Addiction, Pain, & Public Health website

Over the Limit

by Loretta Douris, Brisbane News, 6/16/2004.  [ ]

A tipple a day may keep the doctor away - but only when it comes to some diseases

Good friends, good food and a nice glass of red wine - what better way to spend a relaxing evening at home? Alcohol is one of life's simple pleasures and in moderation can be an integral part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

In Nutrition for the Healthy Heart, dietitian Catherine Saxelby writes that modest consumption of beer, wine and spirits is good for the heart.

Red wine has stolen the limelight. Nutritionists have identified the polyphenols in red wine as the key compounds in benefiting the heart because they act as antioxidants and slow down the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol that can increase the risk of heart disease).

Polyphenols in wine are natural grape-derived substances, giving red wine its bite. Found in the skins and stalks of grapes, they are much higher in concentration in red wine than white.

On one hand we are told alcohol is good for the heart, but we are warned that too much alcohol can make us fat and cause cancer.

How does alcohol make you fat if it is not a fat? In our bodies, there is a fuel hierarchy - the body breaks down food and drink in a certain order. In The New Glucose Revolution, authors Jennie Brand-Miller, Kaye Foster-Powell and Stephen Colagiuri write that alcohol is first off the rank. The body has nowhere to store unused alcohol, so it uses alcohol first to produce energy.

Protein comes second, followed by carbohydrate, and fat comes last. In practice, the fuel mix is usually a combination of carbohydrate and fat in varying proportions. Our ability to burn the fat we eat is vitally important to weight control. If fat burning is inhibited, the fat stores accumulate.

If alcohol is present in the fuel mix, the body will go for it first, the fat that was eaten will be stored and the person will gradually gain weight.

The Gut Buster Waist Loss Guide by Garry Egger and Rosemary Stanton identifies the following six main reasons for alcohol making people fat:

* Direct effects - 1g of alcohol has seven calories;

* High-calorie mixers like fruit and soft drinks;

* Alcohol slows fat metabolism;

* Alcohol decreases inhibition and control and hence may lead to you eating and drinking more;

* Reduced movement levels while drinking;

* Increased food intake while drinking.

The Cancer Council of New South Wales warns that drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer. Alcohol is an important risk factor in cancers of the mouth, pharynx, oesophagus and liver. Oral cancers are six times more common in alcohol drinkers. There is strong evidence that alcohol is a risk factor in breast cancer and is one main factor for this disease that you can change. Even drinking small amounts of alcohol increases the risks of these cancers and the more you drink, the greater the risk. For people who drink alcohol, the Cancer Council advises the following amounts.

For men, an average of no more than two standard drinks a day, and for women, an average of no more than one standard drink a day. A standard drink is one that contains 10g of alcohol - for example, 100ml wine, 30ml (one nip) spirits, 60ml (two nips) sherry, 285 ml (one pot) full-strength beer, 450ml (one schooner) low-alcohol or light beer  or 220-250 ml (about two-thirds of a bottle) alcoholic soda.

But wait, wasn't alcohol good for your heart?

The Cancer Council says the risks and benefits of alcohol vary for different diseases. Drinking a lot of alcohol is associated with higher blood pressure and death from stroke, but a small amount, like a glass of red wine, may protect against coronary heart disease. From a cancer point of view, drinking alcohol is undesirable, but from a heart disease point of view, small amounts of alcohol may be beneficial. Cheers.

Standard approach

Be careful when dining out because the average restaurant serve of wine (12 per cent alcohol) is 180 ml, which is 1.8 standard drinks, and the average serve of sparkling wine or champagne (11.5 per cent alcohol) is 170 ml, which is 1.5 standard drinks. A 750ml bottle of wine with 12 per cent alcohol contains about seven standard drinks, so use this as your guide.



Dr. DeLuca's Addiction, Pain, & Public Health website - Originally posted: 7/4/2004.