Health News of 2014-02-21

Alcohol - A Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

How many of us read about the miraculous benefits of alcohol one day, only to learn about its disastrous side effects the following morning? A word of advice to you: if you do not drink alcohol now: there is no need to start. Stay that way and you may not be missing out on any wonderful benefits. For those of us who already drink, well, this article is not meant to drive you away from alcohol, but to warn you that without self-control, alcohol may prove not to be the ‘elixir of life’. Unlike the waters of the Pierian Spring, where ‘shallow waters intoxicate the brain and drinking deep makes the mind sober again’, the more alcohol you drink, the greater your woes. The holy book also warns us about alcohol: ‘…lest wine makes a mockery of you’. My problem with drinking alcohol is that one will never be able to predict if genetic and environmental factors will be unkind to you and cause you to cross the line. Alcohol has ruined many successful careers, homes, and the like, and it causes more harm annually than the often-feared ‘hard drugs’ like cocaine and heroin. This is probably because alcohol is so easily available (this is no justification for you to switch to the likes of hemp and heroine). So what are some of the often-touted benefits of alcohol? • In moderation, you can have a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia (but remember, the word ‘moderation’ is not in the alcoholics’ dictionary). • Also in moderation, alcohol may relieve stress, which may benefit the heart and also help build more social links. • In addition, the risk of Type 2 diabetes may be reduced, but hold on a minute - alcohol increases your appetite and also packs on calories which could lead to weight gain. Weight gain is another risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. • Alcohol may also increase the good cholesterol in our blood, and this has a protective effect on the cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) system. We may be able to enjoy all of these benefits of alcohol, by: • Exercising regularly • Eating a healthy diet • Maintaining an ideal weight for our height • Quitting smoking. It may surprise you to know that the evil effects of this drug can totally wipe out all the great benefits that we may achieve with small quantities of drinks with low alcohol concentrations. Just like the nineteenth century classic, ‘A strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, the evil of alcohol often triumphs over the good, and may even destroy its victim, just as Mr. Hyde brought the good life of Dr. Jekyll to an end. In general, the dangers of alcohol are most evident when we indulge in more-than-moderate drinking, and when we also engage in binge drinking (e.g. not drinking all week, and then drinking more than the acceptable limits in one night). Alcohol drank in excess affects virtually every aspect of our life, as well as every organ in our body. The dangers include: • Liver o The liver is very often affected in chronic alcohol abuse. It induces hepatitis and cirrhosis during which liver cells die and liver architecture goes through irreversible changes. o The above processes may eventually lead to hepatoma (liver cancer) and brain alteration. • Nervous System o Alcohol can damage many body tissues, including the brain and nerves. o Excessive intake can lead to temporary memory loss (blackouts) or even a loss of consciousness. o Permanent damage may include pain, loss of sensation in the arms and legs, and loss of intelligence. • Cardiovascular System o Short-term effects of alcohol may include increased pulse rate, and dilatation of blood vessels throughout the body. o Serious damage leads to elevating blood pressure, hastening arteriosclerosis, and damaging and weakening of the heart muscle. • Digestive System o Alcohol can damage many organs of the digestive system, among others, irritating the stomach/small intestine lining (causing gastritis and ulcers). This may lead to vomiting of blood or passing of blood in the stools. o Alcoholics may also develop painful lesions of the pancreas. o Tears may occur in the oesophagus (from retching), also causing bleeding. • Reproductive System o Alcohol may cause impotence in men, as well as infertility through sperm damage. o Women may experience interruptions in menstruation from damage to eggs. o Pregnant women who drink may get Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, where the foetus is underweight, grows slowly and has birth defects. The foetus may have a smaller brain and a lower than normal intelligence or it may be mentally challenged. o Alcohol can also be passed along to the baby through breast milk. • Cancers o Excessive alcohol use can lead to cancers of the mouth, larynx, oesophagus, stomach, liver, colon, lung, kidney and several other parts of the body. o In general, your risk of getting these types of cancers increases with the amount of alcohol that you drink, and the length of time you have been drinking regularly. • Socio-Economic Challenges o The intoxicating effect of alcohol makes one much more likely to die a premature accidental death. About 60% of fatal auto accidents, suicides and murders are alcohol related. o Unfortunately, social drinking all too often leads to alcohol abuse and dependence – the disease of alcoholism. Excessive alcohol use can result in destroyed relationships and job loss. It may also be a drain on our finances, but it impairs our judgement to the extent that we are not bothered. Dear readers, let me reemphasize a point I made earlier: if you do NOT drink alcohol, do not be deceived into joining that club. If you already drink, please restrict it to the barest minimum (and this I know is very subjective). Stick to the basics: exercise regularly, eat healthy meals, maintain an ideal weight for your height, and avoid excesses. AS ALWAYS LAUGH OFTEN, WALK AND PRAY EVERYDAY AND REMEMBER IT’S A PRICELESS GIFT TO KNOW YOUR NUMBERS (blood sugar, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, BMI) Dr. Kojo Cobba Essel Moms’ Health Club ( *Dr Essel is a medical doctor and is ISSA certified in exercise therapy and fitness nutrition. Thought for the week – “Moderation & Variety are key in your quest for good health.” References: 1. 2. 3. Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins (Poster)