Have you ever heard the expression; “everything in moderation”? We tend to forget that these clichés often contain a lot of wisdom. Most of us believe that moderating our alcohol consumption is the best way to balance fun and leisure with our long- term health. Contrary to popular belief, conservative amounts of alcohol may actually be quite beneficial for our physical and mental health.
In many Mediterranean cultures, families will regularly enjoy a glass of red wine with their meal. Many regions of Italy are widely known for their unusually high life expectancy. Recent scientific evidence indicates that this phenomenon is mostly dietary. Studies indicate that the polyphones in anti-oxidant rich wines likely protect the lining of the heart’s major blood vessels. After all these vessels are constantly under tremendous pressure to maintain the entire body’s blood flow. Furthermore, wine is a rich source of resveratrol; a polyphenol which reduces bad cholesterol. Since cholesterol collects in the wall tissue of blood vessels, resveratrol may be extremely effective in protecting the bloodstream.
Reputable medical institutions, including a research team from Harvard, believe that moderate alcohol intake will likely improve your cardiovascular health over the long term. Furthermore, there is already substantial evidence that proves the health benefits of the amino acids in red wine. However, this doesn’t negate the elevated risk of colon and breast cancer levels that have been attributed with such drinking habits.
Health benefits of alcohol
Very moderate amounts of alcohol (around half a standard drink per day) may provide health benefits to some middle-aged or older people by reducing the risk of some types of cardiovascular disease. But this is not meant to encourage those who don’t drink to take up drinking just to get some health benefits.
The same health benefits do not extend to younger people. Drinking alcohol can affect how the brain develops in people under the age of 25. Teenagers under 15 years of age are particularly at risk.
Effects of alcohol on health
Alcohol affects a number of functions in our body, including:
- Cardiovascular system – alcohol raises our blood pressure and triglycerides (especially after binge drinking), causing damage to the heart muscles and increasing chances of stroke
- Nervous system – alcohol is a depressant that can affect your coordination, self-control, judgement and reaction times. Too much can lead to brain damage, tremors, dementia and nerve damage
- Gastrointestinal system – alcohol overconsumption is linked to stomach inflammation (gastritis) and bleeding
- Liver – too much alcohol can lead to hepatitis (inflammation), fatty changes, cirrhosis and liver failure
- Endocrine system – problems controlling blood sugar, loss of libido and reduced fertility
- Nutrition – malnutrition (alcohol displaces the nutrients from your body) and obesity
- Breast cancer and other gynaelogical problems – women who drink alcohol are at a higher risk than non-drinking women
The dangers of binge drinking
Binge drinking is used to describe drinking heavily over a short period of time with the intention of becoming intoxicated. Unfortunately, this is becoming an increasingly common trend among young Australians.
The resulting immediate and severe intoxication can be extremely harmful to our health and wellbeing, causing confusion, blurred vision, poor muscle control, nausea, vomiting, sleep, coma or even death. It can impai our judgement and capacity to make dcecisions, putting the person at risk or in dangerous situations.
Alcohol guidelines for reducing the health risks of alcohol
Alcohol plays a complex role in Australian society. Many Australians drink alcohol for enjoyment, relaxation and sociability, and do so at levels that cause few negative effects.
But a substantial proportion of people drink at levels that increase their risk of alcohol-related harm. For some, it’s a cause of ill health and hardship. Alcohol-related harm to health affects not just the drinkers, but also their families, bystanders, and the broader community.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NMRH) proposed the alcohol drinking guidelines below to help us make an informed choice when drinking alcohol to reduce our health risks.
- For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
- For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.
- For children and young people under 18 years of age, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.
- For young people aged 15−17 years, the safest option is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible.
- For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option.
- For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.
We hope this has helped you consider how your relationship or habits with alcohol is influencing your health.
Remember that if you drink, the safest option is always to NOT drive. Be sure to also check your workplace’s guidelines on alcohol in the workplace, and remember that if you’ve been drinking the night before, there’s still a chance that there may be alcohol in your system the morning after.