Archive for the 'Alcohol - Potion or Poison?' Category

Four Common Bad Habits Can Age You by 12 Years

CigaretteFour common behaviors, when combined, can increase the risk of death and age a person by 12 years, according to a recent large study from the University of Oslo. 

The bad habits were: smoking tobacco; drinking greater than three alcoholic drinks per day for men and more than two daily for women; getting less than two hours of physical activity per week; and eating fruits and vegetables less than three times daily.

People in the study who had all four habits had a substantially increased risk of death but also seemed 12 years older than those with the healthiest lifestyles.

More information:

Source: Elisabeth Kvaavik, PhD; G. David Batty, PhD; Giske Ursin, MD, PhD; Rachel Huxley, DPhil; Catharine R. Gale, PhD , “Influence of Individual and Combined Health Behaviors on Total and Cause-Specific Mortality in Men and Women, The United Kingdom Health and Lifestyle Survey”, Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(8):711-718

Does A Drink a Day Really Help with Weight Control?

Women drinking wineLight to moderate drinking may keep women from gaining too much weight, according to the researchers from the Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston.

In their recent 13-year study of normal-weight women younger than 50, those who drank light to moderate amounts of alcohol daily, gained less weight and had a lower risk of becoming overweight or obese than either teetotalers or those who drank too much.

These findings and conclusions are highly controversial for a number of reasons. Experts do agree that further research is needed to confirm these conclusions, but certainly the findings should not be used as a license to drink. 

The fact remains that alcohol is well known to increase the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, and breast.  Regular consumption of even a few drinks per week is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in women. In fact, the American Cancer Society warns that those at high risk of breast cancer may want to consider not drinking any alcohol at all.

Source reference:
Wang L, et al “Alcohol consumption, weight gain, and risk of becoming overweight in middle-aged and older women” Arch Intern Med 2010; 170(5): 453-61.

Source: “Cheers! A Drink a Day May Keep the Pounds Away”, MedPage Today, March 8, 2010

Source: “Common Questions about Diet and Cancer” from the American Cancer Society

Is Beer Good for Bone Health?

BeerAccording to a recent study, beer is good for bone health.  But experts critical of the study, say it may be a good source of dietary silicon,  but any attempt to link beer drinking to bone health is not based on scientific data.

The recent study of 100 commercial beers revealed an average of 29.4 mg/L of silicon, with a range of 6.4 to 56.4 mg/L, but no link between dietary silicon and bone density was established.  In fact, the study did not look at bone mineral density or analyze any patient data at all.

There may be some merits to the study, say researchers, but it does not provide evidence that drinking beer is an appropriate preventive measure for bone health. 

Source: “Down a Beer to Improve Bone Health? Not So Fast”, MedPage Today, February 7, 2010
Source: Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture

Critical Illness can Trigger Depression

Critical illness can trigger depressionFrequently patients who survive critical illnesses later become clinically depressed, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University.  In their recent study of intensive care (ICU) patients who suffered either multiple organ failure, underwent surgery, or received high doses of benzodiazepine (Xanax, Valium) while in the ICU, 26% of the participants were suffering symptoms of depression at six months after ICU discharge.

Depression is a true medical condition that strikes people of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnic groups. The exact cause of it is not entirely certain, but we do know: depression tends to run in families, it is cyclical and tends to recur, it is usually triggered by a stressful event, and it is associated with an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.

Normal function of the brain involves a complex interaction of chemicals, called neurotransmitters. Depression is associated with an imbalance of these neurotransmitters.

Depression occurs in waves, or spells, and can last for months or even years if left untreated.  Sometimes people who are depressed try to feel better by using alcohol or drugs. This doesn’t help the depression in the long run; in fact, alcohol and illegal drug use are well known for making depression worse and can easily lead to a vicious downhill path of substance abuse and addiction.

Depression is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It is a true medical condition like diabetes or hypertension, and it is often an overwhelming disease. Depression deeply affects not only the person who is depressed, but close family and friends are usually greatly impacted as well.

More people suffer from depression than you might think. Twenty-five percent of all women and up to 12% of all men in the U.S. will experience an episode of major depression some time in their lives. A person who is depressed to the point that it interferes with daily activities should seek medical care.

There are many treatments available. Prescription medicines for depression or anxiety may be helpful. Talking to a mental health professional and your friends and family about your feelings and the experience can also help. Regular daily exercise, if you are medically able, is extremely helpful in treating depression.

