The Sunday Leader

Alcohol And Its Health Benefits

By Dr. Harold Gunatillake (Health Writer)

Drinking in moderation can be healthy

It is generally believed that white people drink more alcohol than the non-whites and live longer.  Sri Lankans from pre-historic times have been drinking local brews, but the influence of Buddhism deterred drinking in public. When the Portuguese arrived and settled along the western coastal areas, native Sinhala people had observed that these foreigners were ‘drinking blood,’ not knowing that it was alcohol, possibly red wine. Arrack became the social drink among the middle and lower classes of Sri Lankans and the rich and the affluent indulged in foreign liquor from the time of the British.

Today, in Sri Lanka even the ladies drink wines and hard drinks among the upper social classes, and the average working class and rural women do not seem to drink alcohol.

“French paradox” created interest in finding out why the French despite eating a rich diet and drinking wine with meals, had a lower incidence of heart disease. They don’t seem to drink water at all, and the theory that one should drink six glasses or more goes for a six when it comes to the French.

Research and studies reveal that alcohol’s link with health is a bit like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Exactly which face it shows depends on who’s drinking and how much. Most people who drink two or less alcoholic beverages seem to benefit in overall health, including cardiovascular health especially in the middle age when heart disease begins to account for an increasing incidence of morbidity and mortality, while those who drink more are liable to run the risk of colon and breast cancer.
It is also observed that heavy drinking runs the risk of developing high blood pressure, cirrhosis, incidence of various types of cancer and ill-health. Pregnant women should avoid alcohol totally, and others should drink only one per day. For men the doctors recommend two drinks only. The definition of ‘alcoholic’ is a person who drinks more than what his doctor drinks.

Non-drinkers, however, need not feel the need to start drinking alcohol to improve their health.

For people with liver disease, taking one or more medications that interact with alcohol, the risk of drinking outweighs the benefits. People on chemotherapy should check with their oncologists.

Those who drink even two drinks a day need to take multivitamins with folic acid. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, a B vitamin that may help lower the risk of heart disease and cancers of the breast in women and cancer of the colon. Alcohol generally depletes our body’s stores.

When you drink moderately (two glasses) — whatever drink you like — beer or spirits, each seems to have the same health benefits as long as moderation is adhered to (no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men).

Excessive alcohol drinks may affect your skin giving such diseases like urticaria, porphyria, flushing, rosacea bruising, increased pigmentation, among others.

Heart disease

Maximum benefit in helping to prevent heart disease comes from a regular pattern of drinking small amounts of alcohol. This benefit is noted among people aged from about 40-60 years and over. A similar benefit has not been found for younger age groups. Consuming large amounts of alcohol will have a detrimental effect on your health and increase the risk of illness and death from heart disease. There is strong evidence that low risk drinking may similarly provide some protection against ischaemic stroke, and also provide some protection against gallstones. An exhaustive review of all major heart disease studies found that “alcohol consumption is related to total mortality in a U-shaped manner, meaning moderate consumers have reduced mortality compared with total non-consumers and heavy consumers.

An extensive review of recent medical research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that, with few exceptions, studies from at least 20 countries around the world demonstrate a 20 to 40 percent lower coronary heart disease (CHD) incidence among drinkers compared to non-drinkers. Moderate drinkers exhibit lower rates of CHD-related mortality than either heavy drinkers or abstainers.

In a study of nearly 88,000 men, Harvard researchers found that drinking reduced the risk of coronary heart disease risk among both diabetics and non-diabetics. Weekly consumption of alcohol reduced CHD risk by one-third (33%) while daily consumption reduced the risk by over half (58%) among diabetics. For non-diabetics, weekly consumption reduced CHD risk by 18% while daily consumption reduced the risk by 39%.

Harvard researchers concluded about coronary heart disease that “Consumption of one or two drinks of beer, wine, or liquor per day has corresponded to a reduction in risk of approximately 20-40%.”

Moderate drinking reduces the risk of both heart disease and death by heart attack; studies have found variable risk reduction rates, ranging from 25% (various studies) to 40% (Nurses’ Health Study — a longitudinal study of 85,709 nurses).

Alcohol decreases LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases (good) HDL cholesterol. Alcohol decreases thrombosis (blood clotting) by reducing platelet aggregation, reduces fibrinogen in the blood which helps clotting, and increases breakdown of fibrinogen (fibrinolysis).

