Alcohol – did you believe the lie?

Do you know the lies about alcohol?

I am often asked to speak about drinking alcohol and its connection with health or fitness. The conclusion from the discourse is very simple – do not consume alcohol if you wish to live a long and healthy life. And do not drink alcohol if you want the world to be a better place.

Despite alcohol being harmful to the individual and to society at large, it continues to be consumed by intelligent people all around the world. Why does this persist?

The details in the body of arguments can be complicated and lengthy so today’s chat is about providing some structure for you to go about understanding the facts and what really matters. That will allow you to make a better decision for yourself – which I hope will be to never consume alcohol or promote its consumption again.

If you are someone who does not drink alcohol you may want to read through the entirety of this, or just pick and choose.
If you are someone who drinks alcohol and wants to give up, please read through it from start to finish and then repeatedly read those parts that you feel will increase your conviction to give up.
If you are someone who drinks alcohol and has no intention of giving up, please read through carefully at least once.
If you are in a hurry then jump straight to read about the Big Deception 1 and the Big Deception 2

If you find it useful, please share this with your family and friends who could benefit from it.

Contents

Thinking about Alcohol Basics
A Framework for Thought
Leaving Religion Out
Not just any Alcohol
Why I am OK with you drinking alcohol
Alcohol and Addiction

Zooming In
The Size of the Dose – Hello Hormesis
The Big Deception #1 – “it’s good for you”
The Big Deception #2 – “I did not know that it’s a carcinogen”
The French Fries Connection
The Coffee Parallel
Your Mind and Alcohol
Calories, Weight Gain and Alcohol as a Fuel
Zooming in – Why alcohol is bad for your body
Alcohol and…
your sleep
your liver
you pancreas
your immune system
hormone havoc
sex, sex hormones, pregnancy
your bones and muscles

Zooming Out
Zooming out
The Size of the Dose
when the dose is large
when the dose is small
Resolving the Paradox
Social Drinking

When does Big Brother tell us “Don’t Drink”?
She is Fit at 100 and Drinks Alcohol Daily
Friends who Drink
“Oh, ignore her. She’s being boring, she isn’t drinking today”
Drinking Alcohol makes you Cool
Defining Culture – lead from the front, don’t be a coward
The YOLO argument
Is the Tide Turning?
A Cocktail of Ethics and Profits

What next?
Now that you know, should you keep drinking?


 

A Framework for Thought [top]
To provide structure to your thoughts, I came up with the following framework. From the point that you make a decision to drink alcohol, there is an impact on you – zooming in inside you, right down to your DNA. And widening out, zooming out, your choice to drink, or not, has an impact on the world.

Zoom In or Zoom Out – alcohol has an impact

Leaving Religion Out [top]
I am leaving out religion [and politics] from this conversation. In any case, whether or not they prescribe you to abstain, which you might debate infringes on your right to freedom of choice, none of the major religions requires you to do the converse i.e. consume or promote the consumption of alcohol.

Not just any Alcohol [top]

Ethanol in your drink

When we say ‘alcohol’, in drinks, strictly speaking, we mean ethanol.  Basic organic chemistry reminds us that alcoholic drinks contain ethanol, a specific example from the family of organic compounds called ‘alcohols’. [Other examples of such families are – aldehydes, ketones.] Since it is ethanol that humans consume in their alcoholic drinks, when anyone says alcohol with reference to drinks, they mean drinks containing this specific type of ‘alcohol’, i.e. ethanol.

Confused? Simple – ethanol is a specific member of the alcohol family and the only type found in drinks, but not all alcohol compounds are ethanol.

Why am I OK with you drinking alcohol? [top]

Who am I to be OK or not OK with anything that you do? I would rather you did not, but I am accepting of anything you do that does not harm me (or society) directly or indirectly. So, if you do not drive or operate heavy machinery or expect me to pay your medical bills (directly, or indirectly, through taxes for state provided public healthcare) then you are welcome to poison yourself as often as you wish. The truth is that, despite what you might think of being a benign consumption of alcohol, you will have a negative impact on the world, perhaps directly, and almost definitely, indirectly. [Refer to this picture.]

Alcohol and Addiction [top]

Having been successful with getting extreme alcoholics and heavy drinkers to quit alcohol, I know, first hand, that having an addiction does not make a person ‘bad’ or ‘immoral’ or ‘unintelligent’. Almost all those whom I have helped have very high IQs and hold very responsible positions in society. If you or anyone you know has an alcohol problem, it is best to provide friendly support, even for those who have not yet decided that they want to recover from the addiction. Please note though that ‘friendly support’ to those who have not decided to quit does not include buying or serving them alcohol! That is not what real friends do! No matter what explanations and flimsy excuses you are served!

