Alcohol, A Double Edged Sword

There has been a spate of research that encourages moderate alcohol drinking.  But, these studies do not provide us with the adverse effects of alcoholism. It is important to know the bad side effects of a drug before we use it for the beneficial effects. However, a Japanese team led by Sakae Arimoto-Kobayashi of Okayama University in Tsushima,  in January issue of Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reports that alcohol itself, however, was not the key. Instead, the plant-derived hops that give beer its bitterness could be responsible. In the experiments, extractions of hops inhibited the effects of one HA type. The effect of hops on the finished beer varies by type and use. Bittering hops have higher concentrations of alpha acids than that of aroma hops.  Hops also contain beta acids or lupulones , terpenes, and flavonoids.  Terpenes in hops include myrcene, humulene and caryophyllene. Flavonoid in hops include xanthohumol, and prenylflavonoids such as 8-prenylnaringenin and isoxanthohumol.   

"Moderate alcohol consumption may have important health benefits in terms of reducing the risk of ischemic stroke,[ i.e., they may not have important health benefits]," concludes a team of researchers at Columbia University in New York City. Previous studies have suggested that alcohol protects against heart disease by helping to raise blood levels of  High Density Lipoprotein (HDL). However, the Japanese investigators found no such association in their study. But the authors also note that "heavy drinking (five or more drinks per day) was associated with (a 37%) increased risk of stroke." And they say the consumption of seven or more drinks per day pushed stroke risk to a level more than triple that of abstainers.

 The so-called benefits claimed for alcohol are essentially due to the presence of plant derived antioxidants and hops. Resveratrol is part of a group of compounds called polyphenols. They’re thought to act like antioxidants, protecting the body against damage that can put you at higher risk for things like cancer and heart disease. It is in the skin of red grapes, and as a result, it is found in wine. Resveratrol is found in grapes, wine, grape juice, peanuts, cocoa, and berries of Vaccinium species, including blueberries, bilberries, and cranberries.  Resveratrol activates the SIRT1 gene that protects the body against the effects of obesity and the diseases of aging.

Dr. Gregory N. Larkin, MD, Director of Corporate Health Services, Eli Lilly and Company has the following advice for alcoholics: Alcohol has been a societal libation for centuries rendering both benefits and trauma to those who drink it. The definition of what constitutes a drink is beer = 12 ozs., wine = 5 ozs., 80 proof distilled spirits =1.5 ozs.  Following are some characteristics and guidelines regarding alcohol effects: The risks of liver damage (cirrhosis), pancreatitis and certain types of cancers (mouth, liver, throat, larynx and the esophagus). Long-term heavy consumption can also cause loss of appetite, vitamin deficiencies, stomach problems, skin problems, sexual impotence, obesity, and heart, central-nervous-system and psychological disorders. Heavy drinking also increases death from automobile and recreational accidents, harmful fetal development, and the incidence of homicide and suicide.

When to abstain from drinking alcohol:

·         if you have not started yet

·         if you are pregnant or anticipate pregnancy

·         if you have medical conditions like liver disease or ulcers

·         if you have a family history of alcoholism

·         if you are taking medications that interact with alcohol

·         if you anticipate activities that require alertness

Have a possible problem with alcohol usage?  Discuss your concern with your doctor and get help from support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. Here are some web sites that might be helpful: 

·        Alcoholics Anonymous 

·        Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence 

·         Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services 

·         National Institute of  Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 

·        Economic Costs

·        Alcohol Abuse Amongst The Elderly: A Complete Guide

·        Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

·        Alcoholism Addiction Treatment



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