You have probably heard about Canada’s new guidelines about alcohol consumption and health. To reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, Canadians are being asked to dramatically reduce their alcohol consumption, to two drinks per week!
Alcohol has always been part of human history. There was a time when beer was less dangerous to drink than water, when water sources were contaminated with dangerous microbes. We’ve come a long way since then, learned a lot, and changed our guidelines more than once!
Alcohol is still used to grease the social wheels, which seemed fine when guidelines said ten drinks a week was safe for women and fifteen for men. It was even suggested that a couple of drinks a night was health-promoting, possibly for the anti-stress factor. The latest research results have come up with very different guidelines, which may be quite concerning to some people.
It has long been recognized that drinking any amount of alcohol increases your risk for many types of cancer including breast, mouth, throat, colon, and liver cancer. The more you drink, the more your risk increases. And the risk of cancer goes up regardless of what type of alcohol you drink (beer, wine, cider, spirits, or liqueur). When it comes to cancer risk, alcohol just doesn’t help, and this new study confirms it: more than 2 drinks per week will increase your risk of developing cancer.
You may have heard that alcohol is good for your heart. Not true! Thirty years ago we called this the “French Paradox”, because it looked like people in France drank more wine but had fewer heart attacks and strokes than North Americans. The studies that were done at that time have since been criticized, in part because they were funded by producers of alcoholic beverages! Also, many other important lifestyle factors were not considered.
Alcohol consumption is associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke: it can drive inflammation, causing more arterial disease, and even has a significant impact on heart arrhythmia, like atrial fibrillation.
We now understand that, if you really want to have a positive impact on your heart health, you're better off eating a healthy diet and being more physically active rather than consuming alcohol as a “constitutional”. We know a woman who doesn’t drink, who was thinking of taking up drinking a glass or two of wine a night when the guidelines said it could be good for the heart. She’ll now be glad she didn’t!
We also recognize that we are living in a silent epidemic of fatty liver, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Alcohol consumption has a huge negative impact on the risk of developing all of these. In fact, we recommend cutting out alcohol completely if you are diabetic or have been told you have fatty liver: and guess what? These two problems usually go together!
We know that alcohol gives your liver extra work, and this is in addition to all the modern chemicals it has to deal with, which didn’t even exist in our beer-drinking ancestors’ days! We also know that a drink with a friend on a Friday night can be a reward and pleasure, the social aspects of which help overall wellbeing.
What’s our take?
It turns out that alcohol is not so good for our health. Many of us could do with an alcohol reality check: how much are you really consuming in a week? A serving of wine is 5oz. How big a glass do you pour yourself at home? if you use alcohol to unwind, what else could you use to relax at the end of a stressful day? Maybe a walk, a swim, or a long soak in the tub.
If these new guidelines tell you that you have been putting more strain on your liver than you had realised, it’s time to get proactive, and there’s so much that can help you do that!
If you would like to understand more about your amazing liver: what it does and how to nurture it on a daily basis, we invite you to learn more in the SHINE Liver Masterclass.