The Size of the Dose – Hello Hormesis [top]

When I spoke about Hormesis, I referred to the idea of the size of a dose (of anything) and your response to it. For example, doing zero exercise is bad for you, and at the other end, extreme exercise that you are not used to, is also physiologically harmful. There is an optimal level specific to your condition today that is perfect for you specifically today.

With alcohol, fortunately, no one sensibly argues that drinking a lot is good for you. The trick lies [fortunate pun] at the small end of the dose size – the ‘abstention vs light-to-moderate drinking’ debate. So, let us focus on that next. I hope you will be convinced that even a small amount of alcohol consumption is unwise.

The Big Deception #1 – “it’s good for you” [top]

Throw out the ethanol

What I call ‘the big lie about alcohol’ is very easy to see through, if one wants to. The beneficial components of drinking an alcoholic drink, say, red wine or beer, are the antioxidants that those drinks contain. However, the alcohol itself is very bad for you (see below). So, if you have been drinking alcoholic drinks because of their antioxidant properties, please think again. A slightly extreme analogy might be to say “because focusing on one’s breath is good, smoking a couple of cigarettes daily is good for you”. I am sure you can come up with equally ridiculous examples yourself!

You can get the same amount of the often-cited antioxidant, resveratrol, from a handful of peanuts – you do not need the ethanol! I eat peanuts almost every day.

Recently some German Olympic athletes have been drinking non-alcoholic beer for their phytonutrients (nutrients from plants) in order to aid recovery from training workouts. Now that is smart!

The Big Deception #2 – “I did not know that it’s a carcinogen” [top]

AQA Biology GCSE – Chap 7.5

It is wonderful to see that people who drink alcohol know that it is a large factor driving diseases of, for example, the liver or pancreas. However, the alcohol industry and the rest of society keeps a fact conveniently underplayed – that ALCOHOL IS A CARCINOGEN i.e. it promotes the formation of cancer.

Fortunately, those who take Biology GCSE today, study this when they are aged 15. However, those who have not been down that path rarely come across this simple fact! In the last 3 years, every friend of mine that drinks alcohol, when I tell them that alcohol is a carcinogen, stares at me with slight disbelief. The message “alcohol = carcinogen” has not spread into the world of drinking as much as “cigarettes = carcinogen” has.

Rather than ethanol directly, it is, acetaldehyde, the unstable product of the primary pathway for metabolizing ethanol within humans, that is a Group 1 carcinogen, i.e. promotes the formation of cancer.

As long as the alcohol stays in the bottle, it will not cause you cancer. The moment it enters your body, it is encouraging the initiation of cancer within you.

The French Fries Connection [top]

A few weeks ago, I spoke about how Life can be Good with French Fries. I wish I could say that about drinking alcohol. Do you love the grapes that wine comes from? Eat the grapes, drink the grape juice – exclude the ethanol, chuck the wine! If you are a beer drinker – go for a non-alcoholic version – I hear that the large beer manufacturers in Europe are finally making non-alcoholic beers that actually taste similar to their alcohol containing cousins. Apparently, a change in the way they brew these non-alcoholic beers today, compared with a few years ago, ensures greater fidelity in the ultimate taste. [Read this algorithm]

The Coffee Parallel [top]

It is worthwhile mentioning that in the same way that I would like you to think about making a distinction between the contents of your alcoholic drink i.e. its plant nutrients (antioxidants, carbohydrates) and its ethanol (the bad stuff), we can make a similar distinction between the constituents of coffee – its antioxidants and the caffeine that it contains. I love coffee – I will use the caffeine component in ways that improve my Healthspan without fooling myself that I am getting a massively useful dose of antioxidants.

Your Mind and Alcohol [top]

From the moment alcohol enters your body, your body tries to throw it out.  About thirty seconds after your first sip of alcohol, it makes its way into your brain. It slows down the chemicals and pathways that your brain cells use to send messages. This, in turn, alters your mood, slows your reflexes, and throws off your balance and coordination. You will not realize it then but, you will struggle to store things in long-term memory. And that is just the beginning.

