Alcohol: Beneficial or Detrimental?

My personal viewpoint on alcohol: It isn’t something I consider to be healthy, but I will have a margarita or coffee amaretto occasionally.   I was really surprised, when I started reading information, which wrote about drinking alcohol as something positive health-wise.

A friend sent me an email related to Alcohol and Health, which stated: Moderate drinkers tend to have better health and live longer than those who were abstainers or heavy drinkers. In addition to having fewer heart attacks and strokes, moderate consumers of alcoholic beverages (beer, wine and distilled spirits or liquor) are generally less likely to suffer strokes, diabetes, arthritis, enlarged prostate, dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), and several major cancers.

The email Alcohol and Health went on to say: Reviews of research evidence report a strong, consistent relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and reduction in cardiovascular disease in general and coronary artery disease in particular. On the basis of its extensive review of research, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported that moderate drinkers have the greatest longevity. It also found that moderate drinking is beneficial to heart health, resulting in a sharp decrease in heart disease risk (40%-60%). This is important because cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, and heart disease kills about one million Americans each and every year.

What is moderation? According to medical researchers, it is described as one to three drinks daily. The NIAAA (in this Alcohol & Health Email) considers moderation for a man as 4 drinks on any day with an average of 14 drinks per week. For women, it is consuming three drinks on any day and an average of 7 drinks per week. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans it’s 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks daily for men. They do warn expectant mothers: Don’t drink. It causes birth defects and fetal alcohol syndrome (a disorder marked by mental retardation and behavioral problems).

A standard alcoholic drink is:

* A 12ounce can or bottle of beer (3-6% alcohol)

* A 5-ounce glass of dinner wine (15% alcohol)

* A shot (one and one-half ounces) of 80 proof liquor or spirits such as, vodka, tequila, or rum either straight or in a mixed drink (40% + alcohol)

The Alcohol & Health email also stated that it didn’t make any difference what kind of alcoholic drinks were consumed. I didn’t agree with this information as a nutritionist. In my studies I have found that grain based alcohol can be very harmful to the human body. It can actually set a person up for addiction. I have found that people who are allergic to grains (of which there are many) can not handle whiskey, or other drinks derived from grain. I have found that many do better with tequila, which is derived from cactus. Wine is also better than hard liquor derived from grains. Red wine has more nutritional value than white wine. Rum which is derived from sugar cane is another alcohol, which some can handle. Brandy which is derived from fruit is more acceptable. A person’s unique biochemistry determines which alcoholic drink they could handle. If the person would drink his/her specific drink, it would not become addictive. I determine this information, when I do consultations.

I went into the internet to check out other information on alcohol. I came across information from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA), which wasn’t so rosy. The NIAAA is also the organization, which is promoting alcohol in Alcohol & Health. It stated “Overall, more life years are lost due to alcohol than “saved” through its beneficial health effects on the heart and blood vessels (when consumed moderately). In developed countries alcohol is the 3rd most important risk factor for disease; only exceeded by tobacco and high blood pressure.” There was information saying that alcohol can play a great role in causing depression. 3 in 10 adults drink at levels that put them at risk for developing alcoholism, liver disease and many other problems. Alcohol abuse or drinking causes 100,000 deaths a year in the US. According to the World Health Organization, worldwide alcohol causes 1.8 million deaths.

The Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association reported that “The lowest mortality occurs in those who consume one or two drinks per day.” A World Health Organization Technical Committee on Cardiovascular Disease asserted that the relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and reduced death from heart disease could no longer be doubted. But the benefits are not limited, important as they are, to reductions in heart disease. The article stated that it had proven beneficial for diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. My note: I seriously question this Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association’s information in regard to diabetes, Alzheimer’s and dementia; and wondered who funded these studies? I don’t know of any serious nutritionists who believe that alcohol has nutritional benefits.

The report cited a study done in France which found that moderate drinking lowered the risk for Alzheimer’s 75% and even lower for dementia, 80%. Knowing that alcohol wipes out B vitamins, which the brain needs to function…made me leery of this information. Alzheimer’s is not caused because one is not getting enough alcohol. Mental problems can be caused, because the brain isn’t getting the nutrients it needs. Hard liquor particularly has no nutritional value for the brain. Beer may have some B vitamins, but it also has excessive minerals, which people need to know about.

