Drinking is a common social activity that is also deeply rooted in cultural customs around the world. But how much is too much? Is alcohol actually good or bad for you? We decided to take a look at the latest research on drinking alcohol and how it can impact your health, for better or for worse.
The Facts On Alcohol
Alcohol, also referred to as ethyl alcohol or ethanol, is produced through the fermentation of starches, sugar and yeast. This compound is found within beer, wine and liquor and is quickly absorbed through the stomach and into the bloodstream, causing an intoxicating effect. This rapid absorption causes you to feel drunk because the alcohol acts as a depressant for the central nervous system, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
But is it good or bad for the body?
Based on published studies, the suggested benefits of consuming a moderate amount of alcohol may be reduced risk for cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers. According to a 2012 study published in the medical journal Nutrients, moderate consumption of alcohol from beer and wine may cause these benefits due to the presence of polyphenols in these beverages that boost antioxidant activity. The main polyphenol that has been studied for its potential health benefits is resveratrol, found in red wine. While recent studies have produced some mixed results, the general consensus is antioxidants like these can help protect the vital organs of the body, like the heart, from free radical damage and therefore reduce the risk for illness. One such study, an animal study, was published in 2014 in Food & Function, which showed the polyphenols found in red wine had preventative effects colon cancer cells, preventing them from reproducing rapidly.
The key word to remember is "moderate." According to the National Institutes of Health, moderate drinking is considered to be up to four drinks a day or 14 drinks per week until the age of 65, when up to three drinks a day and seven drinks in a week is seen as moderate consumption. Alcoholic beverages won't prevent any diseases or medical conditions outright, but may be beneficial when consumed responsibly as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.
The known negative side effects of drinking too much alcohol are more well documented. Alcohol can cause damage to the liver and can also impair the immune system and increase one's risk for certain cancers and stroke. A 2010 review published in Drug and Alcohol Review found women who consumed alcohol regularly were more likely to suffer from cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. While these side effects are the result of prolonged, high alcohol consumption, most people are familiar with the side effects of drinking too much alcohol on a particular occasion -- a hangover -- which can include headache, nausea and/or vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound.
Alcohol Best Practices
In order to reap the potential benefits of alcohol and avoid any negative symptoms or side effects, here are some best practices to follow:
- Have a full glass of water with each alcoholic beverage. You should also stay hydrated throughout the day.
- Always eat a substantial meal before and/or during alcohol consumption.
- Lead an active lifestyle and eat a balanced diet to keep all the body's systems functioning optimally. This will help remove alcohol from the body faster.
- Check with your doctor before drinking alcohol if you're taking any type of medication.
- Never operate a vehicle of any kind (car, truck, bike, etc.) after drinking alcohol.
Liver Support Supplements
If you choose to have alcohol on a regular basis, there are ways to protect your liver, which is a crucial organ involved in the natural detoxification of the body. By supporting the liver, you enable it to better remove alcohol from the body along with other toxic compounds. Two of the most widely used supplements to aid in liver health are turmeric root and milk thistle. Turmeric root (Curcuma longa) contains curcuma, an antioxidant with strong anti-inflammatory benefits to protect the liver. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) contains an antioxidant compound known as silymarin, which helps with the detoxification and protection of the liver as well.
Before adding any of these supplements to your routine, be sure to check with your physician first, especially if you're currently being treated for any liver health issues with either prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
You can find the supplements mentioned in this post and more at eVitamins. Check back tomorrow for even more health news.