Calories, Weight Gain and Alcohol as a Fuel [top]

When someone who finds it difficult to reduce body fat blames their regular alcohol consumption, I do not deny that that’s entirely possible. However, even 2 units of alcohol (8 grams of alcohol in a unit, each gram providing 7 calories) is barely the same as in a large banana. Although other carbohydrates (organic chemistry again!) in your alcoholic drink will also contribute to your calories ingested, the incremental gain in weight from the ethanol in those 2 drinks is marginal. From only the alcohol, you would need to consume about 140 drinks to gain 1kg. So, here, don’t blame only the alcohol content – blame everything else around the drinking that also contributes to the weight gain – the calories in the carbohydrates in the drink that houses the ethanol, the food consumed with it, the poor quality of sleep, disturbance of your circadian rhythm, missed workout sessions, malabsorption of nutrients, the slowdown in DNA repair etc.

Zooming in – Why alcohol is bad for your body [top]

Zooming into your body

Looking at the graphic above, we can think of you zooming in from the level of your entire body (the human organism) down into your organ systems, their organs, their tissues, the cells within the tissues, and the intra-cellular organelles and ultimately your DNA. For each level of zoom, you will find many published scientific studies on how alcohol (ethanol) is detrimental to your well-being at that level.

I will not bore you with specific examples of publications (as you go down the tree from organism to DNA, the number of branches grows significantly). My guidance, for when you read any published literature, is to note the date of the publication (2016 is so much more reliable and up-to-date than 2006). At the genetic level, a recent study from Professor Patel, and his team of scientists at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, have now uncovered the type of damage acetaldehyde causes to your DNA.

Alcohol and Your Sleep [top]

Alcohol affects your brain by slowing it down. It can make you drowsy, so you may doze off more easily. However, you will not sleep well. Your body processes alcohol throughout the night. Once the effects wear off, it leaves you tossing and turning. You will not get that good REM sleep your body needs to feel restored, and for your brain to clean itself. In addition, you are more likely to have vivid dreams and nightmares. You are likely to wake up more often for trips to the toilet – never a good thing for sound sleep.

Alcohol and your Liver [top]

Your liver is called the powerhouse of your body for good reason. It breaks down almost all the alcohol you drink. In the process, it handles a lot of toxins that are produced. Over time, drinking alcohol makes your liver fatty and lets thicker, fibrous tissue build up. That, in turn, limits blood flow, so your liver cells will not get what they need to survive. As these cells die, the liver gets scars and stops functioning adequately. Given that your liver is so important for metabolizing food or for producing fuel from stored fat – do not mess with it!

Alcohol and your Pancreas [top]

Your pancreas makes insulin and other chemicals that help your intestines break down the food and drink you consume. Unfortunately, alcohol hinders and blocks that process. The chemicals that are meant to do their job remain inside the pancreas. Along with toxins from the alcohol you have consumed, they cause inflammation in your pancreas, which can lead to serious damage. After years, that means you won’t be able to make the insulin you need, which can lead to diabetes. It also makes you more likely to get pancreatic cancer.

Alcohol and your Immune System [top]

Because the alcohol you consume slows down your immune system, your body will not make the appropriate number of white blood cells it needs to fight germs. So, for 24 hours after drinking, you are more likely to fall sick because of one or more infectious organisms inside or around you – no thanks to the alcohol!

Alcohol and Hormone Havoc [top]

The hormones produced by your endocrine system are integral to the functioning of your body. As a result, malfunction of your other systems through even moderate consumption of alcohol will throw your body off track.

Alcohol and Sex, Sex Hormones, Pregnancy [top]

One example of how alcohol affects your hormones and thus your various systems is often evident through sex hormones, sexual performance or pregnancy. In women, your periods can get knocked off cycle and cause problems with getting pregnant. If you are man, you will not be much of a man, as alcohol consumption can mean trouble getting an erection. There will be an effect on your sperm count, you will experience shrinking testicles, and breast growth [i.e. moobs not pecs].

Thin Bones, less Muscles [top]

Calcium levels can be disrupted with alcohol drinking and, along with the hormone changes that alcohol triggers, this can keep your body from building new bone. Thinner and more fragile bones is something you will have heard of – osteoporosis! Because alcohol limits blood flow to your muscles, it will get in the way of the proteins that build them up. So, as time goes by, you will have lower muscle mass and also less strength. Lower muscle mass in the elderly is a strong biomarker of shorter lifespans. You have been warned!

Zooming out [top]

Zooming out from you

Your thoughts and actions live at the boundary between what happens inside you, and what happens outside you. [Puzzled?  Doesn’t matter, read on, for today, or refer back to this.] When it comes to drinking alcohol, zooming out, the impact of every bottle consumed spreads out into the world beyond you.

