Alcohol consumption

Keep alcohol consumption within the recommended limits

Avoid drinking sprees

Try switching to low-alcohol drinks and mineral water

Most people have experienced the effects of alcohol. One or two drinks can be relaxing; three or four and the party takes off! You soon forget your worries. This is the problem; alcohol helps us to forget our distress so when under stress some people turn to alcohol to solve their problems. Usually they drink more and more, only to find that when they have sobered up their problems are still there. Unfortunately many people turn to alcohol for its tranquillizing effect. This is clearly not the answer to dealing with problems.

Excessive alcohol consumption can become a health problem leading to a number of physical and behavioural disorders but many experts believe low quantities of alcohol may have some benefits. The situation is far from clear.

What is an excessive alcohol intake? For simplicity, alcohol intake is measured in standard units. One unit is half a pint of beer or lager, one glass of wine, a small glass of sherry, a measure of vermouth, a single measure of spirits. The Department of Health recommends that the current safe limit of alcohol intake for men is up to four units each day and for women up to three units. It is important to note that these are the limits for a single day and that it is potentially harmful to accumulate units for a drinking spree over a couple or so days. (

Like stress, alcohol affects the heart and blood vessels. Moderate amounts of alcohol could be beneficial but in excess it is certainly harmful, particularly for heart disease sufferers. Alcohol causes blood vessels to relax, leading to an increase in blood flow – a fact that has led to the view that a wee tot of whisky’ will improve the circulation. This relaxing action of alcohol on the skin blood vessels will make a person feel warmer. You can see this by checking the colour of your biodot before and after a drink. A word of warning here for the elderly. A small drink only at bedtimes makes you feel warm and relaxed and will aid sleep but make sure you are tucked up in bed before you take your drink. If you do not, the dilation of your skin blood vessels means you will lose body heat quickly and this could lead to hypothermia in inadequately heated rooms.

Excessive amounts of alcohol consumed over a long period can cause abnormally high blood pressure, particularly in those who have a family history of hypertension. For this reason hypertensives should limit their alcohol consumption. Drinking sprees can give rise to abnormal heart rhythms which can be fatal, particularly in those with diagnosed coronary heart disease. This is thought to be due to an alcohol-induced action of the catecholamines, which we know cause cardiac j ^ 1 arrhythmias; another reason for not blowing a fuse when you have been drinking!

Alcohol also affects the blood fat levels. First the good news. It appears that HDL-cholesterol (good’ cholesterol) increases with moderate alcohol consumption. This is clearly beneficial but now the bad news; excessive alcohol consumption causes an increase in the undesirable blood fat levels.

It is the liver that is involved in the breakdown of alcohol and whilst it is doing so it cannot attend very well to blood sugar and fat. So fats from the diet tend to remain in the blood rather than be taken up and dealt with by the liver. This results in high blood fat levels which make the blood more viscous, increasing the risk of clot formation and red-cell sludging. Heart disease sufferers should keep their alcohol intake low and seek the advice of their doctor on the subject of alcohol consumption.

It must also be remembered that alcohol is highly calorific and can lead to weight problems and poor nutrition. One standard unit contains about 8 g alcohol, providing 56 calories of energy. This is the equivalent of three teaspoons of refined sugar! If you are overweight then think twice before drinking alcohol. Whilst a small amount of alcohol stimulates the appetite, heavy drinkers may lose interest in food. This often leads to poor nutrition and deficiency of vital vitamins and minerals.

Alcohol can destroy self-esteem, family relationships and careers. It can also interfere with sleep and rest, two of the main allies we have for dealing with stress. Alcohol depresses brain function. This leads to impaired judgement and co-ordination thus reducing performance and increasing the likelihood of accidents.

All this adds up to the conclusion that a little of what you fancy (but only a glass or two) may be good for you but too much is certainly not, and stress and heart disease definitely do not mix with alcohol. So keep track of your daily and weekly alcohol consumption and stay within the recommended limits. Try switching to low-alcohol, low-calorie drinks and mineral waters.

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