Some pink wines today are So dry that they taste slightly more red than white. (Hitdelight/Shutterstock)

The ‘moderation’ myth: Is there no safe amount of alcohol?

Mike Dyson, 33, died suddenly on Christmas Day after several drinks, before he had a chance to open his presents.

Dyson went to his neighbor’s house for a drink at 1:30 p.m. After drinking about four glasses of whiskey and some hot water, he lay down on a bed. Everyone thought he was asleep. His family and neighbors did not discover he was breathing until around 7 pm. So they called an ambulance and gave him CPR at the same time.

Unfortunately, he died around 8:20 p.m.

The coroner confirmed that he died of central nervous system depression, particularly respiratory depression caused by acute alcohol poisoning. Toxicological analysis showed Dyson’s blood alcohol content was very high at the time, four to five times the legal driving limit, the equivalent of being in “high drunkenness in the average person”.

Dyson’s story is just one example of the countless alcohol-related deaths. The harm caused by alcohol is actually more common than we think.

Each year, alcohol kills approximately 95,000 people (68,000 men and 27,000 women) in the United States. Alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States (the first is tobacco, the second is poor diet and lack of exercise).

From 2006 to 2014, alcohol-related emergency room visits increased 47 percent. Of all the emergencies, 18.5 percent were alcohol-related. In 2019, there were 10,142 deaths due to drunk driving in the United States, accounting for 28 percent of all driving deaths.

Alcohol is a group 1 carcinogen and has a safe amount of 0

Did you know that there is no such thing as “drinking alcohol safely”?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has long classified alcoholic beverages as a Group A carcinogen.

In 2018, the prestigious international medical journal The Lancet gave alcoholic drinkers a bitter pill to swallow. After a systematic review of alcohol consumption and health effects in 195 countries from 1990 to 2016, this study concluded that the safe intake of alcohol is zero.

According to the study, statistically, one in three people aged 15 or older worldwide drank alcohol in 2016, including 25 percent of women and 39 percent of men. Alcohol consumption is a major factor in premature death and disability in people aged 15 to 49 years.

The researchers stated that alcohol consumption may have some protective effects on ischemic heart disease and diabetes in women in some cases, but they emphasized that further research has shown that alcohol consumption does not have significant protective effects on all-cause mortality or cardiovascular health.

Many people believe that drinking red wine is good for their health. In fact, this is mainly due to the presence of resveratrol in red wine. You can also get resveratrol from purple or dark red grapes, cranberries, cranberries, and peanuts without alcohol. You can also have a glass of rich grape juice instead, and benefit from the resveratrol content without the negative effects of alcohol.

Moreover, alcohol consumption is directly related to an increased risk of cancer and infectious diseases. So when considering the general health risks of alcohol consumption, the previously mentioned protective effects are negative. Our health is at risk no matter how much alcohol we consume. Our exposure to alcohol will also negatively affect our health at any point in our life cycle.

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How much alcohol can the liver process?

After drinking alcoholic beverages, the alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream and the liver breaks down and processes it.

The human liver can process about one drink per hour, where one drink usually means 12 ounces (about 350 ml) of beer, 5 ounces (about 150 ml) of wine, or 1.5 ounces (about 45 ml) of whiskey.

A person may become poisoned if they drink alcohol faster than the liver can process it.

We determine the level of intoxication of a person mainly by looking at the concentration of blood alcohol in his body, through a blood alcohol test. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) refers to grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. For example, a BAC value of 0.1 percent means 0.1 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood.

In the United States, the legal blood alcohol concentration limit is 0.08% for drivers age 21 and older.

If the blood alcohol content is between 0.08 percent and 0.4 percent, the person is considered intoxicated. Other symptoms may include blurred consciousness, nausea, and drowsiness.

BAC greater than 0.4 percent is very dangerous and can lead to serious complications, coma, and even death.

Alcohol causes brain atrophy and increases its lifespan by 11.7 years

The link between alcohol consumption and brain atrophy has been proven for decades.

Several magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies have shown significant differences in the gray and white matter of the brain in chronic alcohol abusers compared to healthy individuals.