Read about

Source: Dowdy D, et al “Are intensive care factors associated with depressive symptoms 6 months after acute lung injury?” Crit Care Med 2009; DOI: 10.1097/CCM.0b013e31819fea55.

What You Drink May Affect You More Than What You Eat

Soda is an insidious culprit in weight gainWhen it comes to weight loss, cutting down on sugary drinks may work better than eating less, say researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Weight loss efforts were more successful in their recent study of people who cut down on sugary beverages versus those who eliminated the same amount of calories from solid food. 

One explanation for these findings is that the body tends to self-regulate its intake of solid food. In other words, a person who eats a large breakfast and lunch will naturally be less hungry at dinner.  This self-regulation does not occur with sugary liquids.  In fact, sodas and other sugary beverages, including alcohol, simply don’t satisfy and account in large part for the growing obesity epidemic.  By 2015, experts contend that 75 percent of U.S. adults could be overweight or obese. 

SOURCES: Liwei Chen, M.D., Ph.D., M.H.S., assistant professor of epidemiology, School of Public Health, LSU Health Science Center, New Orleans; Connie Diekman, M.Ed, R.D., director, University Nutrition, Washington University, St Louis; April 1, 2009, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Binge Drinking Can Damage the Brain

Binge drinking can damage the brainAs little as four to five drinks in a 2-hr period can actually damage the brain and lead to numerous serious health conditions.  

Defined as five or more drinks during a 2-hr period for men or four or more drinks in the same amount of time for women, binge drinking is a common form of entertainment for adults, but also is highly prevalent in our youth.  In fact, one in three high school seniors are binge drinking at least once per month. 

In addition to brain damage, binge drinkers often suffer a number of very serious and significant consequences: 

  • Accidents and injuries (e.g., car crashes, falls, burns, drowning) Binge drinkers are 14 times more likely to report alcohol-impaired driving than non-binge drinkers.
  • Intentional injuries (e.g., firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence)
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Unintended pregnancy
  • Children born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
  • High blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases
  • Liver disease
  • Neurological damage
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Poor control of diabetes

In a study from Duke, young binge drinkers were found to have significantly smaller prefrontal cortexes on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The prefrontal cortex is an area of the brain associated with complex thinking, planning, inhibition, and emotional regulation. In this study, the size of the prefrontal cortex strongly correlated with the average number of drinks each individual consumed per drinking episode.

Source:  National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institute of HealthMedPageToday, Sept 2005

Source: Dr. De Bellis et al, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, Sept 2005 Reported in

Heavy Drinkers: Are You In That 5% of the Population?

People drinking wineThe health benefits of alcohol are frequently touted on the daily news, but the many hazards are often omitted.  Americans truly enjoy their alcohol, but the facts remain that excessive alcohol use is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States and is a risk factor for numerous serious health and societal problems.

What is excessive alcohol use?  It can take the form of heavy drinking, binge drinking, or both.   Heavy drinking is defined for women, as more than one drink per day on average, and for men, two drinks per day on average.  Binge drinking may occur only once per week or once per month but is defined as 5 or more drinks during a single occasion (in about 2 hours) for men or 4 or more drinks during a single occasion for women.  Approximately 5% of the total population drinks heavily and 15% of the population engages in binge drinking, according to the CDC.

Binge drinking alone is associated with a number of very serious and significant consequences.  Not to mention the many accidents, injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies, and children born with fetal alcohol syndrome,  alcohol intoxication from binge drinking is often responsible for significant brain damage, liver disease, high blood pressure, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, sexual dysfunction, and deadly alcohol poisoning.

Have you ever heard on the news that alcohol can cause cancer or brain damage?  Well it can, yet this seems to be a well-kept secret.  Heavy alcohol consumption, and in some cases moderate alcohol consumption, has a huge downside such as increasing the risk of cancer of the breast, mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, and liver; not to mention other toxic and harmful effects on the brain and liver.

Despite all the well-documented research that shows the hazards of drinking alcohol, most people when asked will say, drinking a glass or two of wine or an alcoholic drink is “good for you”.  Sure, an occasional glass of wine probably won’t hurt most people, but any more than a glass per day for a woman is considered heavy drinking, and there are bad consequences of heavy drinking.

The daily news is not completely wrong, there does appear to be some health benefits of alcohol, but many leading authorities contend that the hazards outweigh the benefits.

