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Dry July: To Alcohol or not to Alcohol?

This month GoodnessMe Box is proudly supporting Dry July so we thought it was the perfect opportunity to educate both ourselves and you guys about aclohol and the effect it has on our bodies. By Amie Skilton, Nutritionist, Naturopath and Educator for BioCeuticals

What happens in our bodies when we drink alcohol?

Alcohol is what we call a central nervous system depressant. Our central nervous system is responsible for taking in information through the senses, controlling motor function (walking and talking for instance!), as well as thinking, understanding, and reasoning. It also controls emotion. So imbibing your choice of central-nervous-system-depressing beverage has the effect of slowing us down. And, in this crazy hectic world we live in, can feel quite good - initially.

The degree to which brain activity slows down depends on how much, and how fast, a person drinks. Some effects people experience include:

  • Altered speech
  • Hazy thinking
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Dulled hearing
  • Impaired vision
  • Weakened muscles
  • Foggy memory

And these things are not so good. In addition to these immediate effects, regular consumption of alcohol can start to wreak havoc on our health - inside and out. The empty calories (and sometimes what we eat under the influence) can lead to weight gain. Alcohol also has a both a direct, and indirect impact on hormones which can lead to fluid retention, an irregular menstrual cycle, and break outs. If we are overindulging our skin will often let us know, but we’ll also notice our sleep is affected which affects our energy and concentration the next day (or two!).

Drinking too much

– on a single occasion or over time – can take a serious toll on your health. Not only does alcohol deplete vital nutrients, it can cause some real problems to our organs and tissues:

  • Because alcohol affects the brain it can alter your mood and behaviour, and in turn increase your risk for anxiety, depression and dementia
  • Overdoing it can also damage your heart resulting in problems like irregular heart beat, high blood pressure and stroke
  • Alcohol also takes a heavy toll on your liver which may eventually result in hepatitis and other related issues - it can also inflame the pancreas, which affects digestion (and increases the risk of developing diabetes and pancreatic cancer)
  • In fact drinking too much alcohol increases your risk of developing several types of cancer including mouth, throat and breast cancer
  • As drinking too much weakens your immune system (and more susceptible to getting sick) if you notice you keep picking up illnesses and find it’s taking longer than usual too recover - it could be a message from your body to ease up on the alcohol
    You can read more about the detrimental effects of alcohol here:

What is the amount of alcohol that a normal person should drink?

This depends on many factors including a person’s weight, state of health, and other individual factors, having said that, the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines state:

  • the lifetime risk of harm from drinking alcohol increases with the amount consumed - for healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury
  • on a single occasion of drinking, the risk of alcohol-related injury increases with the amount consumed - for healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion
    Lifetime risky drinkers are defined as people who consume more than 2 standard drinks per day (on average over a 12 month period). Single occasion risky drinkers are defined as people consuming 5 or more standard drinks on a single drinking occasion.

Women should be aware that, due to smaller body mass and metabolic rate that:

  • over a lifetime, the risk of alcohol-related disease increases more quickly for women and the risk of alcohol-related injury increases more quickly for men; and
  • on a single occasion, women may reach higher blood alcohol levels than men who have consumed an equivalent amount of alcohol; however, men are more likely to incur an injury because in general they are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour when drinking
    It helps to be conscious of what a standard drink actually is. The definition of which is 10 grams of alcohol. A standard drink is not the same thing as a serving of alcohol. As there are no common glass sizes used in Australia, drink serving sizes are often contain more than one standard drink. You can see for yourself the breakdown of different beverages and their alcohol equivalents in this diagram:

How to drink intelligently!

Ultimately you need to make a conscious decision on how you’re going to manage your intake. Some things to consider are:

  • Look at your diary and plan ahead. How many social engagements do you have? Work out if and how much you can afford to drink health wise and plan accordingly
  • Aim for roughly 1 drink per hour. If possible order a drink at a time - it can be harder to keep track if the water is free pouring wine for example
  • Alternate each drink with water to maintain hydration and space out your alcoholic drinks. This doesn’t have to be boring - sparkling water with a twist of lime is a staple (in a short glass it will pass for a vodka lime & soda) and my personal a favourite, a splash of peach juice (mock Bellini anyone?)

If you do socialise regularly, and/or you entertain for work, consider a smart supplementation regime to support your body:

  • Alcohol depletes many different nutrients, especially B vitamins - take a good quality multivitamin every day, and on days that you consume alcohol - take two
  • The herb Milk thistle has been shown to have a protective and regenerative effect on the liver - to buffer alcohol-induced liver damage this herb is a good idea
  • Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant with numerous benefits that include protecting the brain from the full impact of alcohol induced damage
  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach

In case you went overboard...

Most of us have overdone it on occasion and it doesn’t feel good! But the good news is there are things you can do to speed up the recovery and send your hangover on it’s way:

  • Rehydrate. Alcohol is terribly dehydrating (which is partly why we feel so bad after too much) but in addition to water, add some electrolytes! The dehydrating effect of alcohol causes us to lose precious minerals which also makes us feel terrible. Make sure the electrolyte replacement contains magnesium as this electrolyte is often neglected in electrolyte replacement formulas (and a mineral we lose a lot of as a result of drinking alcohol). If your electrolytes are missing magnesium pick up a good quality magnesium powder to add to your mixture. Coconut water is also a nice way to rehydrate and replace your minerals.
  • Up your antioxidants. Some of the issues that alcohol causes relate to the free radical damage that occurs as a result of the drug itself, and our metabolism of it. The better our antioxidant status is, the better our bodies can cope. Of course daily consumption of fresh, local, seasonal fruit and vegetables is recommended (and the darker, deeper coloured ones tend to have the most antioxidants - think cherries, berries, purple cabbage, sweet potato, and dark green leafy veges) but in the event of overindulgence a high potency supplement that contains vitamins, minerals and herbs like Milk thistle, Grape seed, Blueberry, resveratrol will also go a long way to helping your recovery.
  • Eat lightly. Whilst your liver and kidneys are trying to process the alcohol (and the lining of your digestive system is also recovering) you’ll probably feel better if you stick to lighter meals. Easy to digest soups and smoothies are a good idea, and ensure you have a nice balance of protein, fat and carbohydrate to stabilise your blood sugar levels.
  • Support your body with supplements. As mentioned above, Milk thistle, B vitamins and coenzyme Q10 will go a long way to supporting your body in bouncing back.
  • Rest. Your body is going to be expending a lot of energy to undo the damage, so it’s a good idea to take it easy and be kind to yourself!
    Always speak to your healthcare practitioner when considering supplementation. When taking supplements, make sure to always read the label and use only as directed. If symptoms persist, see your healthcare practitioner. Supplements should not replace a balanced diet.
Amie Skilton Bio:

Amie Skilton graduated in 2001 with a Diploma in Botanical Medicine, an Advanced Diploma in Naturopathy and a BHSc in Complementary Medicine. She has been in clinical practice for more than 13 years, and worked concurrently for BioCeuticals for almost ten years in the Technical Team as a presenter, educator and writer. Amie is also involved in Corporate Health, lecturing at numerous companies as part of their OH&S programs. She specialises in several areas including women's health and weight loss.

Find out more about Amie on her website

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