Many people find themselves naturally cutting down on alcohol as they get older. As we age we become more sensitive to the affects of drink, with sleepless nights and tendency of a few drinks to make other medical conditions worse. From menopausal hot sweats, high blood pressure, ulcers and diabetes can worsen from alcohol use leading to people going sober.
But whether you are giving up altogether or just cutting down there is a new positive attitude surrounding being sober, as captured in Jason Vale’s bestselling ‘Kick the Drink. Easily’. We are brainwashed into thinking we are ‘giving up alcohol’ but not much is said of what you gain from stopping drinking. Our guest blogger Paul, who gave up alcohol when being diagnosed with Chron’s disease, talks about the benefits of giving up alcohol and the real risks when it comes to drinking.
Here’s Paul story, who shares the freedom of not drinking.
Last year I was diagnosed with Chron’s disease and whilst going through the many blood tests, concerns were raised with my liver functionality and more specifically, high levels of something called alanine transaminase (ALT). This is an enzyme that is released into the bloodstream when the liver is damaged. Whilst at a referral appointment with a Professor in Hepatolology I was asked the usual questions about diet, smoking and alcohol consumption. I imagine the professor was used to people sitting in front of him having abused their liver and expecting him to fix it. But the questions I was asked and responses I gave got me thinking about alcohol and the effect it has on our health.
Now I’m not saying I’ve lived the life of a saint, but for the last eighteen months plus, I can count the number of drinks I’ve had on both hands. In fact, the two sips I tried at Christmas made me so ill, I’ve not touched a sip since. In addition to that, I’m a vegan and I don’t smoke.
Once I said this to the Professor, you could see a clear change in his approach and demeanour – it was like he’d never heard these replies.
This raised a few questions in my head, just how bad is the dreaded alcohol? How much do we really drink as a nation? What effect is it having on our health? How truthful are we to ourselves about our own consumption?
Ultimately, alcohol is a poison. Your body can only process one unit of alcohol an hour. That’s the equivalent of a third of a pint of beer or half a standard glass of wine. When you relate that to a standard night out (or even at home with a few glasses after a stressful day) we’d all have to admit to drinking too much.
What Immediate Effect Does Alcohol Have On The Body?
Slows down brain function and you lose your sense of balance.
Dehydrates you (and most of us don’t drink enough water as it is!)
Irritates your stomach.
Lowers the body temperature.
Lowers blood sugar levels.
How Does Alcohol Effect Sleep?
Regular drinking affects sleep quality and makes you feel tired and sluggish. The reason for this is that alcohol affects your sleep cycle.
People are under the illusion that drinking helps you go to sleep quicker and sleep better. The former may be true, but as the night goes on, your sleep is less deep and more time is spent in less restful Rapid Eye Movement (R.E.M.) sleep.
In reality, this leaves you feeling more tired, no matter how long you stay in bed the next day.
Alcohol and Sugar
A sound bite often used is alcohol is full of empty calories, but what does this mean? Alcoholic drinks have no nutritional value and are full of sugar, which is bad news for your waistline.
We all know too much sugar is bad for us in a number of ways:
It’s high in calories.
Too much leads to unhealthy weight gain.
Being overweight makes you susceptible to long-term health problems such as heart disease and type two diabetes.
It can lead to tooth decay
People forget that alcoholic drinks can account for up to 10% of an adults daily intake of added sugar. In particular wines, liquors and cider, along with carbonated mixers, have a higher sugar content.
When you consume alcohol, the body channels the toxins and expel them. This has an effect on your bodily functions, not least the production of glucose and hormones needed to regulate the body.. Over time, the more you drink, too much alcohol decreases the effectiveness of insulin which leads to high blood sugar levels. It can also have the opposite effect and increase insulin levels, which leads to low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). This causes light-headedness and fatigue, and is responsible for a host of longer-term problems.
Alcohol and The Liver
As I began this article, I referred to the liver and this is the area that got me wanting to find out more. I have been diagnosed with Autoimmune Hepatitis. This is a chronic disease where the blood cells attack and destroy the liver. This is not caused by alcohol, but stopping the consumption certainly helps to control and prevent the affect of the disease.
The liver is the largest internal organ and has hundreds of roles including:
Breaking down food into energy.
Helping the body get rid of waste.
When your liver is damaged, you won’t generally know about it until things get serious. Drinking can increase the risk of developing liver disease and cause irreparable damage. Alcohol is responsible for over one third of liver disease deaths and research shows those suffering are getting younger.
How Does Alcohol Damage Your Liver?
The liver tries to breakdown alcohol and the resultant reaction damages cells. Alcohol can also damage your intestine and cause gut bacteria to get into the liver. This damage leads to inflammation and scarring.
Alcohol also affects the way the liver handles fat, so your liver cells get stuffed full of it. The good news is, stop drinking for two weeks and then sticking to the recommended alcohol units, means your liver should start shedding excess fat.
Other Health Related Problems
On top of liver problems, alcohol can cause many other issues including high blood pressure, cancer and diabetes. Dehydration from drinking too much alcohol can also affect your skin, as well as causing headaches.
Should I Give Up Alcohol?
Many people over 50 are finding themselves cutting down on alcohol consumption. As well as the many problems that alcohol causes, quitting alcohol or cutting down can make you feel great. Through getting decent sleep; losing weight, cutting down on sugar, and giving your body the chance to repair damage done, the lifestyle benefits you gain from saying no to alcohol can make you feel amazing!