 Source:  National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institute of Health

Moderate alcohol intake may be linked to elevated blood pressure

Men drinkingMen who averaged three drinks a day over a lifetime had more than twice the risk of hypertension as those who drank little or no alcohol, according to a 2008 study from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

Often referred to as the “Silent Killer”, high blood pressure can insidiously damage any organ in your body for years before symptoms develop. Over time, high blood pressure eventually leads to life-threatening or disabling conditions such as stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, cognitive decline, aneurysm development, erectile dysfunction, nerve damage and vision problems. 

One in three adult Americans has high blood pressure, and nearly one-third of them don’t know they have it. The only way to know if you have hypertension is to have your blood pressure checked. People whose blood pressure is above 120/80 should consult their doctor about methods for lowering it.

Read more:

L Chen, G Smith, R Harbord, S Lewis, “Alcohol Intake and Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review Implementing a Mendelian Randomization Approach” PLOS Medicine, Mar 2008

Alcohol Abuse Appears to Cause Depression

All forms of alcohol affect the brainAlcohol dependence or abuse was associated with nearly double the risk of major depression in a recent study of 18 to 25 year olds. 

There appears to be little doubt that heavy drinking adversely affects the brain.  Numerous studies have not only linked alcohol problems with depression, but several other recent trials have found that heavy drinking in teens and young adults can cause brain shrinkage and changes on MRI consistent with early signs of alcohol-related dementia. Young problem drinkers have been found to have significantly smaller prefrontal cortexes, an area of the brain associated with complex thinking, planning, inhibition, and emotional regulation. Also, the size of the prefrontal cortex strongly correlated with the average number of drinks an individual consumed per drinking episode.

People of all ages, especially children, need to learn and use healthy coping mechanisms, such as exercise and good eating habits, to control stress.  Heavy drinking to wind down or have a good time often leads to a viscious downhill spiral of self-destruction.  

Source: Fergusson D, et al “Tests of causal links between alcohol abuse or dependence and major depression” Arch Gen Psychiatry 2009; 66: 260-266. 

Drinking Alcohol Linked with Cancer

Drinking alcohol is an enjoyable drink in the U.S.The cardiovascular benefits of alcohol consumption have been touted for several years.  This has been welcome news for those who enjoy drinking, but there may be a huge price to pay in the long run.  

The good news about alcohol has been well publicized, but the bad news has usually been absent from the  news story.   People have grown accustomed to their nightly glass, or two, of wine and are totally surprised to hear that drinking alcohol increases cancer risk.  For years the American Cancer Society (ACS) has been warning of the cancer risks of alcohol, but the ACS has a small voice compared to the nightly news.  Unfortunately, many have now grown accustomed, and yes addicted, to their daily alcohol and don’t want to give it up. 

Recently, a large new study from the University of Oxford further emphasizes the link of regular alcohol consumption with cancer.  The British researchers studied 1.3 million women and found that as little as one drink or more per day increased the risk of a half dozen types of cancer. The increased risk was similar in women who drank wine exclusively and in those who consumed other types of alcohol.

Leading authorities contend that no level of alcohol consumption should be considered safe when it comes to cancer.  The American Cancer Society summarizes the research to date and publishes the following recommendations on its website: “Alcohol raises the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), esophagus, liver, and breast, and probably of the colon and rectum. People who drink alcohol should limit their intake to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits. The combination of alcohol and tobacco increases the risk of some cancers far more than the effect of either drinking or smoking alone. Regular intake of even a few drinks per week is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in women, especially in women who do not get enough folate. Women at high risk of breast cancer may want to consider not drinking any alcohol.”

The Oxford researchers acknowledge that studies have shown some cardiovascular benefits associated with moderate alcohol consumption, but they say the cancer risk may outweigh those benefits.  There are many other well known health problems associated with alcohol such as hypertension, stroke, cardiac arrhythmias, mental decline and dementia, cirrhosis of the liver, dilated cardiomyopathy, and fetal alcohol syndrome. Also, the disasterous consequences of acute intoxication such as fatal motor vehicle accidents and chronic destructive addiction are just a few of the many social hazards of alcohol.

The dangers of alcohol are well known, have been known for a long time, and it is far from the whole story to say that alcohol is good for you.  

Source: Allen NE, et al “Moderate alcohol intake and cancer incidence in women” J Natl Cancer Inst 2009; 101: 296-305.
Source: Lauer MS, Sorlie P “Alcohol, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: treat with caution” J Natl Cancer Inst 2009; 101: 282-283.  
Source: “Even a Few Drinks a Day Increases Cancer Risk in Women”, MedPage Today, February 24, 2009