Tag Archives: alcohol

The Science of Getting Drunk

Most of us have enjoyed an adult beverage from time to time.  When used in moderation there are actually documented health benefits to alcohol. While I don’t recommend people consume alcohol to better their health, the research is quite clear that it can help your heart and your brain. But that is a slippery slope. If some is good, more is better right!?

Absolutely not! Alcohol is excess causes MAJOR health problems.  It causes havoc in every body system you can think of. It is not part of a healthy lifestyle when consumed in excess.

Below is an interesting graphic I came across this morning from www.bitrebels.com. It’s a fun way to understand what happens to our bodies when we consume too much alcohol.  Remember, alcohol in moderation is ok, but always enjoy it responsibly.

 

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The Fountain of Youth

Well kinda.  While I haven’t really discovered the fountain of youth, recent research points to some things that can significantly shorten your lifespan and make you look much older than you actually are.

A British study concluded that drinking, smoking, bad diet and inactivity all ages the body 12 years in total.  The findings are from a study that tracked nearly 5,000 British adults for 20 years.  This information isn’t ground breaking and it’s in line with other research on the subject, but this is the first study to put a number on just how short these unhealthy habits can make your life.  These habits were defined as less than 2 hours of physical activity per week, less than 3 servings of fruits or veggies per day, drinking more than three alcoholic beverages per day for men and two per day for women and smoking.

Of the 5,000 people who were studied, 314 people had all four unhealthy behaviors. Among them, 91 died during the study, or 29%. Among the 387 healthiest people with none of the four habits, only 32 died, or about 8%.  They also concluded that the people who had most of these habit looked 12 years older than the people who did not.  The study will be published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The requirements for health in this study are not unattainable.  It is a simple prospect not to smoke and not to drink alcohol excessively.  Those can be eliminated relatively easy from someone’s lifestyle.

Get Your Fruit and Vegetable

Having a fruit or a veggie three times per day is also relatively easy to do.  I always recommend to my patients that they eat a fruit or a vegetable at every meal.  Most people cut this out because of lack of preparation.  First, you must always have fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator.  When you go to the grocery store, most of your cart should be filled with fruits and vegetables.  Many times people say they don’t like to buy fresh produce because it spoils so easily and they feel like they are wasting money.  There are two reasons for this:

  1. You are buying entirely too much at one time or
  2. You are not eating enough of the produce you buy

That may seem overly complex and that’s because it is.  Think about it.  If you ate fresh fruit or veggies at every meal you would go through a lot of produce.  The trick is to know how much you will eat.  With time you will be able to gauge it and not buy too much when you’re at the store.  On the other hand if your not buying that much and it’s still going bad, eat more of it!  It’s a simple concept that makes sense if you just apply it.

Secondly, not all fresh produce is “ready to eat.”  Sometimes it must be prepared.  Things like apples are great because they are ready to eat in their natural state.  But something like a carrot is not ready to eat and must be prepared.  That is something you need to take the time to do.  Spend 1/2 hour one or two nights per week cutting up fruit and vegetables so that when you need a snack or a veggie for a meal something is always ready to go.  You are much more likely to put this into your diet if it’s easy.  Preparation is the key to making this easy!

Exercise!

In this study they only asked that you had some sort of physical activity for a total of 2 hours per week to be considered healthy.  That’s only 17 minutes per day!  If you can’t find that in your day, you have to change your lifestyle!  My patients are always instructed to find an activity that they like for physical activity.  If you like doing it, you’re much more likely to make it a habit.  A survey of Americans found that 40% do no regular leisure-time physical activity.  That’s a total of 120,000,000 people who get no physical activity despite the enormous evidence that it’s great for everything from heart health to improving mood.

Now, what constitutes physical activity?  I tell my patients that you must be breathing hard for it to count.  You don’t need to be out of breath per say, but it should not be like you’re walking around that house.  I have patients tell me all the time that they walk the dog every morning and that’s their exercise.  While it is possible to get exercise walking the dog, if you’re like most people (myself induced) walking the dog is not a strenuous activity.  I see people walking up and down my street all day and most of them, unfortunately, are not doing something I would classify as exercise.  Keep this in mind when you’re exercising – it should be hard enough to get your heart rate up and your lungs working harder.  If your exercise requires the same energy expenditure as walking from the couch to the bathroom, it doesn’t count! Again, people will say they don’t have time to do this.  You have to make time.  Their is little “prep time” for this as there is in the fruit and vegetable eating.  You always have your body with you and you just need to make time.  Seventeen minutes is not that much time.  You could easily find that time if you cut out some TV time or got up 17 minutes earlier.

