Alcohol

A high intake of alcoholic drinks can be a factor in causing obesity, both as a result of the energy yield of the alcohol itself and also because of the relatively high carbohydrate content of many alcoholic beverages. People who satisfy much of their energy requirement from alcohol frequently show vitamin deficiencies, because they are meeting their energy needs from drink, and therefore are not eating enough food to provide adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals. Deficiency of vitamin Bt is especially a problem among heavy drinkers (section 11.6.3).

In moderate amounts, alcohol has an appetite-stimulating effect, and may also help the social aspect of meals. Furthermore, there is good epidemiological evidence that modest consumption of alcohol is protective against atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. However, alcohol has harmful effects in excess, not only in the short term, when drunkenness may have undesirable consequences, but also in the longer term.

Figure 7.15 shows the relationship between alcohol consumption and mortality from various causes — it is a classical 'J-shaped' curve, with a protective effect of modest consumption compared with abstinence but a sharp increase in mortality with excessive consumption.

Opinions differ as to whether the protective effect of modest alcohol consumption

drinks /day

Figure 7.15 The effects of habitual alcohol consumption on mortality from various causes. From data reported by Boffetta P and Garfinkel L, Epidemiology 1: 342-348, 1990.

drinks /day

Figure 7.15 The effects of habitual alcohol consumption on mortality from various causes. From data reported by Boffetta P and Garfinkel L, Epidemiology 1: 342-348, 1990.

is a protective effect of the alcohol itself or due to some other constituent of the alcoholic beverages. Figure 7.16 shows that there are differences between the effects of wine, beer and spirits, regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed. Some studies have shown the same protective of red wine and dealcoholized wine, suggesting that alcohol is not the protective factor; the various polyphenols in red wine may well have an antioxidant action (section 7.4.3.6).

One problem in interpreting the data on alcohol consumption is that those who consume no alcohol will include not only those who for religious or other reasons choose to abstain from alcohol, but also those whose health has already been damaged by excessive consumption.

Habitual excess consumption of alcohol is associated with long-term health problems, including loss of mental capacity, liver damage and cancer of the oesophagus. Continued abuse can lead to physical and psychological addiction. The infants of mothers who drink more than a very small amount of alcohol during pregnancy are at risk of congenital abnormalities, and heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy can result in the fetal alcohol syndrome — low birth weight and lasting impairment of intelligence, as well as congenital deformities.

The guidelines on alcohol intake, the prudent upper limits of habitual consumption, are summarized in Table 7.2, and the alcohol content of beverages in Table 7.3.

Alcohol No More

Alcohol No More

Do you love a drink from time to time? A lot of us do, often when socializing with acquaintances and loved ones. Drinking may be beneficial or harmful, depending upon your age and health status, and, naturally, how much you drink.

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