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Sunday Musings: Latest News On Alcohol And Health

I’ve come across a couple of new studies concerning the effects of Alcohol on health recently and set them aside for the right moment. Now that we’ve heard that the  COVID-19 lock down is triggering an increase in drinking in adults of all demographics, I’m thinking this is the moment…

Social Drinking - © myfitnesspal.comEven drinking within the official alcohol consumption
limits may be hazardous to your health…

Does Happy Hour come earlier at your house now that you’re working from home? Are you taking a liquid lunch now and then when, previously, if you had to go back to the office after your midday meal, you wouldn’t have? Is your recreational alcohol consumption rising now that ‘binging’ activities have become a bigger part of your life? Are you concerned about increased drinking? You’re not alone, and you’re right to be concerned, say the results of two new learned studies.

Even drinking within guidelines can have negative effects

Researchers at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) at the University of Victoria in BC have published a new study report suggesting that consuming Alcohol in amounts within the official national guidelines may be hazardous to your health.

The Canadian guidelines for Alcohol set limits of at no more than about 10 drinks per week for women and no more than 15 for men. (A ‘drink’ is defined as 12 oz. / 355 ml of beer, 5 oz. / 140 ml of wine, or 1.5 oz. / 40 ml of liquor.) Canada’s limits are slightly higher than those in the United States and most other high-income countries.

A number of up-to-date studies have determined that consuming amounts of Alcohol above the official guidelines can increase one’s risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, just to name a few. CISUR’s Dr. Adam Sherk decided to see if there was a link between deaths from all causes and drinking within the accepted ‘safe’ guidelines.

Using data from long-term health reporting surveys, Sherk and his team found that there was indeed, a connection. An abstract of their report states: “For example, more than 50 percent of cancer deaths resulting from alcohol use occurred in people drinking moderately. Further, 38 percent of all alcohol-attributable deaths were experienced by people drinking below the weekly limits or among former drinkers.

“However, for women, alcohol consumption within the guidelines did offer some protection from death from heart attack, stroke and diabetes. Nonetheless, ‘[t]his protective effect did not appear to hold for men, who experienced harm at all drinking levels’.”

Sherk therefore suggests, “Don’t drink or, if you do, drink no more than one drink per day. […] When it comes to Alcohol use, less is better.”

‘Drunkorexia’ may be new scourge of college girls

You’ve heard of anorexia and bulimia. Well, researchers at the University of South Australia (UniSA) say they’ve discovered a new kind of eating disorder they calling – for lack of a more scientific moniker – ‘Drunkorexia’. (See photo, top of page.)

After hearing about the behaviour pattern, which is characterized by the ‘saving’ of Calories for binge drinking episodes, the team, led by Dr. Alycia Powell-Jones decided to learn more. They were floored by the results.

A simple survey of college kids at UniSA revealed that, “a staggering 82.7 per cent of female university students surveyed had engaged in Drunkorexic behaviours over the past three months. And, more than 28 per cent were regularly and purposely skipping meals, consuming low-calorie or sugar-free alcoholic beverages, purging or exercising after drinking to help reduce ingested calories from alcohol, at least 25 per cent of the time.”

Like other extreme eating disorders, drunkorexia is most common by far among young women who may have body image issues and who have been shown to be more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviours, which can include drinking excess alcohol, Powell-Jones notes.

“Excess alcohol consumption combined with restrictive and disordered eating patterns is extremely dangerous and can dramatically increase the risk of developing serious physical and psychological consequences, including hypoglycaemia, liver cirrhosis, nutritional deficits, brain and heart damage, memory lapses, blackouts, depression and cognitive deficits.”

The takeaway

“It is important that clinicians, educators, parents and friends are aware of the factors that motivate young women to engage in this harmful and dangerous behaviour, including cultural norms, beliefs that drive self-worth, a sense of belonging, and interpersonal connectedness,” Powell-Jones suggests. “By being connected, researchers and clinicians can develop appropriate clinical interventions and support for vulnerable young people within the youth mental health sector.”

My take

These new studies just make sense. I can see where regular drinking, even within the accepted, official guidelines, could contribute to a higher risk of diseases and disorders associated with systemic inflammation and other system-compromising behaviours.

And the revelation that college-age girls in Australia are suffering from drunkorexia seems reasonable, considering that one in six Australians consume alcohol at dangerous levels.

Powell-Jones nails it when she observes: “The combination of excessive alcohol intake with restrictive eating behaviours to offset calories can result in a highly toxic cocktail for this population.”

The moral of the story…

I feel compelled, once again, to quote the late, great Julia Child: “All things in  moderation – including moderation.” Which, in this context could be interpreted as, “Going a little overboard once in a while probably won’t hut, but don’t make a habit of it.”

~ Maggie J.

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