Many of us enjoy a glass of wine with a meal or an alcoholic beverage when celebrating a special occasion. Alcohol is the most popular recreational “drug” in the world.
Nevertheless, we receive mixed messages about whether drinking alcohol in moderation is good or bad for us. The effects of alcohol on the body are complex and will vary between individuals, as well as the amount and type of alcohol consumed.
What is alcohol?
Alcohol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol) is what causes the stimulant effect in beverages such as beer and wine. It is produced by the fermentation of grains and fruits. Fermentation occurs when a chemical process whereby yeast or bacteria react with sugars in food creating alcohol.
Effects of alcohol on body and mind
The short and long-term effects of alcohol can influence your body, lifestyle and moods.
In the short term, it can reduce self-consciousness and allow individuals to lose their inhibitions. Nevertheless, this can also lead to impaired judgment and as a consequence poor decision-making.
The longer-term effects of alcohol include liver damage, increased risk of certain cancers, impaired brain function and weight gain.
The liver is responsible for removing toxins like alcohol from our bodies and is, therefore, susceptible to damage from alcohol consumption. Research suggests fatty liver occurs in 90% of those who consume more than 16g of alcohol per day. It involves an increase of fat accumulation inside liver cells but is reversible.
Excessive consumption can result in a condition known as cirrhosis, which is irreversible and in severe cases can lead to a liver transplant.
Intake of alcohol has also been linked to certain cancers such as mouth, throat, colon, breast and liver cancer. Even consuming 1 alcoholic drink a day is associated with a 20% increased risk of mouth or throat cancer. Evidence suggests drinking 4 drinks a day could increase risks of mouth and throat cancer by 5 times.
Nevertheless, there are some health benefits associated with moderate consumption of red wine. Red wine has large amounts of antioxidants and compounds including Resveratrol. Studies in this area show moderate red wine consumption to have anti-ageing properties, protective abilities for cardiovascular health and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes in women.
How much is too much?
Guidelines are made based on the number of drinks per week and measured in units.
The UK Chief Medical Officers guidelines for men and women should consume no more than 14 units a week (approx 2 units per day, not in a single sitting). It can be difficult to visual how many units are in a drink.
Click here for a unit calculator to help you work out how much you are drinking.
It is also important to be aware that alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, the second energy dense nutrient after fat. Therefore, consuming alcohol can also influence one’s body weight and weight loss goals.
Research suggests that heavy drinking can increase weight gain. This is in contrast; to a moderate consumption of alcohol associated with reduced weight gain.
As with many aspects of a healthy lifestyle, it comes down to moderation. Drinking small amounts, especially red wine is linked to various health benefits. However, drinking excessively can have negative effects on mind and body.