WEEK 34 (2023) – Is Alcohol Causing More Harm Than We Think?

Is Alcohol Causing More Harm Than We Think?

Alcohol is the most socially accepted drug, with the majority of people treating it as a normal part of adult social life. I personally have never had a great relationship with alcohol. I suffered awful hangovers as a teenager and in my 20s, often using it to overcome anxieties and (I hate to admit it) often drinking to excess. As I’ve grown older, I have reduced the amount I’ve been drinking, but more recently, I think I’ve come to the conclusion it might just not be for me.

Alcohol consumption has been an integral part of human culture for centuries, often playing a role in social gatherings, celebrations, and relaxation. While moderate alcohol consumption might not seem harmful, an increasing body of scientific evidence suggests that even small amounts of alcohol can have negative effects on human health.

For years, the concept of “moderate” alcohol consumption has been touted as relatively safe, mainly thanks to studies funded by the alcohol industry. Recent thinking suggests otherwise. Dr Daniel Amen, a top psychiatrist, claims people have the misconception that drinking alcohol in moderate amounts can be beneficial for their health. He likened drinking alcohol to having Stockholm Syndrome, where people ‘love it’ despite knowing it is bad for them.

Various health organisations have endorsed guidelines such as one glass of wine per day for women and up to two for men. However, recent research challenges this notion, revealing that even small amounts of alcohol can have significant health implications. Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman states, ‘To be clear, I am not opposed to healthy adults having a few drinks per week, but the data indicate that beyond 1-2 drinks per week (yes, per week), negative health effects set in.’

I don’t want to be a party pooper, and maybe the 43yo (mother) me is forgetting all the fun times I’ve had, but the more research I read, the more I believe it’s just not very good for you. The following negative side effects of alcohol make for a sobering read (mind the pun).

Alcohol is primarily metabolised in the liver, where it is broken down into compounds that can harm the liver cells. Regular alcohol consumption, even in small quantities, can lead to conditions like fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis. These conditions can disrupt the liver’s vital functions and potentially lead to irreversible damage.

Our Gut microbiome is also sensitive to alcohol consumption. Alcohol kills bacteria. It is indiscriminate with respect to which bacteria it kills, so when we ingest alcohol and it goes into our gut, it kills a lot of the healthy gut microbiota. This damage to the gut can lead to leaky gut, which then allows waste to travel into your bloodstream.

Even small amounts of alcohol can raise blood pressure, increase the risk of arrhythmias, and contribute to the development of cardiomyopathy – a condition that weakens the heart muscle.

Alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of various cancers, including those of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, liver, colon, and breast. The risk is not limited to heavy drinkers; even individuals who consume small quantities of alcohol face a higher likelihood of developing these cancers over time.

More recent research has been done about alcohol and the brain, both physically and mentally. This research goes beyond the usual health issues listed above and delves deeper into who we are and why we drink.

Recent studies have shown drinking 1-7 alcoholic drinks per week can cause brain shrinkage. It reduces blood flow to the brain, causing a significant impact on cognitive function. Even moderate consumption can impair memory, decision-making, and overall cognitive abilities. Long-term use can increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Regular alcohol consumption, irrespective of quantity, can lead to addiction and worsen mental health conditions. It is a depressant that can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and depression while also impairing the brain’s ability to cope with stress. While alcohol may help induce sleep initially, a key reason for some people to drink, it can lead to fragmented and poor-quality sleep, leaving individuals feeling fatigued and less rested, adding to stress and anxiety. Even small amounts of alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns.

Drinking can be fun and is a social lubricator, but the tide is slowly turning on its merits. Historically, it has been promoted as a necessity, with heavy peer group pressure to drink in social situations. Now, many fitness, health and wellbeing ‘insta’ personalities and eminent doctors in their field are shunning booze for a clearer and healthier lifestyle. More people are deliberately non-drinkers, and there are more options for alcohol-free drinks. All this is perhaps making alcohol fall out of fashion. Cheers with my zero-alcohol beer to that!

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Wishing you good health and happiness.

Warm regards,
Olivia Redfern

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