Tomorrow the Chief Medical Officer will announce new guidelines on drinking alcohol. If you have concerns about alcohol consumption - perhaps you have pledged to yourself or others that you are on thewagon this month? You may find the following a worthwhile read.
After listening to a programme on Radio 4 yesterday where a number of callers phoned in to tell their stories of alcohol abuse, I have felt compelled to take stock. I have always been one to shun absolutions on the basis that going to extremes with your New Year resolutions never work. I have therefore never done ‘Dry January.’ I’ve done week off detoxes and I have always aimed (he hem!!) to stay off the booze mid week. Such ‘aims’ and odd ‘weeks’ in reality are more about me telling myself it is alright to drink when I do, rather than focus on the positive effect to my health when I don’t. I’m possibly about to give myself a huge big kick in the teeth….
So many of us enjoy a drink, or two, or three….oh why not 3/4 of a bottle of wine then? And will wake up may be once or twice in a month with a sore head indicating that a rather large amount of alcohol has been consumed - most hopefully following a jolly old knees up - no regrets – therefore we do it all over again, i.e. we ‘binge’ drink. In fact binge drinking has become a part of our culture – just as much as Martini’s are to James Bond and a champagne toast is to a Wedding. We drink, we get merry, we tell stories, laugh, therefore we tell ourselves it’s fine. I’m not talking about the ‘YOUF OF TODAY’ who apparently are to be found outside pubs and bars falling over curb sides - in fact if you look at national statistics on alcohol consumption, younger age groups drink less now than they did 20 years ago. I’m also not talking about the alcohol consumption that is all consuming and takes over your life completely. I’m talking about the alcohol consumption that we ignore on the basis that everyone else does it therefore its fine…isn’t it?
Knowing your limits...
So we all know that women can have 14 units per week and men 21 units per week – right? This guideline has been in place since the 1980’s and seemed very clear. We were then told that women could drink 2-3 units a day and men 3 – 4 units – which could be misconstrued as 21 units per week for women and 28 for men. What the guidelines failed to make clear - which will presumably be rectified tomorrow when new guidelines are released - is that in any one night we shouldn’t be drinking more than 2-3 units for women and 3-4 units for men and that we should all be having at least 2 nights off from booze completely. Drinking over these daily allowances, on a regular basis is what, health wise, could be doing us more damage than we think. So what is a unit?
A unit of alcohol is ….
76 ml 13% wine
25ml 40% whisky
250 ml 4% beer
So depending on your wine strength that’s a very small glass of wine! (average size glass of wine in pub is 175 ml) Look at alcohol strengths and read more from these pages here.
It’ll make you think more about reading labels and ensuring that when you do drink you are at least aware of exactly how much you are throwing down your throat.
If we can keep to these limits we can help to prevent damage to the brain, liver, heart and also help to lower the risk of cancers such as liver, breast, mouth and throat. Alcohol also affects our immune systems making us more susceptible to all sorts of viruses and illnesses.
So what can happen in just 1 binge drinking session?
Well your Liver, just for starters, plays a really vital role as it’s responsible for trying to detoxify the alcohol you consume and therefore takes the brunt of the damage. According to the National institute on Alcohol Abuse and alcoholism “The process of breaking down alcohol in the liver generates toxins even more harmful than the alcohol itself. These by products damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken the body’s natural defenses. Eventually these problems can disrupt the body’s metabolism and impair the function of other organs.”
The more we drink then the more susceptible our bodies are. There is research to show that these affects can vary from person to person - genetics, other lifestyle/health issues etc all have a bearing. We also know that a small amount of alcohol for some of us can even have a positive effect!
Neither of my parents or my grandparents ever drank. The only person I do know that drank heavily was my great grandmother who, after a very hard life, died very young, most probably with a bottle of gin in her hand. It’s hardly enough history to know whether I am more susceptible or not. Apparently I do look a lot like her though! Now there’s a sobering thought!
Fact is, I and most of us really do not know just how much damage we are doing by drinking, regularly, sociably, apparently responsibly, i.e. drinking far more than the recommended daily amounts.
One thing I do know is that if we all looked a little more carefully at the above limits and changed collectively what was acceptable to drink, and what is not, the tendency to drink more just may not be quite soacceptable any more…
….And would seriously reduce the profits of ibuprofen selling drug companies – Yeah!
And as for dry January – yes it is a very good thing. New research has shown an abstinence of 4 weeks (not my little 1 week detox then) can have a positive effect on our health,showing significant improvements in liver function, whilst lowering the risk of developing diabetes and liver disease.
Mines a fizzy water then…for the next month at least.