HEALTH February 2016
A Healthy Age
As if seniors don’t have enough to worry out, the literature on drinking alcohol could confuse the soberest judge.
James Bond, Agent 007, likes his martini “shaken, not stirred.” But if his countrymen at the United Kingdom’s Department of Health have their way, 007 will be drinking a kale smoothie.
A new study from the United Kingdom’s Department of Health asserts there isn’t any reason to drink alcohol for health purposes. The UK’s Commission on Carcinogenicity (CoC) issued new guidelines that state even a small amount of spirits may increase the risk of some cancers. The study compared drinkers with teetotalers.
The UK Department of Public Health notes alcohol consumption leads to more than 60 medical conditions, including the big three: heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. This was a startling statistic: the Royal Society also noted about one in 20 new diseases in the United Kingdom results from alcohol consumption.
While not much of a drinker, I like my libation when on vacation, and found this news a little jarring. My saving grace was that this particular study said the benefits of alcohol for heart health applied only for senior women over 55. As defined by the study, “limiting” means two glasses of wine a week, for example.
What to make of this new data? As if seniors don’t have enough to worry out, the literature on drinking alcohol could confuse the soberest judge.
The London newspaper, The Guardian, followed the brouhaha over the study results with an article comparing international guidelines to the strict UK recommendations. The paper noted a 2013 study by the University of Sussex (England) that demonstrated varied opinions about the evil excesses of alcohol across the world. France has no guidelines at all while the Dutch mirror the Brits.
The report from Netherlands is definitive, and uses the example of drinking wine, and says the small benefits from red wine don’t outweigh the negative health risks of alcohol consumption.
What Do Our Scholars in the United States Say?
- This may be a surprise to the lay person, but alcohol is considered a carcinogen.
- The National Cancer Institute notes clear evidence between drinking alcohol and the following types: head and neck, esophageal, liver, breast, and colorectal cancers.
- The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 says moderate alcohol drinking is up to one per day for women and two per day for men.
- The amount referenced above is 14 grams, or what is generally in 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces or a shot of 80-proof alcohol.
- The NIH noted (to confuse us more) studies indicate a moderate amount of alcohol can decrease the risk of kidney cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the NIH detailed how drinking too much — once or a lifetime — can mark your overall health adversely.
Drinking can damage the heart, including cardiomyopathy (stretching and drooping of the muscle), irregular heartbeat, stroke, and damaging high blood pressure. The article from NIH back peddled in this section and cited research that showed drinking a moderate amount may protect healthy adults from developing heart disease. My father’s cardiologist has long advised him to drink a glass of red wine with dinner.
It’s widely known our liver can be damaged by alcohol, causing fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, or the one most people are familiar with, cirrhosis.
The pancreas under the influence produces toxins that may eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous condition for the blood vessels, prohibiting needed digestion.
In our brain, liquor entangles the pathways responsible for communication. The roller coaster ride in the brain explains the pink elephant metaphor as alcohol changes the way the brain looks and works.
Even our immune system is not immune from the negative effects of alcohol. If alcohol weakens our line of defense, we’re much easier target for the warriors of disease. Chronic drinkers often get bronchitis and pneumonia and find recovery more difficult than among their sober friends.
So, what’s a body to do when the siren song of the vodka gimlet calls?
Ask your physician. While the worldwide guidelines are the outcome of peer-reviewed clinical studies, they are confusing. We ask our physician when we want to take an over the counter sleep or sinus medicine, why not do the same for the next martini?
For more information, check out the NIH National Cancer Institute Guidelines at www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/alcohol/alcohol-fact-sheet
Confusing Data About Alcohol Consumption was syndicated by Senior Wire News Service during February 2016 and ran in multiple papers throughout the United States, as well as at GO60.us.