The process of beer making requires such hard water that manufacturers have to add 35 times more minerals than are present in the water supply, using vast quantities of gypsum, Gypsum is a calcium-sulfate used in the making of plaster of paris. The use of gypsum is for increasing the calcium content of the water. Beer drinkers are unaware that they are drinking plaster of paris…which contributes to serious kidney problems. Hops which are also used in the beer making can cause loss of sensation in the nerves and irritation to the bladder. In addition, most beer drinkers are overweight. I wouldn’t say that beer would be the best choice in a drink. This information came from Dr. Norman Walker’s book Natural Weight Control. He wrote 10 books on the subject of health and lived about 110 healthy years.

Alcohol and Health (Cont): Alcohol vs. Lifestyle:

Why drink to reduce the risk of heart disease? Wouldn’t eating a good diet, exercising, and losing weight do the same thing? Their answer was: No, it wouldn’t. The moderate consumption of alcohol appears to be more effective than most other lifestyle changes that are used to lower the risk of heart disease and other diseases. For example, the average person would need to follow a very strict low-fat diet, exercise vigorously on a regular basis, eliminate salt from the diet, lose a substantial amount of weight, and probably begin medication in order to lower cholesterol by 30 points or blood pressure by 20 points. My note: The right diet prevents heart disease, but the medical industry is not interested in this. Few in the medical establishment study nutrition…it wouldn’t benefit them financially.

In this report it mentioned that Exercising Can’t Replace the Benefits of Drinking in Moderation:

Researchers at the National Institute of Public Health in Denmark studied about 12,000 men and women over a period of 20 years. The investigators found:

* The lowest risk of fatal heart disease occurred among those who both drank moderately and exercised. They had a 50% reduced risk compared to non-drinkers who didn’t exercise. (Moderate drinking was defined as consuming an average of up to 2 drinks per day for both men and women. This is twice as high as the US federal recommendation for women).

* A higher risk was found among (a) those who abstained from alcohol but exercised and (b) those who drank in moderation, but didn’t exercise. In both cases the risk of heart disease dropped about 30% compared to abstaining non-exercisers.

* The highest risk was found among those who neither drank nor exercised. Their risk of dying from heart disease was twice as high as those who drank moderately and exercised.

Moderate drinking and exercise are cumulative in their positive effects on the cardiovascular system. Doing one is better than nothing, but doing both is the best choice of all and dramatically reduces the risk of death from heart attack. The same is also found for all-cause mortality. The article also said that following a good diet along with moderate alcohol consumption was even more beneficial.

The major problem with the information in this Alcohol and Health report is the fact that many people can’t really handle moderate drinking. For example, we know that the French drink wine at their meals on a regular basis. Their children are also introduced to this habit at the family dining table. In my research for this blog, I found out that the French people have the highest rate of alcoholism worldwide.

In addition, A big problem with the young – they have no comprehension that alcohol is harmful to their bodies and brains, so their idea of a good time is to get drunk. It doesn’t take too long, before they develop serious mental and physical problems, because of their consumption of alcohol. According to the American Council for Drug Education there are 4,5 million adolescents among our nation’s alcoholics and problem drinkers. Nearly half of all Americans over the age of twelve are consumers of alcohol (although most drink only occasionally) but adolescents are disproportionately involved in alcohol-related automobile accidents, the leading cause of death among Americans 15 to 24 years old.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) asked the question: How does alcohol affect a person? Their answer: Alcohol effects every organ in the body. It is a central nervous system depressant that is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. Alcohol is metabolized in the liver by enzymes; however, the liver can only metabolize a small amount of alcohol at a time, leaving the excess alcohol to circulate throughout the body. The intensity of the effect of alcohol on the body is directly related to the amount consumed.

There are people who shouldn’t drink:

* People who have chronic hepatitis C (or other forms of chronic hepatitis infection)

* Thin people – those below average body weight (60 kg for men) and (50 kg for women)

* People with a family history of alcohol addiction in parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.

