More than half of all students have been found to binge drink at least once a week. Is alcohol really that bad? When to stop, should you start?
Approximately 2 billion people worldwide enjoy drinking an alcoholic beverage or two, but the associated risks to a person’s health and social wellbeing are still up for debate. ‘Dry January’ encourages individuals to abstain from drinking alcohol for a 1-month period, not only for the physiological benefits but to encourage a long-term reduction in alcohol consumption. An estimated 4 million UK adults enjoyed the advantages of Dry January in 2018 but it raises the question how much is too much?
The NHS recommends men and women consume no more than 14 units a week. One unit equates to 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol.
The average adult liver can metabolize one unit of alcohol per hour. Drinking more than your liver can handle increases blood alcohol levels resulting in mild alcohol poisoning or as we prefer to say drunkenness.
Some or none?
Surprisingly, little is known about the risks and benefits of moderate drinking. Alcohol is responsible for approximately 2.25 million deaths per year and regular consumption is found to increase the risk of heart disease, cancers and strokes. However, light to moderate drinking can reportedly decrease cardiovascular events and prolong total life expectancy.
If you do decide to drink
- Know your limits – Don’t drink more than your body can handle or save up all your units to drink in one evening.
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach – Eating a carbohydrate rich meal before you start drinking will slow down the adsorption of alcohol.
- Avoid dark-coloured drinks – They contain natural chemicals called congeners, which irritate blood vessels and tissue within the brain and can make a hangover worse.
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-carbonated drinks – The fizz in your favourite beverage can speed up the absorption of alcohol.
Heavy or binge drinking, defined as drinking 6-8 units in one sitting, has NO health benefits and will likely lead to a nasty hangover. Symptoms include fatigue, dehydration, headache and nausea. But if you do end up over indulging engage in some simple recovery aids.
- Rehydrate – Replace lost fluids by drinking bland liquids that are easy on the digestive system, such as water and isotonic drinks.
- Bouillon soup – This vegetable broth is a good source of vitamins and minerals, which can top up depleted resources.
- Asparagus – Can alleviate hangover symptoms and protect liver cells.
- Ginger- Not only relieves the symptoms of nausea but can treat alcohol toxicity.
- Ginseng – Has been found to protect major organs from alcohol toxicity.
- Painkillers – As a last resort to treat headaches and muscle cramps.
Most people will ‘get away’ with moderate drinking without suffering any significant health issues, but ultimately alcohol is toxic to human beings. Any potential benefits in its consumption are likely small and could be more readily achieved by following a healthy diet, so always think before you drink.