pain. HEADACHES!
  • Formaldehyde and Methanol:  Formaldehyde arises from methanol, which is produced in tiny amounts in normal metabolic processes in the cells.   The same enzymes that break down ethanol (drinking alcohol) work on these.  But enzymes will work on ethanol first.   Formaldehyde also builds up until the body is done clearing alcohol; formaldehyde also contributes to hang-over.

SUMMARY: LONG-TERM EFFECT of ALCOHOL ABUSE

  • Bladder, kidney, pancreas and prostate damage
  • Bone deterioration and osteoporosis
  • Brain damage, central nervous system (CNS) damage, stroke–Alcohol, acetaldehyde and free radicals adversely affect brain tissues.
  • Deterioration of testicles and adrenal glands
  • Diabetes (type 2)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Increased blood lipids (fats) such as triglycerides.  It also may increase the “good cholesterol” called HDL–but it is not recommended that one start drinking to achieve this effect.
  • Disease of the muscles of the heart;  bloated heart muscle possible
  • Feminization and sexual impotence in men
  • Impaired immune response
  • Increased ACID burden to the whole body–which sets the stage for many diseases.
  • Interferes with normal uric acid metabolism–thus promoting GOUT
  • Increases infertility, miscarriages,  birth defects such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (mental retardation, facial deformities, physical issues.)  May suppress male reproductive hormone testosterone–leading to decreases in muscle and bone tissue.
  • Impaired memory–Eventually, mental function remains impaired– even between drinking bouts.
  • Daily alcohol intake is a cancer-promoting substance for humans.  Even moderate drinking increases chances of developing cancers of throat, breast, colon, rectum, esophagus,  liver, mouth,  pancreas, prostate,  and stomach.  Once cancer has been detected–alcohol speeds up the process/progression.

NOTES:  Smoking + drinking greatly increases the risk of developing lung cancer. Acetaldehyde + free radicals (break-down products of alcohol) may contribute to cancer risk.  Urethane is a substance often found in alcoholic beverages–known to cause cancer in animals.

****Breast cancer and wine:  All colors of wine–red and white–when consumed in excess, can increase risk for breast cancer.***

***Beer: Alcohol may act together with other compounds formed during brewing to promote cancer formation.***

  • Balance issues
  • Skeletal muscle impairment
  • Increased risks of death from all causes
  • Major psychological depression, possibly caused by alcohol
  • Malnutrition
  • Nonviral hepatitis
  • Skin rashes and sores, poor complexion
  • Ulcers and Inflammation of the Stomach and Intestines

 SUMMARY: Who Should NEVER drink alcohol?  The following groups:

  • 1. Those who CANNOT restrict to moderate levels
  • 2. Anyone under legal drinking age; age can vary in different states, countries.
  • 3. Women who are pregnant,  or might be.  The fetus takes the same drink the mother takes in minutes.  High alcohol intakes during pregnancy are associated with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) , characterized by mental retardation, facial deformities, and physical alterations in the body.
  • 4. Breastfeeding: Use Caution.  Best to avoid.  But if choosing to have an alcoholic beverage: Leave 2+ hours after 1 alcoholic drink before next breast-feeding. Alcohol enters breast milk freely.  The peak level in milk is likely to occur ~1 hour after consumption.   Alcohol leaves the milk compartment as the mother’s blood alcohol levels drop.  Discard any breast milk that was pumped if too close to an alcoholic drink.  An alternative is to pump alcohol-free breast-milk ahead of consuming 1 alcoholic drink–and store appropriately.
  • 5. Medications that interact with alcohol (which are many).  Some include:  antihistamines, sedatives and tranquilizers, sleeping pills, opiates, many anti-diabetic and heart medications, aspirin and ibuprofen–which are gastric irritants (as is alcohol), and illegal drugs such as cocaine and hallucinogens.  Many common OTC cold and flu medications contain ingredients that may interact with alcohol.   Check with your pharmacist or MD regarding these concerns.  When in doubt simply AVOID alcohol if taking medications.    
  • 6. Some medical conditions (e.g:  liver disease, high blood lipids, pancreatitis)
  • 7. People who plan to drive, operate machinery, or participate in activities where attention and judgment are needed
  • 8. Individuals who just don’t tolerate it physically: e.g. “allergy, ”  gastric distress, or inability to break it down in the body.

SUMMARY: BENEFITS vs Risks

                ***RISKS OUTWEIGH BENEFITS MANY TIMES OVER.***

  • Moderate drinkers: 1-2 drinks/day (1 for women; up to 2 for men)  may benefit the HEART and RELAXATION.  More than this:   INCREASES risk of cardiovascular disease.

