Alcohol: Benefits, Risks, and How Much is Too Much?

Alcohol: Benefits, Risks, and How Much is Too Much?

Alcohol: Benefits, Risks, and How Much is Too Much? – Alcohol. Many people praise it for its health benefits – for example, some people believe that drinking red wine can help improve heart, brain and gut health. This drink is also a popular choice for socializing and relaxing amidst a fast and sometimes stressful life. However, the cumulative effects of consuming alcohol can take a toll on a person’s body, with chronic alcohol consumption causing damage to our vital organs.

How alcohol can benefit you

Although there is little scientifically supported research on the benefits of drinking alcohol, some of the health benefits that have been linked to moderate alcohol consumption include:

Better cardiovascular health

Research has linked light to moderate alcohol consumption to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. An article from Harvard suggests the likely cause is that moderate amounts of alcohol can increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (also known as “good cholesterol”) — cholesterol that has been linked to better protection against heart disease .

Positive effect on glucose and fat metabolism

According to research presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes 2019 in Barcelona, ​​alcohol can have a positive effect on blood glucose and fat metabolism.

Decreased blood clotting

Drinking moderate amounts also thins the blood, potentially protecting against clots in blocked arteries. However, it should be noted that alcohol should not replace prescribed blood thinners.

Improve mental health

There are also social and psychological benefits to consuming small amounts of alcohol – drinks can aid digestion or help a person to relax after a long day at work. Having an occasional drink at a social gathering can also help relieve stress.

However, remember that what you drink is less important than how you drink. Drinking 7 glasses of whiskey on a Saturday night is not the same as drinking one every day of the week.

Why alcohol can be bad for you

There are also health risks, especially for those who drink alcohol excessively. The risks can be short-term, usually bothering a person for up to a few hours. Individuals may experience effects such as drowsiness, vomiting, impaired vision and hearing, decreased coordination and judgment, and fainting. Because these effects can be so common, they tend to be considered harmless and temporary.

However, in the long term, excessive drinking can cause health problems throughout the body if left untreated, resulting in severe impacts, most of which are digestive related.

For example, drinking alcohol excessively will overload the excretory system – the system responsible for removing waste products, such as alcohol, from the body. When someone consumes excessive amounts of alcohol, the pancreas will work to break down the alcohol in the body. In the process, toxic substances are produced that will ultimately damage it.

In the worst case scenario after chronic consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol, a person’s condition can progress to liver damage. Also known as alcohol-related disease (ARLD), this condition refers to liver damage caused by consuming alcohol over a long period of time and in excessive amounts.

Symptoms that indicate that something is wrong include vomiting blood or blood in the stool, swelling in the ankles and abdomen, yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice), and weight loss.

ARLD occurs in three stages:

Stage 1: Alcohol-Induced Fatty Liver Disease This stage begins with the accumulation of fat in the liver. This can happen if a person’s alcohol intake is too high, even for a few days. The disease rarely causes any symptoms and is curable – the liver will return to normal after a few weeks after a person stops consuming alcohol.

Stage 2: Alcoholic Hepatitis This is where people usually discover damage to their liver, usually after drinking alcohol excessively over a longer period of time. This damage is usually reversible for those who stop drinking alcohol permanently.

Stage 3: Cirrhosis In this stage, the liver experiences significant damage . Although generally irreversible, stopping alcohol intake immediately can prevent further damage. For severe cases, a liver transplant may be necessary.

Alcohol: How much is too much?

At some point, you may have wondered how much alcohol can cause significant health problems. Recommended intake varies according to many factors including gender, body composition, and even country.

In Singapore, the Health Promotion Board recommends no more than 2 standard drinks a day for men, and no more than 1 standard drink a day for women. Guidelines for standard alcoholic beverages are as follows:

  • One can (330ml) of regular beer
  • Half a glass (175ml) of wine
  • One glass (35ml) of alcoholic beverage

Indulging in the occasional drink of alcohol is nothing to worry about, but you should consistently be conscious of not overdoing it. Long-term excessive drinking can cause health problems that can sometimes be severe – with a common consequence being liver damage.

Liver damage occurs gradually, so early detection and treatment are essential. Alcoholic patients are known to reverse their condition within 3 – 6 months after changing their habits and receiving appropriate specialist treatment. If you experience symptoms of liver damage, consider consulting a gastroenterologist for examination and treatment.

Remember that your genetic makeup, pre-existing health problems, age, physical activity level, and nutritional status all play a large role in determining your body’s response to alcohol consumption. What is moderate for some people may be heavy alcohol consumption for others.

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