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Cheers and Tears

There are numerous studies suggesting moderate alcohol consumption can have protective benefits against heart disease by raising HDL (good) cholesterol and reducing plaque accumulation in the arteries. Currently, an official safe amount of alcohol does not exist yet most studies suggest one drink or less daily. Unfortunately, the average person consuming alcohol does not stop at one drink per day.

A drink is considered to be 12 oz. of beer or 5 oz. of wine or 1.5 oz. of 80-proof distilled spirits. Drinking more than 3 drinks per day or drinking heavily at one time has direct toxic effects on the body.

Ethanol (alcohol) is metabolized by the liver and converted to an aldehyde product that is believed to be responsible for the harmful effects to the body. The process results in the production of free radicals that can further damage the heart, the liver and many other systems. This can lead to hypertension, cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, stroke, fatty infiltration of the liver, inflammation, cirrhosis and immunosuppression. In addition, food cravings often occur while consuming alcohol, as the body enters a state of reactive hypoglycemia. The drop in blood sugar can lead to anxiety, dizziness, depression, visual disturbances and heart palpitations. A number of cancers of the mouth, throat, stomach, colon and breast have been linked to increased alcohol consumption.

Intake of alcohol can impair digestion and cause malabsorption of important nutrients. Alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and intestines into the bloodstream. Ethanol can damage the lining of the stomach, prevent the secretion of digestive enzymes from the pancreas and impair transport of the nutrients. Many nutritional deficiencies, especially vitamin B1, can result, leading to very serious health consequences.

Dehydration often occurs with alcohol consumption as alcohol is a diuretic, causing the increase of fluid loss from the body and potassium excretion. Thirst, muscle cramps, dizziness and faintness can result with alterations in potassium balance and water loss. Also, alterations in fluid and acid-base balance from alcohol consumption are important to monitor as increases in acid accumulate in the stomach with alcohol consumption contributes to changes in the acid-base balance. The pH of the body which refers to the homeostasis of all the fluids should remain alkaline (7.37 and 7.43). When the pH falls below 7, decreased organ function, respiratory depression and even death may result.

It is well known that alcohol can be addictive and it is often perceived to be a stimulant. Interestingly, it is actually classified as a general anesthetic and produces a depressive and desensitizing effect on the central nervous system. With continuous consumption, tolerance develops as the brain adapts to diminish the effect, while the liver increases its capability to metabolize alcohol more quickly. These changes in the body create what are known as high functioning alcoholics. Although large quantities of alcohol have been consumed motor control and cognitive function appear to be maintained while in this state. This level of functioning is not preserved during periods of withdrawal.

Alcohol is a psychoactive drug that affects both individual and social development. According to the World Health Organization, it results in 2.5 million deaths globally per year. It affects your senses, thoughts, emotions, behavior and it causes harm to the well-being and health of the people around you. An intoxicated person is at increased risk for violent behavior and risk of injury or death from a motor vehicle accident. MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Canada estimates that there are 1,350-1,600 impaired crash fatalities in Canada each year (3.7-4.4 deaths per day) from motor vehicle and boating accidents and approximately 73,120 injuries from impaired driving crashes (roughly 200 per day). The harmful impact of alcohol is more than an individual concern; it affects society as a whole.

Many people associate their alcohol consumption with social activities and rarely does this consist of a single drink. As of May 1, 2009 in Ontario, if you are caught driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) from 0.05 to 0.08, the police can immediately suspend your license for 3-30 days.

At Nature Medicine, we are not against the consumption of alcohol but for its use in moderation. If you are going to drink: Drink Responsibly!