Monday, July 18, 2011

Alcohol, Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde

What are the benefits and risks of drinking alcohol? Doctors and studies suggest that moderate drinking can be beneficial, but not for everyone. So, when it comes to your health, alcohol is a bit like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The effects on people vary from person to person, depending on who and how much.

Even moderate drinking can increase the risk of colon and breast cancer, however these risks are trumped by the boost in cardiovascular health—especially in middle age. That's the time in life when heart disease begins to account for an increasingly large share of disease and deaths.

If you're a non-drinker, you certainly do not need to start drinking to improve your health. For heavy drinkers, with their increased risk of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, cirrhosis, and dependence it is recommended to cut back or stop drinking altogether. A pregnant woman should also avoid any amount of alcohol, since it can cause brain damage to her unborn child resulting in fetal alcohol syndrome.

Moderate drinking for women is considered up to one drink per day while for men, it's up to two. One serving is considered to be 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of hard liquor, for example vodka or rum.

Harvard School of Public Health looks at balancing the risks and benefits of alcohol.

Here are 5 quick tips from the Nutrition Source to stay healthy with alcohol.

1. If you don't drink, there's no need to start. For some people—especially pregnant women, people recovering from alcohol addiction, people with a family history of alcoholism, people with liver disease, and people taking one or more medications that interact with alcohol—the risks of drinking outweigh the benefits. There are other ways to boost your heart health and lower your risk of diabetes, such as getting more active, staying at a healthy weight, or eating healthy fats and whole grains.

2. If you do drink, drink in moderation—and choose whatever drink you like. Wine, beer, or spirits—each seems to have the same health benefits as long as moderation's the word (no more than one drink per day for women, and no more than two drinks per day for men). To read more about whether the type of alcohol consumed has any effect on health, read "Is Wine Fine, or Beer Better?"

3. Take a multivitamin with folic acid. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, a B vitamin that may help lower the risk of heart disease and cancers of the colon and breast. Those who drink may benefit the most from getting extra folate, since alcohol moderately depletes our body's nutrient stores. The amount in a standard multivitamin—400 micrograms—is enough, when combined with a healthy diet. To learn more about folate, check out the vitamins section of The Nutrition Source.

 4. Ask your doctor or nutritionist about your drinking habits.  If you (or your friends) think you may have a problem with drinking, talk to a doctor or other health professional about it. He or she can help.

5. Pick a designated driver. Alcohol and driving do not mix. If you're going out drinking, give your car keys in advance to someone who'll be sipping pop all night.

Fitness and health guru Steve Edwards writes in the BeachBody Newsletter on Nutrition 911: The best and Worst Cocktails.

If you're still unsure after reading, studying and researching both sides of the debate, then avoiding alcohol is the best advice I can offer.  It's never too late to start changing bad habits, habits that can shave years off your life and impact the quality of your life.   So, if you want the straight dope on fueling your body with nutritious food and what to avoid, I'm here to help and it won't cost you a penny for the free advice based on my own experience and what has worked for me.  I hope you'll follow my blog and provide me with some feedback on my posts.  I'll be catering good choices that include both dietary and lifestyle changes.  So if you could use a boost to your engine, buckle up for the ride of your life and let's get started!

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