In a cross-sectional view of the brain, the central part is white matter and the outer layer is gray matter. They have different functions. Gray matter is where neurons are concentrated, while white matter primarily acts as a relay and connects neurons.

The volume of gray matter in the brain of alcohol-dependent people generally decreases, and the degree of change correlates with the amount of alcohol consumed over time and the duration of alcohol dependence. In people who drink alcohol, the white matter in the brain is also affected and its microstructure changes as well.

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The degree of alcohol contraction in the brain increases with age, reaching its maximum in old age.

However, reduced brain volume is not necessarily irreversible, and several early studies have shown that brain volume appears to partially recover after abstaining from alcohol. For people who were previously heavy drinkers (155 drinks per month), reducing their alcohol consumption to an average of 20 drinks per month is sufficient to increase brain volume.

Alcohol also causes the aging of the brain. Alcoholic individuals have larger brains compared to their peers. One study found that the difference between age and brain biological age in alcohol dependent individuals was as much as 11.7 years, according to their gray matter volume. Another study of brain age found that only daily drinkers had a difference between actual and expected brain age, while those who drank irregularly or abstained from alcohol had no difference.

A study published in the British Medical Journal also indicated that people who drank alcoholic beverages on a weekly basis had a faster rate of cognitive decline than those who did not. Even those who drank little alcohol (1 to 7 drinks per week) showed a decline in cognition.

What parts of the brain are affected by alcohol?

When alcohol enters the brain, it affects the following parts of the brain:

cerebral cortex: This processes sensory information. Alcohol makes the cerebral cortex slower, reduces judgment, and impairs sensory functions.

hippocampus: This is the part of the brain that creates memory. Drinking one or two glasses of alcohol can cause temporary “amnesia.” If alcohol damages someone’s hippocampus, the person’s memory will be affected.

frontal lobe: Alcohol damage to this part of the brain can cause a person to lose self-control, act without thinking, and even commit violence. Chronic drinking can permanently damage the frontal lobe.

The central nervous system: When you want to dictate what your body does, it is the central nervous system that transmits the instructions. That’s why people think, talk, and act slower after drinking alcohol.

Cerebellum: coordinates the body; When you are drunk, your hands tremble, and you walk sideways.

Rigid damage Zoo and curl: After drinking, blood pressure rises, body temperature drops, heartbeat slows down, and urinary urgency cannot be controlled due to injury to the hypothalamus.

Medula: It controls “automatic” bodily functions, such as heart rate and body temperature. Therefore, if you drink a lot of alcohol, you will pass out and may die.

Alcohol reaches the liver and becomes a carcinogen, increasing the risk of many cancers

Only 10 percent of the alcohol we consume is excreted through sweat and breathing, while the remaining 90 percent is broken down and metabolized by the liver.

When alcohol enters the liver, it is broken down by an enzyme into acetaldehyde, then by another enzyme into acetic acid, and later into water and carbon dioxide.

Acetaldehyde is toxic and carcinogenic, while acetic acid is slightly less toxic. An inappropriate proportion of alcohol breakdown enzymes in the body can lead to the accumulation of these toxins in the body.

Acetaldehyde also continues to damage cell membranes, causing DNA damage and inhibiting DNA synthesis and repair, which can lead to cancer. Both ethanol and acetaldehyde disrupt DNA methylation, allowing the activation of oncogenes and other abnormal genes, leading to the formation of tumor cells. Ethanol can also cause inflammation and oxidative stress, which leads to further DNA damage.

Of all new cancer cases worldwide in 2020, more than 740,000 were attributed to alcohol consumption, of which about 100,000 were due to light and moderate alcohol consumption.

Cancers of the esophagus, liver, and breast are the three cancers with the highest number. The rest of the cancers are colon, oral cavity, rectum, pharynx and larynx in descending order.

A systematic review of more than 100 papers by several Australian researchers concluded that excessive alcohol consumption can be associated with damage to all parts of the digestive system. It is now believed that the reason alcohol causes breast cancer is that it increases the level of sex hormones in the body.

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