As a logical person you would like to have no negative impact on your own body. You would not want this at the minutest level or the widest level. Not at the level of the cell replication that is happening even as you read this. And not in terms of decline in brain health as the months of your life pass by.

You may not be giving much thought to the impact of your alcohol consumption on the world outside your own mind and body. Or perhaps you do think about it, but you do not care much about it enough. Read on…

The Size of the Dose [top]

When the dose is large, in the external world besides the terror that alcohol consumption can cause in society, through domestic violence, drunk driving, street crime, and public violence, there are many winners. All financial winners! Alcohol and alcoholic drink producers make larger profits. [The formal (not including bootleg) alcoholic drinks industry has official sales well over USD 1 trillion.] Government tax revenues are larger from greater sales of alcohol. Perversely enough, the pharmaceutical and hospital industry, along with their professionals also benefit from greater revenues, fees and profits. Profitable alcohol rehab clinics would shut down if alcohol consumption plummeted or disappeared.

The financial component makes the arguments about alcohol consumption rules or guidelines set by government and regulatory bodies a dirty one. And, it has been the case for a long time in many countries. Governments will ban ‘no seatbelts’ (it helps with advertising ‘safer cars’) but will not ban cigarettes (tax revenues from and employment in the poison industry)!

When the dose is small, once again, the debate becomes fuzzy for the public. Poor journalism, often enticed by the alcoholic beverages industry, will publish articles incorrectly suggesting that it is the drinking of ethanol “in moderation” that is helping people to live healthier and longer than those who abstain. It is even more shocking to see publications by American medical doctors on their websites suggesting that moderate drinking is good for a long Healthspan. Of course, those very same doctors will never prescribe a small and regular amount of alcohol to those who do not drink! Caught in their own wilful blindness?

So, why the paradox? Why is it that alcohol is shown to be bad inside us but studies seem to show that moderate drinking in a population outside us is good?.

Resolving the paradox: Fortunately, in recent years, researchers have delved deeper and found flawed statistical methods and data biases around the older publications based on population studies on alcohol consumption. A simple example of one such bias might be – persons in the ‘I do not drink’ category are severely unwell because they used to drink and have stopped for reasons of poor health or disease. Such studies, of course, do not find research funding easily from drinks manufacturers – so do not expect there to be too many of them!

Social Drinking [top]

When we are children, we do not require alcohol to have a good time. Being a psychoactive substance, ethanol’s [often reported] impact on our behaviour is to make us relax and reduce our inhibitions. This is touted as a good thing for social gatherings. But, think about it – we do not offer ethanol to shy children to encourage them to speak at social gatherings. Perhaps society needs to consider non-chemical and safer alternatives to ethanol consumption to achieve its aim of getting adults to relax and be comfortable about speaking to others. And, then, perhaps, we can be better living examples for children with our leadership!

A large number of well-meaning adults go about their lives drinking “responsibly” – what they consider to be ‘safe levels’ of alcohol. Please do not be one of them. Please think! There is no safe level! It is not too late to make your health and safety, and that of the world around you, much better.

When does Big Brother tell us “Don’t Drink”? [top]

Responsible authorities will tell you to not consume alcohol in many situations. For instance, if you are competing in sports, operating machinery, flying aircraft or driving, pregnant, breastfeeding, taking medications of various kinds, have cancer or other illnesses, or are below the age of 18. The fear of ‘no votes’ and appearing to infringe on your right to drink something that is harmful often creates a relaxation of the rules so that the benchmark is not “zero alcohol” but some “safe limit” (I am rolling my eyes!). But the truth always surfaces – read on.

Partly because of limited ‘documented research’ but mostly because of money driven vested interests the ‘safe limit’ has tended to err on the side of being ‘unsafe’ instead of ‘extra safe’. For instance, in the UK, it took 21 years for the 1995 guidelines on ‘safe drinking limits’ for men and women to be lowered in 2016. If I was Mr. Benevolent Big Brother I would have erred on the side of prudence to protect those under my care. I would not wait for irreversible harm to be done and then try to correct it. I wonder how many British Members of Parliament or members of the House of Lords have benefited directly or indirectly from the alcohol industry. [PhD thesis topic, any takers?]

She is Fit at 100 and Drinks Alcohol Daily [top]

When you see articles with such headlines, please understand that the ethanol consumption through the life of that specific centenarian is not what got them there. They got there despite, not because of, consuming the poison, as a cumulative result of all the other things in their Healthspan expanding lifestyle.

Friends who Drink [top]

You can have a wonderful time with friends even if you do not consume ethanol. I am a case in point. Enough said!

