Big Surprise – The Safe Amount of Alcohol – None

September 16, 2014 in Foodland Chronicles, Health, Uncategorized by Joyce Bunderson

When I was a young woman, I really wanted to be fashionable and cool. Two things that I thought would help convert a somewhat bookwormish woman to being cool were if I would drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. I started with the goal to smoke cigarettes. My sister tried several times to help me, but every time I’d get the cigarette up to my lips the smoke would go into my nose and make me hack and gag. I really tried, honestly, but was a complete failure. I essentially gave up – never tried again; relegated to the world of non-smokers. On the issue of drinking alcohol, I had a little more success. I went to a business party, had two drinks and discovered that the room was spinning. A business friend suggested that I had been drinking the wrong drink, so I got a gin Collins; that really helped. I remember that everything was funny; especially everything that I said. Wow, I was a comedian! Someone drove me home after the dinner and awards; I was at work the next day and I had no headache. Everyone was in awe. I had a couple of other drinking experiences – none as funny.  In September 1969, I decided to no longer drink alcohol for a combination of reasons. So that was it; if I were to be cool, it wasn’t going to be from cigarettes or alcohol. The fact is that I never became really cool.

Now looking back, sometimes life does you a favor. I’ve recognized for decades that the cigarette failure was a blessing in disguise. But the alcohol failure seemed more like a problem. Certainly we’ve heard for years that moderate drinking is good for our hearts. I want a healthy heart and to look cool getting the healthy heart. If you don’t know what I’m talking about just go to the wine and cheese parties in an academic setting.

We were just visiting with a couple, friends of ours from California a few days ago. They decided to not drink many years ago, nothing to do with religion, just decided not to drink. We shared how weird people think you are if you don’t drink and how ‘un-cool’ it still can be. The wife told that her husband, the oldest of four brothers is one of two, who can still stand – they’re all in their 60s and 70s. I mean really, the two that were drinkers are confined to scooters and bed; they have neuropathy and other ailments so bad that they can’t stand on their feet.

Yes, I have known about alcoholic neuropathy for a very long time. Of course, there are other problems of heavy drinking including dementia; depression; liver complications; seizures; gout; high blood pressure; and infectious diseases (heavy drinking suppresses the immune system).

But today I want to write about moderate drinking; the drinking that we’ve been told for so many years is good for our hearts. Recent studies have questioned that long-held belief. And this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a dire warning about cancer and alcohol. The report said that no amount is safe.

The risk of cancer as related to alcohol consumption is news to most people that I know. The WHO stated that alcohol is a carcinogen clear back in 1988; the U.S. government health agencies have reached the same conclusion. The types of cancer that alcohol is known to cause include: larynx, esophagus, pharynx, mouth, colon-rectum, liver and female breast. The risk relationship is directly proportional to amount consumed. So the more you drink, the greater your risk of these types of cancer.

One thing that I like is the guidelines for healthy drinking are actually something that the general population can follow. Limit consumption to 20 g daily for men and 15 g daily for women (1.5 drinks for men and 1 drink for women, by US standards.) The public health experts and medical community continue to say, “If you don’t drink now, don’t reach for the bottle;” don’t start drinking.

Have you heard or read anything about the new movement to inform consumers about the risks of drinking alcohol? Because of the growing evidence that alcohol increases the risk of certain types of cancer, diabetes and heart disease, some countries are pushing for warnings written right on the product (like the warning on the cigarette labels.) Presently, we get a suggestion tacked on to the end of the commercial to drink responsibly. Mostly we learn about drinking and pregnancy and drinking and driving; but we don’t want to forget about other health problems.

One suggestion in the Australian Journal Biomedcentral (Bio Medical Central Public Health) is to take days off – don’t drink anything for 1 - 2 days each week, as it can help the liver recover from the effects of alcohol and reduce the risk for liver complications.

I don’t want to finish an article about alcohol consumption without mentioning that alcohol impairs ability (hello drunk driving); but alcohol-induced impairment is not limited to driving a car. We can risk our life, our relationships, our economic well-being, our reputation and other things valuable to us just as easily as we risk lives when driving impaired. History is filled with people making poor decisions when under the influence. Those seeking to encourage someone else to make a bad decision use this fact: men plying women with alcohol to seduce them (or visa-versa) is as old as the hills. Encouraging excess drinking during business deals is another. So there’re lots of reasons to consider true moderate drinking.

The evidence that any level of alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer heavily influences this recent action of the World Health Organization; moreover, that risk rises in correlation with the level of consumption. But the cancer risk may be the least risk one takes when starting down the alcohol path. It is hard to turn back. American women have been reported to not be interested in decreasing drinking in order to reduce risk for breast cancer. Young women are an especially heavy drinking group; I can only wonder if they are trying to be cool (or whatever the latest term for cool is) and/or fashionable. Some have the gene that makes them more likely to develop strong addictions -- alcoholism. In addition, one study found that increased risk for cancer among light to moderate drinkers is related to people lying about their drinking habits (underreporting). When I watch television sports, I often think of how cool, the women look, gracefully drinking ‘X’ from that perfect goblet.  I wonder if young women are still trying to be cool and fashionable. I know the cost can be high, but wonder just how high the cost for “cool and fashionable” is.