How much drinking is too much drinking?
The World Health Organization recommends no more than two drinks/units per day for adult men and one drink/unit per day for adult women of drinking age.
Alcohol has always had a bittersweet relationship with health. While it is said to be good for the heart and brain in moderation, the side-effects of too much alcohol on the liver can't be denied.
So how much you drink is at least as important as what you drink. But what does "moderation" mean when it comes to alcohol? What exactly defines one drink? Is it a glass, a shot or a bottle?
We tried to find the answers to some of these questions for you. Here is what experts said when asked, “how much drinking is too much?”
Alcohol by volume
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends no more than two drinks/units per day for adult men and one drink/unit per day for adult women of drinking age.
New Delhi-headquartered National Drug Dependence Treatment Center, takes the argument a step further, saying that it's not just about a shot, a glass or a bottle. The amount of alcohol present in each drink matters a good deal. So, one unit of beer (which has around 5% alcohol) would not be the same as one unit of a distilled beverage (like a whisky or brandy which usually has more than 40% alcohol).
In medical terms, the concept is called Alcohol by Volume (ABV) and is calculated as:
ABV*total alcohol consumed/1000
Now let’s say you had 100 ml of any alcoholic beverage which is labelled 10% ABV. Your total units consumed would be:
10 * 100/1000 = 1
(Most champagnes have 10-12% ABV.)
Even moderate alcohol consumption has entirely different effects on various organs. Clinical studies show that if you drink about 330 ml of beer regularly, it may boost your immune system. However, this is due to the antioxidants and other active compounds in beer rather than alcohol.
Similarly, the cardiovascular and mental benefits of wine are due to the resveratrol and polyphenols present in grapes.
Moderate alcohol consumption is also associated with weight loss and BMI control, though the effect is not as clear. In fact, every gram of alcohol gives you roughly 7Kcal of energy. So, the more alcohol you consume, the more you are throwing your total calorie intake out of balance. The recommended total calorie intake for women and men lies between 2,000 and 2,500 Kcal. BMI or body mass index is the ratio of weight to height - a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy.
The latest research shows that frequent drinking poses a higher risk to your heart health than binge drinking. In particular, frequent drinkers are more prone to atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) and heart rhythm disorders than those who drink a lot at once. Drinking once a week was found to be safer than drinking twice or thrice a week. The risk increases by 8% for every 12 grams of alcohol consumed in a week. Interestingly, those who don’t drink at all are at an even higher risk for both these conditions than those who drink frequently. But doctors do not recommend you start drinking based on this information if you aren't an alcohol consumer.
Alcohol hits the liver the hardest. Regular consumption of alcohol increases fat deposition in the liver and leads to fatty liver disease. This slowly degrades liver functioning and may lead to liver diseases like hepatitis, liver fibrosis and cirrhosis.
Dr Ayush Pandey, a medical practitioner associated with myUpchar.com, explained, "Our liver is like a sponge. Repeated insults due to alcohol consumption can lead to inflammation - become red, swollen and painful - and eventually start scarring of the liver. This makes the liver hard, like a rock, making it difficult to perform its normal functions… If not treated in time, fibrosis eventually develops into cirrhosis."
When discussing consumption habits, he added, "The daily recommended dosage we hear right now is a very western recommendation and the same may not hold true for Asian countries."
However, if you drink more than the advised dosage, do make it a point to go for regular screenings of your liver. This is because early diagnosis increases the chances that your liver will be able to heal itself with the proper treatment. But once the condition starts gradually advancing, it becomes harder to reverse. Once you have developed fatty liver, it is best to moderate or stop your alcohol consumption right away, depending on what your doctor advises.
For more information, please read our article on Benefits and Side Effects of Alcohol.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.
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