We all know by now that excessive drinking isn’t healthy. We’ve been told that alcohol needs to be enjoyed in moderation, but society also tells us it’s okay to occasionally indulge. And for a lot of people, that can mean heavy drinking once or twice a week. We agree with ourselves that we’re willing to endure a headache and dehydration and other consequences the next day, but what we don’t realize is that we may be totally out of balance for a full 24-hours after drinking.
A recent meta-analysis of several studies examined brain impairment levels up to a day after heavy drinking. The studies show that our cognitive abilities, like attention and memory, are debilitated even after alcohol has passed through our bloodstream. Poorer concentration and focus, decreased memory, and reduced reaction times were reported up to 24-hours after heavy drinking. This translates into poor work function, compromised driving and motor skills, and an inability to be present in relationships.
What’s more, studies clearly show that regular alcohol abuse can have huge effects on your health, from gut permeability to liver damage. Binge drinking has also been shown to significantly affect gut dysbiosis and gut permeability. People generally understand and accept that this kind of alcohol consumption is problematic, but what about a more moderate intake of alcohol? Is having just a few on on Friday’s really a problem?
We’ve all heard that it’s healthy to have a glass of wine with dinner. Many sources have touted moderate alcohol consumption, defined as one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men, as being healthier than no alcohol consumption. This may apply when you’re referring to Blue Zones where the grapes are grown organically without glyphosate for instance. Consider the chemicals that go into mainstream alcohol mass production. Meanwhile, they do not all have the same stressors and do not consume sugar other than honey.
Yet when it comes to the masses, a review of this research has shown it isn’t true. Originally, the studies compared moderate drinkers to nondrinkers without excluding those who abstained from alcohol due to health conditions (including alcoholism). When researchers corrected for the “abstainer bias” they found that moderate drinkers no longer seemed to live longer than non-drinkers.
According to Dr. Constance Scharff, Ph.D., Addiction Research Director of Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center, “There is no proven correlation between drinking [and] any positive health outcomes.”
So moderate drinking isn’t actually good for you, but it’s not bad either, right?
Well, no. Moderate drinking can also have a serious impact on your health. Dr. Scharff continues, “What we really see is any amount of drinking opens you up to health risks.”
Remember also that in addition to chemicals, alcohol is also sugar. It impacts insulin resistance and the body’s system breaks over time. One drink a week is not much. But over a lifetime, it sure is.
Here are some excellent reasons to do away with alcohol (and some of the healthiest drinks for times you indulge):
Most drinkers have experienced the excess urination and dry mouth that happens after a night drinking. This dehydration can cause many health issues including constipation, weight gain, cholesterol issues, and even cancer.
Many alcoholic drinks are high in carbs and sugars, especially mixed drinks. Sugar does a number on the body. It can contribute to cancer, obesity, diabetes, and, or course, addiction. Staying away from the high sugar drinks won’t save you though. Alcohol and sugar both must be processed by the liver, and because it’s a toxin, alcohol is prioritized over sugar and most other substances. That means regulating blood sugar levels is not a priority, nor is processing calories into energy. Therefore, whether you’re drinking a low sugar cocktail or not, you’re burdening your liver the same way sugar does.
Alcohol disrupts the gut microbiome which can have a huge impact on overall health. A 2012 study found moderate drinking increased gut permeability. Another study found a similar risk with moderate drinking. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said “All disease begins in the gut.” What he meant by that was that since at least 70 percent of the immune system resides in the gut, a disruption of the gut microbiome can cause many diseases beyond digestive issues.
According to Dr. Barry Sears, President of the Inflammation Research Foundation, “Alcohol itself does cause vasodilation, but also causes a leaky gut, toxicity during its metabolism, and addiction in about 17 percent who consume it on a regular basis.”
The possible benefits of drinking are so small in comparison to the damage it does to your gut health that it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether.
The high sugar content of many alcoholic drinks also contributes to feeding bad bacteria and yeast in the gut, creating a vicious cycle.
Alcohol, in any amount, can deplete nutrients such as B vitamins, including folate, Vitamin C, and fat-soluble vitamins such as A, E, D, and K, and minerals such as zinc and magnesium. Alcohol not only depletes nutrients but makes it difficult to absorb and utilize them. Dr. Sears adds, “Alcohol is a toxin and the body diverts vitamins and minerals to convert [alcohol] as rapidly as possible to non-toxic metabolites.”
