We have all read the conflicting articles. We pick up of the paper only to read that a scientist somewhere has made a startling discovery that drinking a glass of red wine a day protects you against heart disease only to pick up the paper the next day and discover that another scientist has done research that shows that the very same glass of wine a day gives you an increased risk of dementia. The messages are confusing. The world needs to know one way or another – is alcohol good for you or will it kill you?
In order to cut through this confusing array of research I decided, in the spirit of scientific research, to use my own body in order to definitively answer the question; is alcohol good or bad for your health? Today, on this very blog page, I am going to share with you the answer to this question.(Intake of breath)
Some of you will be wondering why I have chosen to share this groundbreaking research on my blog rather than in scientific or medical journal? The answer is that it’s too important to wait for scientists and medical professionals to sift through my research, to test the data, to make sure I have used rigorous methods. This research is so groundbreaking that I need to get it out there now. So what if I don’t win the Nobel Prize because my research has not been peer reviewed? Some things are worth more than glory and a big cheque. But I prevaricate, I am wasting time; you want to know what this groundbreaking research tells us about alcohol and its relation to our health. Sit tight, strap yourself in, and be prepared to be shocked and enlightened. This is it, the definitive answer, The answer based on real research, the conclusion that could save lives, and without wishing to sound too self important, could save mankind and change the course of human history.
Here it is:
“ALCOHOL IS BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH”
Groundbreaking eh? Enlightening?
Oh you already knew this? Old news you say?
Well I didn’t know it. I am one of those that only read the research that legitimised my drinking. I would read, paraphrase and pass on all the research that shows that drinking wine was good for your heart,could lower blood pressure and even protect against dementia. Whilst this research is often disputed the one thing that I would forget to mention about all the positive research done on alcohol was that all these positive messages came with the proviso that you only got health benefits if you drank very moderately. Every bit of research had one thing in common; there were only ever benefits if you drank very moderately (and we are talking here about maybe one or two glasses of wine a week). The sad fact is that those, like me, who can drink a bottle and a half of wine in one sitting have no allies on the medical front. Once you start drinking in the 50+ units a week range you are almost certainly going to encounter adverse health consequences. (For those of us trying to fool ourselves “adverse health consequences” is clever, gentle code for “death”)
Irony aside I have been recording one measure of my health against the amount of alcohol I’ve been consuming over the last four months. So yes, actual data recording and research! Before starting to address moderating my alcohol intake I wanted to know exactly how much alcohol I was consuming and when. I’ve been logging this information for the past 15 weeks alongside the record of my blood pressure as this is something that I take medication for and is being monitored by my doctor. I always had a sense that my blood pressure was related to my alcohol consumption and often this was very apparent if I took my blood pressure after a particularly heavy weekend. But even when I was not drinking, my blood pressure was becoming very high. My doctor put me on medication, I’ve bought myself a snazzy blood pressure monitor and started recording my blood pressure on a weekly basis. When I started to record how much alcohol I was consuming each week I decided to put the two sets of data together to see if there was a correlation over time between my blood pressure and my alcohol consumption. A screenshot of the graph is below:
It’s pretty conclusive and probably to anyone else, pretty obvious and no surprise. But when it’s your own data and the correlation is that stark it becomes real wake-up call.
Drinking alcohol at the level I am doing is adversely affecting my blood pressure. More units= higher blood pressure. The blood pressure medication is keeping it in check but already my doctor is thinking my dosage needs to be increased. I know that’s not the answer. The answer is in the graph; lower your alcohol intake and your blood pressure will go down. It’s so bloody obvious, and contrary to my over the top introduction, not groundbreaking at all.
What about other health effects there have been on my body? I suffer from semi permanent flushed face which could be rosacea but eases off when I don’t drink excessively, obesity which is caused by overeating the day after a binge plus the wasted high number of calories in alcohol, episodes of gastritis brought on by alcohol, and the most worrying one of all, possible alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
This last condition (not proven as yet) was picked up after a trip abroad where I partied and drank continuously for 7 days in March. I returned and had tightness of the chest and problems breathing. My girlfriend rang the helpline, a paramedic turned up and I was transferred to hospital. A slightly irregular ECG was inconclusive but they could rule out heart attack. Instead an x ray showed an enlarged heart. They asked me about my alcohol consumption as this can be linked to an enlarged heart and is a symptom of AC. I lied and said I drank moderately. Oh, they said, because the symptoms I was displaying were consistent with alcoholic cardiomyopathy. They suggested going to my doctor. I didn’t. Instead for the next few days I drank very moderately. Things seemed OK and I went back to my old ways. Writing this down here, I can’t believe how stupid this all seems. Intelligent guy gets stark health warnings, intelligent guy ignores warnings, puts head in sand and continues to put his health at risk. Conclusion: intelligent guy may not be as smart as he thinks he is. In fact he appears to be intellectually challenged. I haven’t even mentioned possible damage to liver, brain, mental health etc. Scary stuff.
Anyway, there we have it. Alcohol in excess is not good for you.
Not groundbreaking. Bleeding obvious really.
Question is Jim; what are you going to do about it? Good question.
Understand, plan and change, that’s what! Things staying as they are is not an option.
Here’s one little thing I do. Below is a selection of my very low alcoholic drinks. I like these. I can drink these and get the feeling that I’m having a drink. They help me cut down. That is good.
A selection of low and non alcoholic beer and wine (non-alcoholic can legally contain 0.5% alcohol). Helps provide the association without the grief. All helps in cutting down the units.
Now for something completely different…
On a different note, I want to add that although I am writing about alcohol, I do not want to give the impression that that is all there is in my life. I haven’ t had a drink since Saturday, I have been teaching, playing sport and writing songs. I go shopping, see people and tomorrow I’ll be working with people with mental health problems including a few alcoholics. Some of them wake up and reach for the bottle. I never do that. But I have developed a dependency and I have to change my drinking habits. I have seen the effects and I do not want to end up like some that I have worked with. You don’t necessarily have to reach bottom before starting to climb.There is also much more to us than just alcohol.