Many of us have been drinking more alcohol lately. Why? COVID 19 lockdown and social distancing= boredom and stress and many people reach for alcohol when they are stressed. In Hong Kong and
in other parts of the world, not drinking alcohol is not socially acceptable and you may be bullied or ridiculed into drinking. Many people decide to cut back on alcohol because of
the calorie content, but what other reasons are there to cut back or kick alcohol to the kerb for a bit or permanently? Here’s a big long list for you to get your teeth into:
-it increases blood pressure; so not great if your blood pressure is elevated or on the high side of normal
-it increases cholesterol; for cardiovascular health, we need our blood vessels to be free of cholesterol and as flexible as possible
-it’s a carcinogen; several types of cancer are specifically associated with alcohol consumption- head, neck, esophageal, liver, breast and colorectal
-it causes inflammation; every disease starts off with chronic inflammation
-it’s catabolic; meaning it decreases muscle mass or makes it harder for you to lay down muscle
-it acidifies your body; disease starts with an acidic body
-calorific-you’re looking at roughly 100 calories per unit (dependent on your tipple)
-it affects the functioning of your hormones; because it’s a toxin, it’s inflammatory and it’s acidic
- it doesn’t work well for women, especially perimenopausal and menopausal women. The body will prioritise metabolising oestrogen first, which can mean that alcohol (or it’s metabolites) stay in the system longer. I also find that women who have enjoyed alcohol all their life, find that it has a detrimental effect when they reach the menopause. It may also make menopausal symptoms such as night sweats and hot flushes worse, plus also making the woman at greater risk of the other health conditions listed in this blog
-it can cause mental health issues; ‘hangxiety’, anxiety, depression, sub-optimal mood, longer term mental health issues; it changes the chemistry of the brain, decreasing the levels of seratonin and dopamine
-sleep disruption; it’s never a good night’s sleep after drinking-it makes you sleepier yes, but it also contributes to poor quality sleep. Drinking alcohol before bed is linked with more slow wave sleep patterns (delta waves- the kind of deep sleep that allows memory foundation.) At the same time alpha activity is also turned on (this usually only happens when you are resting quietly). The alpha and delta waves in the brain may inhibit restorative sleep. It can also inhibit your circadian rhythm- meaning you may wake in the night. It also blocks REM sleep (the most restorative) which may mean you wake groggy and unfocused.
-can affect the liver; cirrohisis, fatty liver and hepatitis because the liver is responsible for detoxify the blood of alcohol
-chronic long term use can cause alcoholic cardiomyopathy which can lead to heart failure, can also cause arrythmias and strokes
-pancreatitis- caused by chronic alcohol use
-People who have an alcohol addiction or drink frequently are often deficient in zinc. Alcohol decreases absorption of zinc in the gut and increases zinc loss through urine. The combination of zinc deficiency and heavy drinking can cause the gut to become leaky, therefore toxins including bacteria can travel to the liver and contribute to the damage of liver disease. B vitamins are also depleted during alcohol use.
-alcohol consumption can reduce immunity; it can damage cells in the airway, it can trigger inflammation in the gut to destroy micro-organisms. Binge drinking (14 drinks per week or more than five or six drinks at a time) directly suppresses the immune system. Evidence shows that even smaller amounts can have the same effect
-drinking alcohol raises cortisol in the body, which is a stress hormone, causing wear and tear on the body, resulting in damage to the central nervous system and peripheral organs
I haven’t even covered the other implications of alcohol use/ abuse; taking time off work sick, being less productive or present as a parent, not exercising as you’re too tired, reaching for sugary, fat laden processed carbs to appease a hangover. The bottom line is that alcohol manufacturers have had it easy for too long; marketing for alcohol goes down the route that sex sells and it works, but is it actually much better than an A class illegal drug? Drinking is so socially acceptable, there aren’t many occasions that aren’t marked by alcohol. Can drinking be fun? Sure, but in the long term are the short and long term risks worth the buzz if you do it too often?
In my coaching practice, I help clients understand how their drinking could be affecting their health, as well as their waistline. Many people are just not aware of how destructive alcohol can be.
I haven’t given up alcohol yet but I do try to keep alcohol to special occasions. It’s certainly not a regular Friday night or weekend thing anymore and it’s more likely to be a single beer rather than bottles of wine. I also think that the bonding that happens over alcohol is fun and we need fun right now! However, I encourage people not to use alcohol as a ‘crutch’ ie you’ve had a crap day so you automatically have a glass of wine. I also encourage alcohol free beer/ wine/ spirits when you want an adult drink and something that’s not lime and soda. I encourage alcohol free days/ weeks/ months depending on where you are in the process to reassess your relationship with alcohol.
The bottom line is if you are looking to get healthier and leaner, reducing alcohol just has to be part of the plan.
Ally van de Pol is a holistic nutritionist and naturopath in training. She offers face to face and online nutrition and health coaching.