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Many people make up for over-indulging over the holidays by declaring “Dry January” — their intention to abstain from alcohol for the whole month. In a recent twist, some witty people — or maybe just more realistic people — are declaring it “Damp January.”
Either way, the sentiment is the same: it’s an awareness that more than a moderate amount of alcohol is just no good. The question then arises, exactly what is “a moderate of alcohol.” Writing for HuffPost.com Leigh Weingus says, “According to the most recent guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health, it’s considered safe for men to have up to two drinks per day, and for women to have up to one drink per day. There’s also some evidence that red wine can be good for your heart.”
That brings up an important point: alcohol has a different effect on different parts of your body. Weingus follows up on that point by setting out to “examine how alcohol can affect your heart, your weight, your liver and your risk of cancer.” If those factors got your attention, they should — over consumption of alcohol is a serious problem for millions of people. So, let’s see where Weingus’ examination led her.
It’s become a kind of folksy belief that alcohol in general and red wine in particular are good for the heart, with that belief arising after anecdotal evidence from the ‘90s that showed the French had a lower incidence of heart disease and higher intake of red wine. In fact, there are contradictory results from studies on the subject. Weingus points out, though, that medical experts agree on one thing: “We do know for sure that you want to avoid heavy alcohol consumption.” And that’s defined as more than one drink per day for women and more than one to two for men.
There are many reasons that consuming alcohol can lead to weight gain. First off, there’s the simple fact that alcoholic drinks generally have a lot of calories. A typical beer and a six-ounce glass of wine both have about 150 calories, two-ounces of hard liquor such as whiskey has about 130 calories and that’s not to mention the sugar and calories in a mixed drink.
But there’s far more to the story than calories. “Alcohol is mainly metabolized in the liver,” Weingus writes, “where fat is also metabolized” and, unfortunately, alcohol slows down the metabolism of fat. Making matters worse, over-indulging can lead to a vicious cycle where your sleep is disrupted, you wake with a hangover, which may prevent you from exercising properly, and you end of having a drink just to feel better. That’s almost a sure-fire recipe for weight gain.
This is one area where studies are pretty conclusive. Excess consumption of alcohol can definitely cause liver damage leading to diseases such cirrhosis, and can increase the risk of liver cancer.
A discussion of just how over-consumption of alcohol leads to an increased risk of cancer gets pretty complicated pretty quickly. Quoting a registered dietitian, Weingus says “breaking down of alcohol in you body produces acetaldehyde, which is a toxic chemical that can cause damage to your DNA and may cause cancer.” On a more basic level, alcohol affects how your body absorbs key nutrients like vitamins B, C and E. A lack of those vitamins is in turn associated with a higher risk of cancer.
So, examining the effects of alcohol on your body leads to a fairly straightforward conclusion: don’t drink or drink in moderation if you choose to drink at all.
Having a problem with over-consumption of alcohol? Give us a call — we can help.