Health and Well Being

Think before you drink

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“O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! That we should, with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!”  ~William Shakespeare, Othello

With the season for celebrating drawing nearer we thought it timely to urge moderation when drinking alcohol this summer.

The recommended alcohol intake daily is two standard drinks for men and one for women!  A standard daily drink of wine is approximately 120mls, and a standard drink of beer is 350mls.

New Zealand’s drinking culture continues to strengthen its grip on our youth, as well as adversely affecting the lives and health annually of around 700,000 other adult Kiwi’s who binge drink regularly, and 2-4% of the population who are fully alcohol dependant.  New Zealand doctor Geoff Robinson estimates that alcohol kills about 1000 Kiwi’s annually and suggests that were alcohol recently introduced into society it would be classified a Class B drug (the same as amphetamines and morphine); he is calling for more legislation to limit its accessibility.

So why do we drink the way we do?

Back in the day, roving communities of male workers seeking employment drank with great gusto during the pioneering years of the mid 1800’s. Social reformers began to blame alcohol for the collective problems facing communities, and eventually gave rise to the Temperance movement; a predominantly church-based group that advocated abstinence. In due course, although total prohibition didn’t occur, the movement did gain victory of sorts with the introduction of six o’clock closing for hotel bars.  Some argue that the ensuing “six o’clock swill” culture that emerged marked the beginning of binge drinking in New Zealand; men hit the bars for half an hour after work where they stood (chairs were removed so more people could squeeze into the bars) and guzzled as much beer as they could before closing time (pubs were not deemed suitable places for women to enter; besides they were at home with the kids, cooking dinner); also, because time drinking in a bar was so limited, drinking at home increased. Lastly, when 6 o’clock closing ended in 1967, the laws changed allowing more venues, including sports clubs and restaurants, to sell alcohol.  A whole new era of drinking emerged, because women were now able to drink in public places with the men.And so today we find ourselves with statistics telling us that 31% of all crime in New Zealand can be attributed to alcohol, costing the country $716.5 annually. 35% of alcoholics develop their first symptoms between 15-19 years of age, and more than 80% before the age of 30. The question remains – could our country’s fervid drinking style be due to having been deprived of free access to alcohol during the early part of the century? Are we still striving to literally drink our fill?

The impact of excess alcohol on our health is enormous, with around 60 different health disorders attributable to regular alcohol consumption. Alcohol can damage all our cells, cause nutritional deficiencies, brain degeneration, psychiatric problems, ulcers, an increased risk of mouth, throat and digestive tract cancers, pancreatic and liver damage, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and skin problems. While many of the nutritional deficiencies common in heavy drinkers are due to the actual effects of alcohol consumption, there is also the compounding factor that many people just don’t eat while they are drinking.

Key nutritional considerations

B complex vitamins – alcohol (ethanol) and the product of ethanol metabolism, acetaldehyde, interfere with the body’s utilisation and absorption of B vitamins, in particular thiamine (B1).  Studies suggest a deficiency of B1 may actually encourage alcohol consumption – suggesting that a deficiency could be a predisposing factor for alcoholism.  Alcohol also increases urinary excretion of the B complex, especially folic acid.

Zinc helps our body process alcohol, however it is easily depleted. Supplementation is recommended in combination with vitamin C to increase detoxification.

Antioxidants are important for protecting all body cells, particularly the liver which detoxifies alcohol and its by-products. General antioxidant nutrients to take daily, in addition to some specific antioxidant formula’s, include Vitamins C and E, selenium, zinc and the amino acid cysteine.

Vitamin C is commonly deficient in drinkers, and is further depleted if people smoke.  Vitamin C helps clear alcohol from the blood, and in the production of specific liver detoxifying enzymes.

Selenium – Studies show that decreased levels of selenium increase the incidence of depression and anxiety. Because selenium levels are lower in people who drink a lot it is worthwhile supplementing in order to prevent mood disorders.

Magnesium is important for cardiovascular function and for helping with “the shakes”. Alcohol increases its excretion, and heavy drinkers are often deficient. 
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) – alcohol impairs our metabolism of EFAs, and a deficiency may lead to visual and neurological (nerve and brain) problems.

Milk thistle (Silymarin marianum) – this herb can be considered the supreme liver herb, and is a key supplement for assisting with liver detoxification. It can be taken even when there are serious liver problems, and is worthwhile having on hand this summer!

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