According to the National C ancer Institute “clear patterns” have surfaced between alcohol consumption and the development of colorectal cancer, breast cancer, head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, and liver cancer. According to Dr. Barry Sears:
Breast cancer is definitely associated with alcohol intake. This is likely due to the adverse effects of alcohol … that overwhelm any benefits of the polyphenols [from wine and some beer]. The most likely mechanism may be an increase in gut permeability that increases inflammation that drives tumor growth.
Many people are sensitive to gluten, even those who don’t have celiac disease. N on-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is usually only noticeable when a person stops eating gluten (for 4-6 weeks at least) and then reintroduces it. Symptoms upon reintroduction include:
- Keratosis Pillaris (chicken skin on backs of arms)
- Fatigue or brain fog after eating gluten
- Diagnosis of autoimmune disease
- Mood issues like depression or anxiety
- Skin issues like eczema or psoriasis
- Nutrient deficiencies
Though some experts believe that celiac disease and NCGS are relatively rare conditions, others understand that many cases are going undiagnosed. If you are someone with any kind of chronic health issue (headaches, digestive problems, depression, etc.) you may feel better avoiding gluten. However, one of the oldest forms of alcohol, beer, is traditionally full of gluten. Even some gluten-free beers contain trace amounts of gluten that can affect very sensitive individuals.
Another concern is cross reactivity. Surprisingly, researchers are finding that millet, spelt, amaranth, quinoa, yeast, and tapioca can mimic symptoms of gluten intolerance. If you’re sensitive to gluten it’s important to rule out sensitivities to these potentially cross reactive ingredients as well before imbibing in a gluten-free beer.
Alcohol can also have a lot of additives and nasty ingredients. Wine, for example, may contain sulfites as a chemical preservative, sugar, and tannins among a long list of other additives. Beer may contain MSG, Propylene Glycol, Caramel coloring, food dyes, BPA, carageenan, and high fructose corn syrup, among other gross ingredients. Even hard liquor may be adulterated by additives or cut with inferior alcohols. Additionally, if the drink isn’t 100 percent organic it is likely made from conventional (i.e. pesticide-laden) ingredients.
Healthiest Drinks If You Choose To Drink Anyway
So you’re going to ignore my advice and drink anyways (no judgment!), here are some drinks to choose to limit the damage.
1. Healthiest Drinks: Beer
Many gluten-free beers are actually gluten removed beers, which still contain a small amount of gluten. Therefore, they aren’t necessarily safe for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. A truly gluten-free beer will be made without barley or wheat. Green’s makes a truly gluten-free beer and, though not organic, discloses their ingredients (water, millet, buckwheat (soba), rice, sorghum, hops, yeast).
2. Healthiest Drinks: Wine
Red wine is often touted as the healthiest alcohol drink due to its antioxidant properties. Though the antioxidants don’t outweigh the potential damage, they do help make this a better choice. Some people with digestive issues find that white wine is easier on their system. Stick with organic wine when possible to avoid additives such as sulfites, sugar, and tannins.
3. Healthiest Drinks: Hard Liquor
Though hard liquor is generally the hardest on your body, if you insist on drinking it, stick with pure liquor like Mexican tequila or mezcal, neat or on the rocks. Make it organic. Sweet mixers can cause further gut health issues by feeding bad bacteria and yeast and can also make it easier to drink way too much since it masks the taste of the liquor.
If You Decide To Drink, Whether One Glass Or Ten, Get Activated Charcoal To Clear Out Toxins And Avoid A Hangover
To Drink Or Not To Drink?
It’s best not to drink at all, even the healthiest drinks, to preserve your health and avoid future disease. But if you choose to drink anyway make sure you replenish your body with vitamins, add gut healing probiotics, and feed yourself well with superfoods to boost your body’s healing ability. This St. Patty’s Day consider reaching out for a green juice to celebrate the Irish in You.
Mindy Wood is a writer, wife, mother, and homesteader-in-the-making, living in the beautiful mountains of New Hampshire. She writes at Purposefully Simple about her choice to embrace a more intentional and sustainable life and encourages others to pursue their best life too.
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