Do you ever wonder whether you are drinking too much alcohol for the good of your health?
Now that we are coming up to Christmas maybe it’s a good time to think about how much we drink. After all Christmas is a good excuse for putting off decisions but something to bear in mind for the New Year.
It’s tough cutting back on the wine, even more so with screw top bottles. One twist and you’re away. Often we start with good intentions – only drinking at weekends, or stopping at two glasses. Out and about it’s a lot easier – prices are higher and the drink driving laws are rigidly enforced with dire consequences.
Most of us drink way more than the recommended maximum of 14 units a week – which is only about 8 standard glasses of wine. However, according to the British Heart Foundation moderate drinking can benefit men over 40 and post-menopausal women.
It is widely believed that drinking a little red wine prevents heart disease. Its protective effects are thought to be due to its high content of polyphenols, which include flavonoids and the compound resveratrol. These polyphenols are thought to improve blood flow, increase the beneficial HDL cholesterol and reduce clotting. They have also been shown to reduce age related memory loss and improve production of insulin.
Apparently there are some red wines that have better polyphenol content than others: the darker red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, have the highest antioxidant content. Professor Andrew Waterhouse from the University of California particularly recommends Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah and Petit Syrah. Unfortunately critics of his findings have pointed out you would have to drink the equivalent of six bottles of wine to get the desired health benefits.
Resveratrol is found in the skin of grapes, dark berries and peanuts so you might get the same benefits by eating some berries at breakfast and a handful of peanuts as a snack.
There is some evidence that the polyphenols in red wine also have a positive effect on the diversity of our gut microbes.
Professor Tim Spector in his book, ‘The Diet Myth’ reviews recent data from a study of 8000 subjects taking part in the American and British Gut Projects which shows a big increase in microbial diversity in regular alcohol drinkers. Tim Spector proposes that this association is caused by the chemicals in the grape. Greater microbial diversity is linked to better general health so we should be doing everything in our power to encourage this.
The problem is that, for many, drinking is a slippery slope and although you might start off with bold intentions of sticking to one small glass that small glass soon becomes a second glass and before you know it half a bottle.
Other experts tell us that drinking more than a couple of glasses of wine each night has a negative impact on health for many reasons – for a start it lowers the absorption of B vitamins, in particular folate, which increases the risk of heart disease and raised blood pressure. Alcohol can also reduce calcium absorption and is therefore best kept to a minimum if you are worried about osteoporosis. Alcohol puts a burden on your liver, which already has to deal with so many toxins in the environment. It also upsets blood sugar balance which contributes to weight gain and low energy. Regular heavy drinking is said to contribute to liver disease, lowered libido, nerve and muscle damage and psychiatric problems.
And if that isn’t enough to put you off more than four alcoholic drinks a day is thought to increase the risk of cancer of the mouth, larynx and oesophagus.
If you know you can’t stop at one glass it might be better for you to opt for at least three nights off a week or restricting alcohol to weekends only.
The way we handle alcohol differs from one person to the next and this is due to our different genes, our microbes, what the rest of our diet is like and whether we drink moderately or binge-style. That’s why it is hard to say exactly how much alcohol or wine is ok. Perhaps, as you know yourself better than anyone, you should be making your own guidelines.
Much food for thought. In the meantime Christmas is just around the corner, so maybe best left for the New Year.