Alcohol reduces coronary artery spasm in response to stress, and increases blood flow. It reduces blood pressure and reduces harmful arterial plaque.

There is some early evidence that low risk drinking may provide some protection against type 2 diabetes. (Source National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (2001). Australian Alcohol Guidelines: Health Risks And Benefits. NHMRC, Canberra).

Strokes: A study published in the Journal Of The American Medical Association found that consuming one or two drinks a day can reduce the risk of ischemic stroke by about half. Its findings support the National Stroke Association Stroke Prevention Guidelines regarding the beneficial effects of moderate alcohol consumption.

Moderate drinking and obesity

This is a study conducted at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

In the study co-researcher Howard S. Sesso ScD, MPH, said that women who already drink in moderation showed a reduction in weight. The study included more than 19,000 women aged 39 and older enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative.

None of the women were overweight when they entered the study, and all were asked about their daily alcohol consumption in an initial questionnaire.

About 40% reported that they did not drink at all, while 33% reported drinking the equivalent of about two alcoholic beverages a week. Another 20% reported having about a drink a day, 6% drank one to two alcoholic beverages a day, and 3% reported drinking more than this.

Over an average of 13 years of follow-up, most of the women in the study gained some weight.

But the women who reported being teetotalers when they entered the study gained the most weight. The women who reported drinking some alcohol, but no more than two drinks a day, gained the least.

To Be Continued Next Week

4 Comments for “Alcohol And Its Health Benefits”

  1. maurice sutton

    My son tried to commit suicide on Tuesday 28th of April, by blowing up his flat with a gas bottle. He suffered severe burns and was taken to hospital under police surveillance, without being assessed by a psychiatrist he was then taken to forestgate police station, kept overnight and the following day was taken to Stratford court, he was not allowed to sit in front of the judge as his burns were so severe, the judge remanded him in custody and took straight to pentonville prison, my ex wife was waiting to see our son before he was taken to prison and she was refused to see him, what we cannot understand is if his burns were so severe why on earth was he taken out of hospital in extreme pain and mental condition should have been sectioned with continuing after care.

    Also they are charging him with Arson and intent to harm others, which in our view is impossible as he tried to commit suicide not to burn down his flat only intending to harm himself, after being released from rehab far too soon for Alcoholism . He has been treated like a piece of meat, been shown no compassion to himself or his family with complete disrespect. We are now writing to Boris Johnson to look into this and we feel you should cover this story as it is in your local area. This is passive Alcohol at its best and imposed on other people.

    This will not stop here and we are taking this matter further.

    I will give you all my details but my ex wife’s telephone number as I live in Portugal , I can assure you that someone will be held accountable.

    Since my last Email when they first put him in Pentonville, he had problems with his Pancreas through Alcohol which they never looked into

    then we nearly lost our son again.

    He had a fit while in the Hospital Prison and had to be rushed to hospital where we nearly lost him and while in hospital they found he had blood poisoning from

    the gas.

    While in Hospital he had to be hand cuffed 24 – 7 while he’s left hand was badly burn’t and that was the hand they handcuffed.

    After two week’s of treatment in Hospital they took him back to pentonville.

    Since then he has been to court , charged with Arson which he has pleaded not guilty to.

    Now he is going to crown court under jury on the 19th oct and is now residing in Brixton prison awaiting trial.

    Full name Wayne Maurice Sutton D.O.B ….10. 04. 1968.

    Thank you very much for your interest in our situation

    Maurice sutton

    Waynes story you’ve given my son 4 years imprisonment after the judge arrived at arson attempted arson which the judge stated was such a complicated case so complicated that we need answers to all the abuses that the state has put on my son wayne and our family we need answers right from the start when wayne had tried to commit suicide without intention to hurt anybody only himself in that state of mind why on earth was he put in hospital care only to be sent to pentonville prison rather than being sectioned in a hospital unit where he would have received the necessary help he so desperately needed he was abused and treated worse than an animal from newham hospital to forest gate police station to the court where the judge decided he was so bad in condition of his burns that he could not appear in court only to be sent to pentonville is this what you call justice anyone with a brain could see that prison was not the answer he should have been sectioned case closed now i want answers and justice for my son to be released after all this neglect incompetance abuse imposed on him so if he is guilty so are the political drug barons and the rest of society who impose alcohol on society the hypocracy stops now release my son my son may not be in your constituency but alcohol is

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