* People with mental health problems (including anxiety or depression) and/or sleep problems.

* People who are or have been dependent on other drugs

* People who have a poor diet or are under-nourished

* People taking medications or other drugs, if contraindicated

* Older people, because their bodies may be less able to handle alcohol need to drink less

* People who have a family history of cancer or other risk factors for cancer

* People who are told not to drink for legal, medical or other reasons

People who choose not to drink should not be urged to drink to gain any potential health benefits, and should be supported in their decision not to drink. Non-drinkers can use other strategies, such as, regular exercise, giving up smoking, a healthy diet, to gain protection against heart disease. Unfortunately, many people think that they are eating a healthy diet, but are eating foods that are contributing to heart disease. Did you ever have a doctor tell you what to eat to prevent heart disease?

The Alcohol and Health report stated that people with cancer and dementia would benefit by drinking, but this information isn’t valid. Many studies have been twisted by those with a financial interest in the information gathered. I asked myself: “Who funded these studies?” “Why is alcohol being promoted?” It is not a product that contributes nutrients to the body. It depletes them. Alcohol can be very aging to the skin and the body. I was told years ago that gin made with Juniper berries deteriorates the skin. Women that drink age faster than those who drink moderately or abstain. Vodka, whether it is made with grains or potatoes can be very damaging to the body and skin, too. The article said that alcohol contributed to longevity, but most of the people that I knew who drank didn’t live that long.

Under the Dangers of Alcohol on the internet, I found the following information: Alcohol damages every organ in the body, even if you don’t consume it in large amounts. Additionally, if you happen to consume it in big doses, it may damage your heart, liver, brain and other organs. When alcohol enters the brain it numbs nerve cells, slowing down their ability to do their work. If a drinker continues to drink, the nerve centers within the brain may lose control over mental acuity, speech, balance and vision.

Alcohol depresses the activiy of your heart muscle and speeds up your pulse. If you drink too much, fats accumulate in the liver. Continued heavy drinking rapidly induces liver disease; cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis; and eventually will lead to liver failure or liver cancer. Other side effects of excessive drinking are heart failure, varicose veins in the esophagus, stomach bleeding and inflammation of the pancreas. Alcohol poisoning can lead to irreversible brain damage.

The disorders produced by drinking in excess are very costly to society in terms of human suffering and economic hardship. Again information coming from the internet attributed to NIAAA: “Alcohol is typically found in the offender, victim or both in about half of all homicides and serious assaults, as well as in a high percentafe of sex-related crimes, robberies, incidents of domestic violence, and alcohol-related problems are disproportionately found among juvenile and adult criminal offenders.” My question is:  Why is the NIAAA contributing to the report on Alcohl and Health, when they know the downside of drinking?

All states in the United States have adopted 0.08% (80 mg/dL) as the legal limit of operating a motor vehicle for drivers aged 21 years or older.  However, drivers younger than 21 are not allowed to operate a motor vehicle with any level of alcohol in their system. Note: Impairment due to alcohol use begins to occur at levels well below the legal limit. Drinking and driving can be a dangerous combo for all ages..

Drinking moderately may work for some people, but can be a risky proposition for those who have psychological problems. Alcohol can produce a euphoric condition, which gives people false confidence. This is why so many are involved in automobile accidents. I have seen people who were very inebriated,, insist on being given their keys, so they can drive. Alcohol abuse is a very serious problem. Almost every family has suffered in some way, because of this problem. It really disturbed me to see drinking promoted, because it can escalate – when the wrong people start down this road.

There are approximately 18 million who suffer from alcoholism in this country. Alcohol is youth’s largest drug problem, killing 6.5 times the number of youth than all illicit drugs combined. It also contributes dramatically to teenage motor vehicle crashes, other severe injuries, suicide, date rape and school problems. 40% of all hospital beds in the US are being used to treat health conditions that are related to alcohol consumption.

I seriously question whether moderate drinking is a panacea for society’s health problems. I see this article on Alcohol and Health in a far different light. It is taking a very light view on something which could set many people up for a lifetime of problems. Not everybody has the ability to drink moderately.

Healthfully Yours,

Barbara Charis

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