“While research shows that having about seven alcoholic beverages per week lowers your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, abstaining all week only to guzzle five or six glasses in a single sitting negates any of alcohol’s potential health benefits.”

http://www.prevention.com/health/healthy-living/binge-drinking-how-tell-if-you-have-alcohol-problem/you-re-weekend-warrior   “Six Sneaky Signs You Drink Too Much” by Holly C. Corbett

  • Young people don’t benefit from any alcohol.  It raises risks of dying early: from accidents; and affects heart health in young women.
  • Optimum brain functioning may be affected for those who start drinking at age 14 or younger.  (Bret S. Stetka reference)
  • There are greater risks for breast cancer in younger women who drink alcohol regularly.
  • Some alcohol, like red wine (including other alcohols in some studies) may increase “good cholesterol” (HDL).  But advice is: don’t encourage someone to drink– “just to raise their HDLs.” 

Is WINE better for health than other forms of alcohol?

  • Red wine is believed to have some anti-oxidant effects due to the pigments in the purple grapes.  Positive News: Wine, especially red wine, contains phytochemicals: which may help reduce risk of heart disease or cancers of the colon or rectum. Purple grapes and purple grape juice–non-alcoholic–would

     also provide what red wine provides!    

  • Grape juice and red wine may also be higher in potassium–a heart healthy mineral.  Some white wines may be of benefit; but they are not thought to have as strong an effect as red wines.
  • Some experts say ANY form of alcohol (not just wine), in small amounts, may be of benefit  to the cardiovascular system–due to the RELAXATION effect on the body.
  • Positive news: Some studies show that moderate drinkers may suffer less age-related decline of mental function than abstainers or heavy drinkers.
  • Moderate use of alcohol MAY improve morale and stimulate social interaction and promote restful sleep in the elderly, in nursing homes.  Some nursing homes provide wine or beer (in monitored safe amounts)to individual patients, as well as in controlled social settings and celebrations.  It is thought that modest amounts of wine can provide greater self-esteem in these elderly patients who (if they choose it) drink moderate amounts.   There are reports that having monitored amounts of wine/alcohol available can improve patient and staff relations in nursing homes.  In SOME elderly: the positive effects of wine may actually help sleep and alleviate some chronic fatigue. (in others,  it may interfere deleteriously with medications and sleep patterns).
  • UNFAVORABLE news: Alcohol in large amounts may raise blood pressure.  Grape juice, red grapes, non-alcoholic wine would be a better choice.
  • More unfavorable news: Wine really delivers only a small amount of phytochemicals as compared to a healthy diet containing onions, all kinds of berries, green veggies.
  • Mixed news: Improved cognition among older people may be due to social, economic,  and educational advantages: –not the alcohol itself.

Does Alcohol Improve Appetite?

  • SOME sources say drinking alcohol reduces appetite due to rendering people unaware if they are hungry or not!!   However, many individuals we work with describe how they “eat too much” when they are drinking–and that they “could care less about following their diets!”  (i.e., they eat food items–and larger amounts–they might normally say NO to. )
  • For elderly people who can’t eat much: a small glass of wine 20 minutes before a meal MAY INCREASE appetite by relaxing the body and gastrointestinal tract. The same idea may be true for the undernourished,  and for people with severely depressed appetites.

CAUTION is always advised in suggesting alcohol intake in people who are otherwise non-drinkers.

TIPS to CONSIDER:

  • Some practitioners, such as Mark Hyman, MD recommend no more than 3 alcoholic beverages per week. This frequency gives the liver a chance to recover!
  • If you or a family member feel they may have a drinking problem, or are relying on alcohol too much–seek professional help. Discuss drinking concerns with your health care provider,  and/or see a therapist who specializes in this field,  and/or consider going to meetings such as AA.  (SEE Websites under REFERENCES.)  OR: check out one of these assessment sites:  http://www.lastingrecovery.com/ss_womens_drinking.html

http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/WhatsTheHarm/WhatAreSymptomsOfAnAlcoholUseDisorder.asp

  • If alcohol has been a coping mechanism for stress: practice other ways to cope for the short and long-term.

***Increase your physical activity, practice relaxation modalities and breathing techniques, eat better in general, get plenty of sleep. ***

***Create some tasty healthy beverages and have good mineral waters available. ***

***ANY SERIOUS DETOX should be under an MD’s supervision.***

***Remember:  the social effects of CONNECTIVITY may be more important than alcohol!  i.e, Maybe a cup of tea or coffee,  or a glass of mineral water–could be the “social lubricant!”

The Final Word: If you drink, do so safely in moderation. If you are not a drinker, don’t begin!

***”The debate still simmers today, with a lively back-and-forth over whether alcohol is good for you or bad for you!” *** http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/alcohol-full-story/

 

To your good health!

Deb and Wendy

The Wellness Shifter Ladies!

 

REFERENCES:

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