While the moderate consumption of alcohol (fewer than three drinks per day) is associated with a decrease in heart disease risk and certain cancers, excessive drinking both in the form of heavy drinking or binge drinking, is associated with numerous health problems, including:

  • Chronic diseases such as liver cirrhosis (damage to liver cells); pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas); various cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, larynx (the voice box), and oesophagus; high blood pressure; and psychological disorders.
  • Unintentional injuries, such as motor-vehicle traffic crashes, falls, drowning, burns, and firearm injuries.
  • Violence, such as child maltreatment, homicide, and suicide.
  • Harm to a developing fetus if a woman drinks while pregnant, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).  If you are planning a pregnancy, it is advised to refrain from drinking altogether.
  • Alcohol use disorders.

If you are breastfeeding it’s best to avoid drinking alcohol, especially just before a feed.  This is because the alcohol can pass to the baby in small amounts through breast milk.

Alcohol and your waistline

Alcohol is high in calories and so can contribute to weight gain.  One gram of alcohol provides seven calories (7kCal), compared with 4kCal per gram for carbohydrate and protein.  Other ingredients in alcoholic drinks, such as sugar, cream and fruit juice, can add more calories. One large glass of wine can have up to 190 calories, and 350ml beer about 150 Calories.  When having the occasional drink, remember to calculate into your meal plan.  Calories from alcohol shouldn’t replace calories from nutritious food on a daily basis as this can cause nutrient deficiencies.

Alcohol is also an appetite stimulant and can lead to overeating at mealtimes, late at night, and even the next day.

And on a last note, alcohol is also a diuretic.  When you drink alcohol, it is a good idea to drink water in between and afterwards to avoid dehydration.

The general recommendation for consuming alcohol is no more than two drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women. A drink is around 275ml of normal strength beer, a small glass of wine or a single measure of spirits.

Although some alcoholic drinks may have health benefits, the ingredients in these drinks (such as flavonoids) are also available in grapes, blueberries, apples, etc, which in turn provides the body with other nutritional benefits as well.  If you don’t already consume alcohol, then don’t start.  Its best not to drink alcohol at all.

With many thanks to Melissa Ludick for the contribution.

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