For some people, any festival celebration, weekend partying or vacation time is incomplete without vodka shots, mojitos, sangrias or caprioskas, and an ever-growing list of exotic cocktails and alcoholic beverages. At 7 Kcal per gram (or 1ml), alcohol is a potential health hazard primarily because it can easily be overdone. Once in the body, it first affects the frontal lobe of the brain which contains the judgement centre. Blurred judgement in turn prevents inhibition and control of further alcohol intake, leading therefore to excessive consumption.
An alcoholic drink is any drink that contains half an ounce or 15ml of pure ethanol. For instance, 5 ounces or 150ml of wine, 12 ounces or one pint of beer, and 1.5 ounces or 45ml of distilled liquor such as whisky, rum or vodka, all have 15ml of ethanol each.
Generally speaking, moderate drinking (30mg or 30ml of alcohol per 100ml of blood) for an average-sized (with a body-mass index ranging between 19-24) man is a maximum of not more than two drinks (two glasses of 150ml of wine, two pints of beer, two-and-a-half small pegs of whisky, rum or vodka) per day and for an average-sized woman, not more than one drink per day. Binge drinkers, or purposeful drinkers, are those who consume large volumes of alcohol, more than five-six drinks, quickly, every once in a while. People who participate in frequent binge drinking also suffer from liver damage, strokes, heart disease and gastrointestinal problems. Irresponsible drinkers or alcoholics consume large amounts of alcohol on a daily basis because they are addicted to it. This type of alcohol consumption severely damages and destroys liver cells and can lead to cirrhosis, an irreversible condition.
Alcohol is toxic even in small amounts because it acts as a lipid (fat) solvent. Even a small amount of regular alcohol consumption (one drink for women and two drinks for men, daily) dissolves lipids in cell membranes, enters the cells and destroys them as well as neighbouring cell structures.
Also, alcohol cannot be stored in the body. The body, therefore, works faster to metabolize it and in the process uses up a lot of the store of vitamins and minerals, leading to severe nutrient deficiencies. Deficiencies of the vitamin B complex group and folate can lead to anxiety, depression, heart and neurological problems, among others. Deficiencies in potassium and magnesium lead to weakness, fatigue and a loss of appetite.
In the stomach, alcohol is digested almost instantly, and 20% of it is absorbed directly through the walls of an empty stomach to reach the brain within a minute of consumption. The stomach then begins to break down alcohol with the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme. Once alcohol reaches the small intestines, the liver can metabolize no more than half an ounce or 15ml of alcohol; in other words, one drink per hour. Women produce less of the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme than men, which is why women absorb about one-third more alcohol as compared to men of a similar stature and are less tolerant to it.
So abstinence is best, but if you must drink on occasion, keep this in mind:
u Drink in moderation, slowly nursing your drink over the hour. Remember that each person processes alcohol uniquely. Understand how your body processes alcohol and set limits for yourself accordingly.
u Understand that one pint of beer has the same quantity of alcohol as a 150ml glass of wine and 45ml of vodka. All are equally potent. And beer and wine are higher in calories. One pint of beer is 150 calories, a glass of wine is approximately 75 calories, and 45ml of vodka, rum or whisky, about 100 calories. Choose your drink according to your weight considerations. If you are overweight, or have fatty liver or high blood cholesterol levels, limit your alcohol intake. Even if you exercise regularly, and do not have any health conditions, it is advisable to stay in the two drinks for men and one drink for women, per day, zone
u Avoid drinking on an empty stomach. Carbohydrate snacks like hummus, light yogurt-based dips with carrots and cucumbers, and roasted, salt-free nuts like almonds delay the absorption of alcohol and prevent it from reaching the brain quickly.
u Abstain from binge drinking. Remember that drinking just once a week in large amounts does not make up for abstaining from alcohol during the week.
u If you have been a heavy drinker, remember that liver damage can be reversed substantially by abstaining from alcohol for a year. Consult your physician for a high-potency B-complex supplements and multivitamins to reverse the process.
Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.