Time to look at alcohol consumption…again!
Here we are, back on the subject of alcohol. I have written about alcohol for you several times before. If you are interested, you can go back and look at the MND ‘official’ stance on alcohol, or you can read about some of the ridiculous alcohol-related stories we see in the media, or you can read how ‘the dose makes the poison’ whether we are talking about alcohol, sugar, cigarettes or almost anything else!
For most of the last decade or two, the prevalent opinion has been presented that moderate drinking is actually considered to be beneficial to complete abstinence. Many media reports have told us that moderate drinking will help us avoid heart disease and live longer than people who do not drink at all.
This is how the media present such ‘research’ to the public. While 99% of the population get their ‘health and lifestyle’ education from newspapers and television, for the 1% who dig deeper, the reality has always been less conclusive. When we look at a meta-analysis of all the research available, we see that in fact moderate drinking confers no life-extending benefits at all. At this point, it’s also worth remembering that alcohol is one of the leading preventable causes of cancer in the UK, responsible for 4% of annual UK cancer deaths.
Alcohol consumption is back in the press again this week.
With the prevalent view supporting moderate alcohol consumption as part of a healthy lifestyle, and government advice that drinking moderately is fine as part of a healthy lifestyle, and with newspapers regularly running headlines that moderate alcohol consumption is good for you, now it seems they are finding errors in the research that has led to these conclusions.
It seems that many of the people showing up in studies as “non-drinkers” are older folks who were drinkers for many years, but quit due to health problems, doctors orders, or because they went on to medications that are not compatible with alcohol consumption. Suddenly, we see a major skew in the data. Many of the non-drinkers are non-drinkers because they are unwell – hardly a promotional advertisement for the health benefits of non-drinking!
Government guidelines in the UK cap the “healthy limit” for drinking at around six glasses of wine per week – that’s less than one drink per day. Personally, I would recommend you cap your healthy limit at less than that. If you like to have a drink every week, keep it to just three or four glasses of wine.
What might that look like? Well, that might be three drinks once per week, or it might be two drinks, twice a week. For the long term, that seems to me to be a ‘moderate level’, but no more.
We are all different
The thing is, as we have said before, it’s not just the glass of wine or beer, it’s you too. We are all different, and inside us we will all have a different reaction to drinking alcohol. The amount of alcohol in your blood is going to be regulated by factors like how much you drink, and how much blood you have. Yes, we vary in the amount of blood we have. A small, short, petite person may only have four litres of blood in their body, but a huge, tall, heavy built person may have six litres of blood in their body. That’s a 50% difference! Clearly, the same “two drinks” is going to create a different blood alcohol content in those two people.
Additionally, we all have slight differences in our genetic make-up, called “snips” or SNPs. This is the science of epigenetics that you may have heard about. Some people methylate alcohol well, and some don’t. If you are one of those people who drinks one glass of wine and then “I’m useless all of the next day…just so tired” then that’s your genetics telling you that you do not methylate alcohol well. Conversely, if you are one of those people who “can drink a skin-full, have three hours sleep and feel perfectly fine in the morning” then you are the opposite, you are a good methylator of alcohol.
And beyond these factors, we have to think about your level of hydration, your gut flora, degree of obesity and more. There are many factors that affect how each person can metabolise and methylate alcohol.
Horses for courses
So personally, I think there is variation in how much alcohol each of us can and should consume. Not only will your physical size, gut flora, genetics, degree of obesity, degree of physical fitness and hydration level all make a difference, but I also think this whole thing needs to be looked at WITH your activity level too, rather than in isolation. We have already covered the fact that fitness is actually a far more important factor in disease prevention and longevity than fatness.
Well it seems to me, that regular exercise is likely just as important as whether or not you drink at all – for heart disease, cancer risk, obesity, diabetes and more. Now if we combine physical size, activity level and genetics all together, we can see how people are all really very different.
Perhaps a six foot four, well built, muscular, active man in his 40s, who exercises six days per week and maintains a healthy lean body composition, and who has the genetic SNiPs that means his body methylates alcohol well, and he eats a good diet with no mineral deficiencies, could possibly drink five to ten drinks per week for many years and be absolutely fine, while he maintains his exercise habits.
By contrast, a four foot ten, late 50s woman, who is completely sedentary, eats a poor diet, has very low muscle mass, poor body composition and is clinically obese, has the gentic SNiP for poor alcohol methylation, does not eat a mineral-rich diet, has poor gut function and suffers fatigue and mood swings, may find even two drinks per week utterly detrimental to her long term health.
It all depends how big you are, how active you are, and how healthy you are. Giving ‘standardised guidelines’ seems broadly pointless once we understand the factors that influence how each person is suited to drinking alcohol. Lame reports in the media are even more pointless than standardised guidelines – one size truly does not fit all, and no newspaper report telling you that “Drinking is better for you than abstinence” is to be relied upon.
Once again we see – the dose makes the poison, most disease is caused by multiple factors, everyone is different and one size does not fit all. The safe limit for alcohol consumption very much depends on you. For me personally, abstinence works best of all, but that’s just me. I have presented plenty of evidence and opinion here for you, now you have to decide what is the right think to do for you.
Trashy newspapers will always run stories like ‘Drinking wine is as good for you as going to the gym’ or ‘It turns out is it healthier to drink beer than to be teetotal’ because those kinds of headlines sell a lot more papers than ‘Drinking is bad for you, there are no benefits beyond the stress-relieving benefits of helping you relax’ or ‘Drinking any amount of alcohol, even just a couple of drinks a week, increases your risks of diabetes, heart disease and cancer’ – you have to see through the headlines and decide what is right for you.
To your good health!