Drinking alcohol has its corresponding benefits and risks depending on how much you consume and how often you drink. Alcohol is a fermented beverage made from grains, fruits or vegetables. This beverage is commonly consumed during social events and celebrations. But for some, drinking alcohol is done for relaxation and other personal reasons.
There is no available storage site for alcohol in the body, so when you drink alcohol your system prioritizes its metabolism over carbohydrates, proteins and fats. A small percentage is absorbed in the stomach, and the rest goes into the bloodstream. In a matter of minutes, alcohol retards the function of the central nervous system, thereby altering mood, perception and movement.
Positive Health Effects
Alcohol, when taken in moderation, is associated with some health benefits. The recommended amount of alcohol per day is one to two drinks for men and one drink for women. A standard drink should contain only 0.6 ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol. This amount is equal to 12 ounces of beer (5% alc), 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alc), 5 ounces of wine (12% alc) and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (40% alc).
Numerous prospective studies have established the effect of moderate alcohol drinking in lowering the risk of heart attack, ischemic stroke, peripheral vascular disease and cardiovascular mortality. The risk is reduced by 25% to 40% in both men and women with existing disease or at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Alcohol’s protective effect against heart disease may be attributed to its ability to increase HDL (“good” cholesterol) and decrease LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels.
Large-scale studies reveal that moderate alcohol drinkers are more likely to live longer than heavy drinkers and abstainers. They are also found to be healthier, with less morbidity and reduced risk of illness. Some studies also suggest that moderate drinkers have less chances of developing type 2 diabetes and gallstones. There is also evidence that moderate drinking is associated with lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia, arthritis, enlarged prostate, osteoporosis and cancer.
Negative Health Effects
Although moderate drinking provides some health benefits, it is important to note that it can also be harmful as alcohol can modify sleeping patterns, cloud judgment and negatively interact with medications. Also, keep in mind that the positive effects of alcohol do not outweigh its associated risks.
Consumption of alcohol can contribute to weight gain. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, which is higher than that of carbohydrates and protein with only 4 calories per gram. Aside from its high caloric content, research shows that alcohol stimulates the appetite and increases the feeling of hunger.
Alcohol impedes the absorption of folate, which is a vital component for producing and sustaining new cells. This mechanism provides the possible explanation for why drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing certain types of cancer such as mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus and breast cancer. In relation to its effect on folate, pregnant women who drink alcohol have higher chances of having miscarriage and stillbirth. Their children also become at risk of developing birth defects. And apart from folate, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and calcium are also adversely affected by high alcohol intake.
Heavy drinkers are found to have lower glycogen stores as alcohol blocks the sources of glucose and hormones that regulate blood glucose levels. Studies indicate that alcohol can either increase or decrease blood sugar levels due to its effect on insulin secretion. Moreover, long-term or too much consumption of alcohol on even a single occasion raises the blood pressure, weakens the heart muscles and ultimately leads to heart failure and other cardiovascular illness. Alcohol abuse, short term and sporadic binge drinking destroys brain cells in the area critical for memory, balance, decision making and thinking. Continued high intake of alcohol can also result in inflammation of the liver and cirrhosis.
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