The trick to living longer and healthier is healthy habits.  Not smoking or drinking, eating healthy and getting plenty of exercise are those habits.  The only way to get there is to make them habits.  Doing them off and on does not provide the benefit.  Make it a part of your lifestyle and you’ll reap the rewards!

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Prescribing Alcohol…

Below is an article I read in the NY Times. Read on and let me know what you think.

There is a lot of evidence linking low-risk drinking with lower rates of heart attacks, strokes and dying, especially among middle-aged and older adults. However, most of this is correlational, meaning these things tend to go together without being able to say what causes what.

There is a clinical trial under way to actually test whether “prescribing” a daily dose of alcohol reduces cardiac risk or not, and what harmful effects there might be. In the absence of such studies assessing risk versus benefit, it is premature to “prescribe” drinking.

On the other hand, low-risk drinking is associated with many other good health outcomes, including a reduced likelihood of diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease.

However, even low-risk drinking is associated with a higher incidence of breast cancer in women, and drinking may harm fetuses at any level, so pregnant women are urged to abstain.

The evidence regarding wine versus other beverages like grape juice is mixed, so I don’t think it’s possible to draw firm conclusions at this time. It’s most likely that both alcohol, per se, and the resveratrol found in grape skins have independent effects.

A more detailed review of the evidence regarding moderate drinking is available at the alcohol institute’s Web site, “Moderate Drinking.”

One final note: the way different groups or agencies describe moderate drinking can be confusing. For example, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, from the United States Department of Agriculture, defines moderate drinking as “the consumption of up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.” These are best thought of as averages over time, and if you divide the alcohol institute’s weekly guidelines — 14 drinks for men, 7 for women — by seven, you arrive at the same average intake of two drinks per day for men and one per day for women. The U.S.D.A. guidelines don’t specifically address a limit for any one day. Thus, the alcohol institute and U.S.D.A. guidelines are consistent, but the institute’s provide additional guidance.

My personal take on all this is that for most people, low-risk drinking is not harmful to health — and may be helpful. Anyone with existing medical conditions or who takes medications should discuss whether to drink with their doctor. However, I would discourage people from drinking in order to improve their health.

Dr. Willenbring is an addiction psychiatrist in St. Paul, Minn. His blog, Substance Matters, is devoted to substance use conditions.

Dr. Court’s Comments:

This debate has been raging ever since it was found that consuming a moderate amount of alcohol has some health benefits.  The main benefit has come from red wine.  There is a substance in red wine called resveratrol.  Resveratrol is a substance that is found in the skins of grapes that are used to make wine.  Scientists think this is the substance that provides all of the health benefits.

Studies have shown that resveratrol is quite amazing.  It has been shown to slow aging and is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.  Resveratrol is the real deal.  It is not this that I have a fundamental problem with.  My problem is that recommending that people drink alcohol for their health is like recommending people eat McDonald’s because it supplies the recommended daily allowance of B12. The detrimental effects of over consumption far outweighs the positive effects one might receive from the resveratrol.

Secondly, resveratrol is readily available in a pill form from reputable supplement companies.  It must come from a company with exceptional quality control because resveratrol is notoriously unstable.  Why drink alcohol to get the resveratrol when all you have to do is take it in a capsule?  This would avoid all of the potential harmful effects of the alcohol.

I was happy to see that Dr. Willenbring recommends against drinking to improve health.  All too often I find that doctors are recommending this as a way of getting healthier.  This is the wrong way to go about it.  If you want to improve your health eat a healthy diet, exercise and take a select list of supplements.  I routinely take resveratrol for my health.  It is not something that requires drinking alcohol.  Alcohol should be enjoyed in moderation, but just for that, enjoyment.  Do not drink to improve your health.

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