The silly season is fast approaching and most of us are starting to receive our festive invites and looking forward to the various festivities at the end of the year brings. During the next couple of weeks, we seem to loosen the reigns on our strict health regimes and indulge a little bit more, especially in the alcohol department.
The truth is that alcohol can be part of a healthy lifestyle, however, there is a very fine line between alcohol being safe and alcohol becoming harmful. It’s the reoccurring, excessive consumption of alcohol that causes problems, and this is where the festive season becomes a bit of an issue.
What You Need To Know About Alcohol
When we think of the harmful effects of alcohol the first thing that pops to mind for most people is the liver, but excessive alcohol impacts numerous other organs of the body.
The majority of alcohol metabolism occurs in the liver. On average the body can process two standard drinks with minimal adverse effects. However, when we drink too much alcohol our bodies detoxification pathways become overwhelmed and the body has to use a different pathway to deal with the alcohol. This alternative pathway creates free radicals in the process of breaking down the alcohol, which cause damage and inflammation to cells in the body.
I reached out to Holistic Dentist Dr Lewis Ehrlich and asked him about the impact of alcohol on our teeth. Dr Lewis explained the link between alcohol consumption and tooth erosion. Tooth erosion is when acids in your diet start to dissolve away your teeth. Tooth enamel can start to erode at anything lower than 5.5.
"The more acidic the drink, the greater the risk of erosion. Scarily, the beloved G&T is one of the worst offenders, with a pH of 2.2. Wine is also highly acidic, with a pH between 2.3-4.3. So if you’re going to have drinks with a low pH such as G&T’s, be sure to drink them through a (biodegradable) straw and chase them with a water. You only get one set of adult teeth!"- Dr Lewis Ehrlich
The body prioritises processing alcohol over other nutrients, therefore essential nutrients aren't always processed and absorbed properly. It doesn’t appear to be the alcohol itself that is directly associated with the deficiency of nutrients, but more so the processes associated with the consumption of alcohol such as detoxification, sickness, diarrhoea, poor dietary choices and inflammation. The nutrients that are most affected are Zinc, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Magnesium, Calcium, Amino Acids and the B Vitamins.
In large amounts, alcohol and its metabolic byproducts can overwhelm and damage the digestive tract as well as in the liver. It is now known that the microbial changes and disruption of the intestinal barrier as seen in high alcohol consumers, is one of the likely mechanisms of Alcoholic Liver Disease and liver cirrhosis. Due to the increased permeability of the intestinal lining, proinflammatory and pathogenic microbial products can translocate from the intestinal lumen to the liver via the hepatic portal vein. Alcohol contributes to hypersensitivity in the gut by increasing IgE levels, as well as increasing overall inflammation. The inflammatory effects of alcohol can impact the permeability of the gut lining but systemically. Recent studies have also shown that alcohol can alter intestinal microbiota which can result in bacterial overgrowth and dysbiosis, causing conditions like SIBO and candidiasis.
But it's not all bad news for the gut, according to one study (Gibson et al. 1995), red wine (and polyphenols) help to increase the abundance of certain beneficial bacteria in the gut. Polyphenols also inhibit the growth of Clostridium (and other pathogenic bacteria) which may be linked to the progression of colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. So enjoy a glass of good quality red wine but remember that you can also get polyphenols from fruits, vegetables and green tea.
Poor Dietary Habits
Ahh, the dreaded hangover. There’s not many who wake up from a big night and go to grab a green smoothie. Usually, we crave grease, salt, sugar or more alcohol to take the edge off. Aside from the negative effects of alcohol itself, our dietary choices following drinking also have an impact on our body. If you are reaching for the fried foods multiple times a week to soothe your hangover you depriving your body of the essential nutrients it needs for the pathways to function optimally, and for overall health and wellbeing.
While the above shows that we do need to be mindful about the effects that alcohol has on the body, it doesn’t mean you need to stop drinking altogether and some studies have shown a few benefits to moderate alcohol consumption, particularly red wine. So it’s really a matter of us needing to learn how to drink more consciously.
There are three bits of advice I give to my patients when helping them learn to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, which are:
Don’t drink too much - If you are out to make sure you manage your quantity. No more than 1 drink per hour.
Don’t drink too often - Give your body a few days off. Take 3-4 days off of drinking per week.
Ensure what you are drinking is good quality - preservative free wine, organic if possible, good quality spirits, drinks on the rocks or homemade/kombucha based/low sugar cocktails.
Enjoy a well balanced, protein and a fibre-rich meal before you go out.
For every drink, you have, have 1 glass of water.
Look at the quality of what you are drinking. Steer clear of premixes, syrups, sugary cocktails and cheap wine and beer.
Avoid mixing chopping and changing your drink order throughout the evening.
Always ask for fresh lemon and lime juice over cordial.
Opt for BYO restaurants for group events, that way you know what your drinking and you’ve set your limit for the evening.
Don’t feel you have to drink at every party. Have a lunch and dinner event on the same day? Enjoy a couple of drinks with lunch and then don't drink in the evening, or vice versa.
If you are having a bad time - leave! Don't drink in the hope the evening and company will miraculously become more exciting.
Day drinking in the heat? Go for a good quality spirit like vodka, gin or tequila with soda and fresh lemon or lime to stay hydrated.
Drink a very big glass of water before bed.
The National Health and Medical Research Council latest guidelines state:
For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces your risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime.
Drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.
A standard drink contains 10 grams of pure alcohol, but remember that drink serving sizes are often more than one standard drink and there are no common glass sizes used in Australia!