The Australian Dietary Guidelines and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends no more than 2 standard drinks in any one day. There is no level of alcohol consumption that can be guaranteed as being totally safe, but by sticking to this recommendation you will significantly decrease any risk. The more alcohol you drink the greater the risk!
Although drinking alcohol in moderation may reduce some health risks, there are no benefits for people under 35 years old, and for people over 35 the possible benefits need to be weighed against the many known harmful effects of consuming alcohol.
It has been estimated that at least one teenager aged between 14 and 17 years dies each week from alcohol related events and over 60 are hospitalised in Australia. Alcohol is also a major contributor to premature deaths in older Australians costing the health care system millions of dollars each year.
So why is over consumption of Alcohol bad for your health? The type of alcohol in alcoholic drinks is ethyl alcohol (ethanol). Although it’s less toxic than other forms of alcohol, it still acts as a lipid solvent which means that it dissolves lipids (fats). Cell membranes are made from proteins and a type of fat called phospholipids. Alcohol can dissolve the lipids out of cell membranes allowing the alcohol to pass quickly into the cell, destroying the cell in the process. This is the reason that alcohol is such an effective disinfectant.
In your body alcohol is treated differently than carbohydrates, protein and fat. Carbs, protein and fat require time to be digested and absorbed whereas alcohol can be absorbed across the walls of an empty stomach to reach the brain in just a few minutes. It is less quickly absorbed when the stomach is full of food.
Women produce less of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the stomach than men, so more alcohol reaches the small intestine to be absorbed in women, for this reason, women will absorb more alcohol than men and will be more effected by the same amount of alcohol than a man of the same size.
Because alcohol is toxic to the body it’s given priority and metabolised before most other nutrients. The cells in your liver are able to produce more of the enzyme needed to break down alcohol than any of the other type of cell in your body, so your liver gets the job of disposing of as much alcohol as it can as soon as it enters your blood stream. Your liver likes to get its energy from fatty acids, any excess fatty acids are then packaged into triglycerides and sent off to other parts of the body to either be used as energy or to be stored as body fat. When alcohol is present the fatty acids accumulate in your liver while the liver cells deal with the alcohol. Alcohol can also permanently alter liver cell structure reducing the cells ability to metabolise fats. In heavy drinkers this can lead to the condition known as fatty liver.
Many of the damaging effects of alcohol abuse are caused by the chemical produced in the first stage of breaking down alcohol (acetaldehyde). This is then broken down further to acetate which is converted to acetyl CoA, a compound that is used to produce energy. In the process a lot of the B group vitamin niacin is used. Without enough niacin, the energy pathways cannot function which causes other problems. One problem it causes is that it can shift the bodies acid balance toward acid, another problem is that acetyl CoA builds up and can be used to synthesis more fatty acids, which as I mentioned before is a problem because the liver is already busy dealing with the alcohol. A liver clogged with fat is less able to perform all its tasks. After a single night of heavy drinking, fat accumulation can already be seen in the liver.
Because the liver gives priority to metabolising alcohol, it can interfere with how your body handles prescribed drugs, as well as other nutrients.
Alcohol alters or modifies body functions and so is classified as a drug. Like all drugs it has side effects. To help minimise these side effects or hazards the NHMRC has developed this set of guidelines.
Guideline 1: For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol related disease and injury.
Guideline 2: For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol related injury from that occasion.
Guideline 3: Parents and carers should be advised that children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking and for this age group, not drinking alcohol is especially important. For young people 15 – 17 years, the safest option is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible.
Guideline 4: For women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option. For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.
In case you aren’t sure what a standard drink is: any drink that provides you with 10g of alcohol is considered a standard drink.
Following is a list standard drink serves,
- 100ml of wine
- 285ml full strength beer
- 60ml of port or sherry
- 30ml of spirits
I’m definitely not saying you shouldn’t have a social drink with friends, but it’s a good idea to stick as close to the NHMRC guidelines as you can, because the risks increase sharply when go above these recommendations.
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