In my March 2009 article, I highlighted evidence that pointed to alcohol as a health liability, and I also underscored taxing of alcoholic beverage as a potential remedy.
To be fair, I think in this article I will highlight some benefits of alcohol consumption. And also try to throw light on dangers associated with excessive alcohol consumption. On a positive note [The benefits first]; there is evidence that alcoholic beverages, when taken in moderation, can be protective against heart diseases. In particular, the evidence points largely to antioxidant properties of red wine. Furthermore, others have promoted the benefit of alcohol on heart disease prevention.
Despite their claim, the evidence is at best equivocal. What is known is that moderate alcohol consumption can be beneficial to the human body. However, establishing how much is enough/beneficial is not always readily provided or available. Below I provide a guide on recommended levels of alcohol consumption:
How much is beneficial?
For women moderate intake is 1 glass of wine (125ml) or 1 beer (330ml) of 3.5% alcohol/vol, or 30ml spirits (whisky, gin, vodka, brandy) a day, and for men, moderate is double the intake of women. Why larger intakes for men?
Simply because men tend to have, on average, larger bodies (livers), more water and less fat. I am sure a lot of women out there are now thinking “I should drink more than him” pointing at a man she’s twice his size. This is only a guide, and I am sure some men could do with the women’s recommendation.
Now that you know how much to drink, the next question is how best to drink or how not to drink. Remember, the faster you absorb the alcohol, the higher your blood alcohol level will be, and the more alcohol in your blood, the greater its effect will be. Absorption is more rapid if you: drink quickly, add a fizzy mixer, drink on an empty stomach, are small, young or female.
The reverse of the four points above may keep you sober longer, BUT, the amount of alcohol that your liver has to process does not change. Therefore, as you stay sober longer (which I suppose is not the exercise of drinking) don’t forget your liver still has to deal with the same quantities of the toxic elements.
How does alcohol traverse your systems? The alcohol route in your system is as follows: Alcohol passes quickly from your mouth into your stomach (alcohol is one of the few substances that are absorbed in the stomach) and small intestine, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream. It is then circulated through your liver and on to your heart, lungs and brain.
On a more sober note, medical consequences of excessive alcohol are far reaching and if we were to follow the alcohol route, we will begin to realise the magnitude of the carnage that it leaves on its tracks. First, the mouth (cancer), oesophagus (cancer), stomach (stomach cancer), liver (fatty liver, inflammation of the liver, cirrhosis), intestines (gastritis and ulcers), and anus (cancer). Secondly, alcohol has also been associated with hypertension, diabetes and other vascular diseases. Finally, the consequences of alcohol abuse go beyond the drinkers systems, and into other spheres of life.
Responsibility of alcohol abuse does not lie only with the consumer. The alcohol industry must also take some (a large part) responsibility. For example, alcohol manufacturers must fully label the nutritional contents of their products (Their labeling as is, is nothing short of gimmick). The alcohol beverages must conspicuously highlight (i) NOT FOR SALE TO PERSONS UNDER THE AGE OF 18 (ii) RECOMMENDED INTAKE FOR MEN AND WOMEN (iii) ALCOHOL IF ABUSED IS DANGEROUS FOR YOUR HEALTH.
It is about time the industry stops what I think is a mediocre approach to a problem that is increasingly destroying us. This, in my view is reminiscent of what the tobacco industry did before regulations were reigned in. While I do not believe in having regulations for everything, in this situation where the lives of the innocent and vulnerable are in danger; I deem regulations to be helpful. That said, I suppose the skeptics would argue that regulation would largely drive the industry underground. I concur, but I suppose that regulations in this situation if accompanied by targeted education and advocacy could deliver. Consequently, recent reports (April/June/Nov 2009) indicate that the recent hike in alcohol levy has impacted negatively on beer sales and profits. What is interesting though is that people are choosing soft drinks as indicated by increased sales.
While this is a welcome development, let us be mindful that high sugar contents of soft drinks have also been linked to obesity, a major risk factor of non-communicable diseases (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and some cancers), therefore it is the responsibility of the industry to ensure that their products are not only profitable but also healthy.
Policy makers and the industry are therefore duty bound to come up with a smart partnership that would deliver health and profit!! After reading this there will be a lot of questions and comments such as: I have been drinking for X number of years without a problem I need to quit drinking Go simolola gompieno ke a hokotsa Bojalwa jo ke a bo ithekela mmele o leone ke wame He is trying to scare us Sengwe le sengwe se a bolaa I accept all that! It’s your choice: DRINK NOW AND PAY LATER!
*Lemogang Kwape is a nutritionist at the National Food Technology Research Centre . He writes here in his personal capacity