The Good, Bad, and Deadly Health Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol Awareness Month

Two glasses of red wine. April is Alcohol Awareness Month and a good time to review the health effects of alcohol.April is Alcohol Awareness Month in the United States. It’s an opportunity to have conversations and discover all the health effects of alcohol. You may be surprised to learn that there are some positive health benefits associated with moderate and responsible consumption of alcohol. However there are risks as well, many which include negative consequences for your health and some that are deadly! Read on to learn more about how the consumption of alcohol impacts your health.

Moderation is the Key

If you don’t currently consume alcohol, don’t start. If you do drink, it’s important to know that when it comes to your health, moderation is key.The [1] Mayo Clinic offers the following guidelines for moderate alcohol consumption for healthy adults:

  • Up to one drink a day for women of all ages (over 21)
  • Up to two drinks a day for all men aged 21 – 65
  • Up to one drink a day for men over 65

A “drink” is defined as:

  • Beer 12 fluid ounces
  • Wine 5 fluid ounces
  • Distilled Spirits (80 proof) 1.5 fluid ounces

The Good Health Effects of Alcohol

Recent studies have shown some positive health benefits from a moderate and responsible consumption of alcohol these include:

Lower Risk of Heart Failure.

A recent study [2] by the European Society of Cardiology and quoted in Science Daily found that consuming up to seven drinks a week (in early to middle age) is associated with a 20% reduction in heart failure in men. The study, which followed 1500 participants found a similar 16% reduction in heart failure in women compared to those who did not drink at all.

Reduced Chance of Developing Type 2 Diabetes. 

[3] The American Diabetes Association published findings from a study showing a 30% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes in participants who consumed alcohol at moderate levels vs no reduced risk for those who consumed at higher levels.

Decreased Chance of Developing Dementia

[4] Science Daily reported that after an analysis of 143 studies…

Moderate drinkers were 23 percent less likely to develop cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

The Bad Health Effects of Alcohol

Heavy consumption of alcohol can negatively impact your health. While the damage of prolonged alcohol abuse is often discussed it’s important to recognize that there are serious consequences associated with short-term bouts of heavy consumption or “binge drinking”, as well.

The Brain

Image of a man in black and white with the word perception across the image. Excessive alcohol  consumption can impact your perception. Alcohol can impact your brain causing slurred speech, coordination issues, memory loss and impaired judgment. Prolonged alcohol abuse can cause permanent brain damage and dementia. [5]  In fact, heavy consumption of alcohol has even been associated with shrinkage in the frontal lobe region of the brain.

Nutrient Absorption

Alcohol has been shown to interfere with the absorption of nutrients in the body resulting in malnutrition and other serious complications. An article published by the [6] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism said that…

“…alcohol inhibits the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine and increases the transport of toxins across the intestinal walls, effects that may contribute to the development of alcohol-related damage to the liver and other organs.”

This is often the reason alcoholics will experience weightloss.

Sexual Health and Reproduction

Abusing alcohol can have negative effects on your sexual health and reproductive system. In both men and women, it can lead to infertility. Men can experience erectile dysfunction and for women prolonged alcohol abuse has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.[7] Alcohol is very dangerous for developing babies and pregnant mothers as well. In fact, anyone who is pregnant or attempting to become pregnant should avoid alcohol completely.

The Deadly Health Effects of Alcohol

Nearly 88,000 people die in alcohol-related deaths annually making it the third highest cause of preventable death in the United States. [8] Sadly, excessive alcohol consumption shortened the lives of those who died by approximately 30 years. The leading cause of death related to the negative health effects of alcohol abuse are:

Liver disease

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to Alcoholic Liver Disease. As your liver attempts to break down alcohol, the resulting chemical reaction causes oxidative stress which in turn damages cells. This damage can lead to inflammation and because alcohol negatively impacts your intestines, bacteria and toxins from your gut invade your liver causing additional inflammation and scarring. The final phase of Alcoholic Liver Disease is called Cirrhosis which is characterized by an increase of fibrous tissue and the destruction of liver cells.

Generally liver damage caused by cirrhosis can not be reversed however treatment could stop or delay the progression. Cirrhosis caused by alcohol abuse is treated by abstaining from alcohol.

Heart Disease

Earlier, we reviewed studies indicating heart health benefits from moderate consumption of alcohol however, according to the American Heart Association, excessive drinking can lead to serious cardiac issues including high blood pressure, cardiomyopathycardiac arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death.

Cancer

In addition to liver disease and heart disease, excessive alcohol consumption can increase your risk of developing several different types of cancers. A combined analysis of over 200 studies published by the [9] National Institue of Alcohol and Alcoholism found that…

“…alcohol most strongly increased the risks for cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, and larynx. Statistically significant increases in risk also existed for cancers of the stomach, colon, rectum, liver, female breast, and ovaries.” 

These are only a few of the "Bad and Deadly" health effects related to heavy alcohol consumption. For a complete list see Alcohol & Health National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the resource section below.

Who Should Completely Avoid Consuming Alcohol?

In addition to warnings about the amount of alcohol a person consumes, there are specific individuals who should avoid drinking alcohol completely.

They are:

  • Anyone under the age of 21 years old;
  • Anyone who is pregnant or attempting to get pregnant;
  • A recovering alcoholic;
  • Anyone taking prescription or over the counter medications (check with your doctor and heed warning labels);
  • Anyone with a health condition that could worsen as a result of consuming alcohol;
  • Anyone operating heavy machinery.

Conclusion:

Studies and information regarding alcohol consumption may seem contradictory at first, but a comparison of the health effects clearly indicate that excessive alcohol consumption is dangerous and damaging to your health. If you currently don’t drink, don’t start. If you do drink, abstaining or drinking in moderation could provide positive health benefits. Consult your doctor to determine how alcohol consumption impacts your health.

Resources

For more information on the health effects of alcohol visit the following sites:

References

  1. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, February 11). Alcohol use: If you drink, keep it moderate. Retrieved April 2, 2015, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/alcohol/art-20044551
  2. European Society of Cardiology (ESC). (2015, January 20). Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol is linked to reduced risk of heart failure, large study finds.ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 2, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150120085927.htm
  3. Lando, L., Koppes, J., Dekker, J., Henk, F., Hendricks, J., Bouter, L., & Heine, R. (n.d.). Moderate Alcohol Consumption Lowers the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes A meta-analysis of prospective observational studies. Retrieved April 2, 2015, from http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/28/3/719.full
  4. Loyola University Health System. (2011, August 19). Moderate drinking may protect against Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment, study suggests.ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 2, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110816112134.htm
  5. Kubota, M., Nakazaki, S., Hirai, S., Saeki, N., Yamaura, A., & Kusaka, T. (2001, July 1). Alcohol consumption and frontal lobe shrinkage: Study of 1432 non-alcoholic subjects. Retrieved April 3, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1737442/
  6. Bode, PH.D., C., & Bode, M.D., J. (1997, January 1). Alcohol’s Role in Gastrointestinal Tract Disorders. Retrieved April 2, 2015, from http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh21-1/76.pdf
  7. What are the risk factors for breast cancer? (2015, February 26). Retrieved April 3, 2015, from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-risk-factors
  8. Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health. (2014, November 7). Retrieved April 3, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
  9. Alcohol Consumption and the Risk of Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2015, from http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-4/263-270.htm

 

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