01.12.2007

Drink to Your Health

Alcohol may be good for you... drunk in moderation...by a healthy adult... with a healthy liver... and afew alcohol-free days a week. So, perhaps it's not goodfor you specifically, unless of course you happen tobe a moderate-drinking, not-overweight adult, with ahealthy liver. Unfortunately, most people fail to meetthis list, either drinking too much (technically, abinge drinking male consumes five, and females four,standard drinks in a row), drinking too often (do thisthree times a fortnight and you are a frequent binger),carrying too much fat around the tummy (that is, overhalf of all Australians), or having an unhealthy liver(about 10 per cent have actual liver disease). Subsequently,alcohol usually winds up causing more harm than goodfor most.

And not all drinkers are the same. Alcohol can affectfemales far more due to their lower levels of musclemass that can significantly dilute the alcohol in males.A test I use at work involves a computerised body compositionand cellular health analysis. Results show that a femaleof the same weight as myself will usually carry about15-20kg less of lean muscle tissue than me, puttingher at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to dilutingalcohol. As well as feeling the effects of alcohol morequickly and strongly than males, this means that a binge-drinkingfemale is more susceptible to developing alcohol-induceddiseases earlier than males. This includes alcohol inducedhepatitis, and cirrhosis of the liver. These are theresult of the inflammation that occurs in the liverwhen alcohol is converted into its toxic metabolite,acetaldehyde. Even occasional binge drinking, let alonefrequent binging, is capable of causing cause seriousliver damage.

In severe liver disease, certain parts of the bodycan become yellow in colour due to a build up of thepigment, bilirubin. If the whites of your eyes havebeen a little yellow lately, or your tan is more bananathan bronze, or your urine looks less like a mountainspring and more like the Ganges on washing day, thenyour liver may be suffering a lot. Liver disease cankeep itself well hidden until the liver is well andtruly ill. Even a normal liver function blood test cannotalways rule out liver disease. Some early warnings tolook out for can typically include feeling tired, itchy,not sleeping, memory and focus problems, and bouts ofabdominal pain.

Teenage binge drinking in Australia is a huge issue,with the physical and mental consequences often havinglifelong impacts. The developing teenage brain and liverare highly susceptible to damage affecting long-termhealth and behaviour. A recent UK study which trackedindividuals born in 1970, found teenage binge drinkerswere 50 per cent more likely to develop mental healthand alcohol abuse problems, have court convictions andbe involved in accidents later in life. The early bingedrinking behaviour was also found to negatively affecttheir likelihood of achieving further formal education,their future earning capacity and their socio economicstatus. One of the researchers from this study commentedthat the number of binge drinking 16 year olds (in 1986)in the study was one in five. Current Australian numberswould be at least double that.

One of the reasons that alcohol is so damaging to teenagersis that the front brain area, which is involved in riskassessment, is still developing. Thus, decisions aremade impulsively and consequences are not fully comprehendeduntil after the fact.

When teenagers drink, the alcohol can further cloudalready poor judgements, increasing the possibilityof risky behaviour. Subsequently, alcohol is involvedin a large proportion of teenage violence, pregnanciesand motor vehicle accidents.

My advice to teenagers is that drinking is not as coolas you might think it is and you have years after turning18 to drink. Let your brain focus on dealing with exams,learning to drive and deciding what to do with the restof your life. If you do plan on having a drink, decidebeforehand what you will drink and how much and stickto it, eat a healthy meal beforehand and drink a lotof water. And parents, contrary to popular belief, researchshows that the early introduction of alcohol actuallyinduces an increased likelihood of drinking excessivelylater in life. It is far better to focus on providinga loving, safe, healthy and trusting environment toencourage the development of your teenager's self esteem.

Having survived a typical Australian youth myself andgone on to help heal more than my share of unloved liversand brains, I feel fairly qualified now to pass on thegood news. Luckily, some simple lifestyle changes areoften all that is needed to turn potentially risky behaviourinto a healthy asset. The body wants to recover, andyour liver and brain seem to be pretty darn good atit when given a little encouragement and support. Eventhe cirrhotic scarring of the liver, which can actuallydevelop from excess alcohol or food intake, obesity,viral infections and chemical exposure, if given enoughtime and appropriate behaviour changes and proper nutritionalsupport, can repair.

Good health,
Jeremy Hill (Diploma of Natural Therapy), QualifiedNaturopath

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