“Oh, ignore her. She’s being boring, she isn’t drinking today” [top]

If you have been reading all that I have said above, you’ll know that you aren’t boring, and you’ll know who is being daft! Please stay calm and continue to have fun without poisoning yourself.

Drinking Alcohol makes you Cool [top]

Ummmm… no it does not! Read this bit again.

Defining Culture – lead from the front, don’t be a coward [top]

If you believe that drinking alcohol is not good for you, the best thing you can do for your soul and society is to live by that belief. Leading by example by abstaining is the best passive action that you can take. There is no need to lecture others who are drinking. Beyond explaining why it is that you do not drink, and that too only if asked, your duty is to yourself and the minors under your care.

If you are the person who pays the bills and the rent or mortgage for the home you live in – you are likely to be in a position to say “no alcohol in this house”.

If there are adults who have entrusted their healthcare (or sickcare!) to you, please insist that they stop drinking forever at some date in the near future, and help them through that process. At the same time that there ought to be no compulsion on any such adult under your care, there ought to also be no compulsion for you to take care of anyone who insists on poisoning themselves and who will not try to get out of that addiction.

If you do not work to redefine the culture around you, you will become a slave to the culture around you. (Puru the Guru, 2018)

The YOLO argument [top]

You only live once! Please refer back to this.

Is the Tide Turning? [top]

If some of the news reports I have read are true, it seems like that the tide is turning and fewer people are choosing alcohol in their drinks. There will always be lies, damned lies, statistics and the interest groups with agendas that report on them! In some parts of the world and certain sections of society, perhaps the consumption of alcohol is on the rise (e.g. China) whereas in others it has been declining (e.g. the UK). Although the improvement trends may be small and may not even be real, I hope that with a better appreciation of how alcohol affects us negatively, both as individual homo sapiens and society at large, that one day, soon, the tide of the last few decades is reversed in a big way.

A Cocktail of Ethics and Profits [top]

Just about every choice you make today is influenced by a financial profits driven organization. Depending on the type of person you are, the effect of that influence will range from “very strong” to “very weak”. Organizations, individuals or even governments who are driven to make profits need not be inherently evil – unfortunately, they are often wilfully blind to the need for considering ethics. If governments were truly interested in the health of their citizens, they would have banned cigarettes by now. [But why aren’t citizens protesting to insist on such a ban?]

To the extent that some see a need to profit from any addiction (and this can range from an addiction to physical exercise to eventually-lethal legal medicines) they will always encourage whatever increases their profits. If beverage companies continue to see an increasing interest in non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic drinks they will drive your choices and try to satisfy your desire in that direction – if they foresee an increase in profit from it. Unfortunately, other than the sugar in drinks which can be (only mildly) addictive, there is greater stickiness in alcoholic drinks because of the (greater) addictive nature of alcohol.

When there is money in salads, McDonald’s will sell salads. When there is money in a potato burger they will sell that (probably only in India!). Currently there is a huge market for selling grape juice mixed with ethanol (yes, I am talking about wine) for a lot more than the price of grape juice. Unfortunately, every one of the persons I know personally, who considered themselves connoisseurs of wine or single malt whiskeys, and would not have classified themselves as heavy drinkers, has some serious illness or the other, including cancer. Oh wait, there’s money in fixing those illnesses too!

Now that you know, should you keep drinking? [top]

If you were one of those who was unfortunately misled into believing that the consumption of alcohol was beneficial, the good news is that now you know better. When someone accepts that consuming alcohol is detrimental to their well-being and continues to do so, I understand and sympathize with their decision to stay away from persisting with self-harm.

If it is an addiction and you wish to recover, please seek professional help. If you want to read why ethanol is addictive, read this.

If you think you do not have an addiction and want to wean yourself off alcohol, you probably do not need professional help, but can help yourself by reading more on the specific topic of “the best way to give up alcohol”.

A Parting Request [top]

If you have found this conversation useful, please share it with your family and friends who you think could benefit from it.

Cheers!

Puru {brewed in Britain and Bombay, alcohol-free since 1994}

cropped-screenshot293-001.jpg

Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

2 comments

  1. […] Alcohol and Other Addictions – Because you cannot drink alcohol during your fasting window, and because of your focus on nutrient quality, an Ekahari lifestyle becomes a naturally strong ally in your management of alcohol dependence and for behavioural support during and after withdrawal. After drinking green tea during your fasting window, when you permit yourself alcohol during your feasting window, you will be naturally inclined not to exercise that option. [Read: Alcohol – did you believe the lie?] […]

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