Rethinking Alcohol Consumption


Last month, the Star Tribune (of Minneapolis) reported that according to a massive study, co-authored by 512 researchers from 243 different institutions, and reported in the pretigious Bristish medical journal Lancet, that to minimize health risks, the optimal amount of alcohol someone should consume is none. Any alcohol at all,  they reported, was associated with some health risk. According to the report, the number of people who died in 2016 from an alcohol related cause was 2.8 million!   Excessive drinking is the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States, yet, as of today, there are still no warning labels on bottles of alcohol that advise us as to the health hazards of drinking nor are there calorie counts (still optional for producers to add); we were pretty much in the dark, until now.

According to this article, 2 billion people worldwide drink, and many of us very much enjoy our drinks. But just think of the health outcomes that could be improved if we start to think about moderating the amount of alcohol that we drink as a result of this report. The quit smoking campaign was a huge success and this one could be even bigger. Drinking alcohol is associated with cancer risks, heart disease and cardiovascular related disease, cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, osteoporosis, ulcers, gastric reflux disease, sleep dysfunction, immune system dysfunction, brain damage (fetal alcohol syndrome), crimes committed (petty and felony), sexual aggression and violence, transportation accidents etc, not to mention weight gain associated with drinking (we still don't know how many calories are in the glass of wine we are drinking).  We could have an amazing impact on the health of this nation and the world, if we get clear on the risks we take with drinking alcohol, especially excessively.

 Knowing this may not mean that we don't drink at all,(although in some cases it might be the right answer), but it might give us a better reference point from which we set our own drinking guidelines with respect to our desired health outcomes.

As a starting point, here are some tips to moderate alcohol consumption.

  1. Set a maximum number of drinks you will consume each week.  For example:  I will not consume more than 5 drinks per week and will not consume more than 2 at one time. 
  2. When you are going to enjoy a drink, start with a glass of sparkling water or just plain water.  Don't use alcohol to quench your thirst.
  3. Drink water or sparkling water between drinks to slow down consumption and to put off your next drink order.  Sip slowly by putting your drink down periodically.
  4. Dilute your drink with some sparkling water (this works especially well with mixed drinks or white wine).
  5. Have certain days of the week that are designated as abstinenence days. 

While many of us enjoy an occasional drink or two, it helps to have some guidelines around the risk we are taking with respect to our health.  The more we practice moderation and abstinence, the better we get at it.