Alcohol Consumption and its Long-Term
Effect on Your Health
By Liz Barrington, Natural
A low to moderate intake of
the occasional glass of red wine can be beneficial in
reducing stress and possible coronary heart disease, because of
its powerful antioxidant content. Red wine should ideally be
drunk to accompany food, rather than consumed on its own, as it
seems to reduce the potentially harmful effects of saturated
fats that you eat through its blood-thinning action.
Measures poured at home
however are often overly large. The average UK pub measure of
wine is 175ml versus the recommended 125ml, so 2 glasses can
easily take people well over a safe level of consumption. In
addition, the original UK guidelines were established for wine
that contained 8% alcohol content, whereas these days stronger
wine (up to 14% alcohol content) is widely consumed.
guidelines are that women should have no more than 2-3 units of
alcohol per day and men should drink no more than 3-4 units per
day. A measure being: one 125ml glass of wine/one 25ml shot of
a spirit/one half-pint of regular strength beer, or 50ml sherry,
port or vermouth.
However, as we regularly pour
ourselves two or three glasses of wine at the end of a busy day,
it is worth noting that alcohol is indeed a powerful cell
shows that women come to more harm and also more quickly
than men when they drink heavily, and are far more vulnerable to
alcohol-induced brain damage than men.
Alcohol can also affect
fertility levels in both men and women. Women
should certainly not drink any alcohol during pregnancy as
research shows that it potentially can harm the unborn baby.
Alcohol is in fact metabolised
in the liver to become ‘acetaldehyde’ – a cell poison even more
toxic than the original alcohol – which can damage our liver,
brain and heart muscle cells. Long-term excessive alcohol is
linked with 4 particular types of liver damage – fatty
degeneration, alcoholic hepatitis, liver fibrosis and
1. Fatty Degeneration
Whenever alcohol is consumed,
our liver cells halt their normal metabolic operations and work
overtime to eliminate alcohol from the system, converting it
first into ‘acetaldehyde’ and then into ‘acetate’.
Because liver enzymes are
diverted from their normal daily tasks, fewer fatty acids are
processed or converted into the storage substance ‘glycogen’.
Consequently, liver cells start to accumulate unprocessed
globules of fat and become abnormally swollen. Even one single
episode of binge drinking can change liver metabolism and
trigger fatty degeneration.
Regular consumption of excess
alcohol will result in liver cells accumulating more and more
fatty globules. The liver enlarges and takes on a yellow
appearance, resembling the grossly abnormal, fatty livers of the
force-fed geese in France (used to make pâté
de foie gras).
Even at this advanced stage of
fatty degeneration however, changes can be reversible. Liver
cells have a tremendous ability to regenerate - following a
detox treatments, the use of beneficial herbs, a
healthy diet, exercise and most importantly, the avoidance of
2. Alcoholic Hepatitis
In some cases, a
hypersensitive reaction to alcohol causes the liver to become
inflamed on top of the fatty degeneration – leading to condition
known as ‘alcoholic hepatitis’. This is a more serious
condition, as liver cells start to degenerate and die. Fever,
nausea and vomiting occur, with pain and tenderness over the
liver area in the upper right-hand section of the abdomen.
Yellow jaundice develops as the liver inflammation worsens.
Recovery is slower and is followed by the formation of permanent
liver scar tissue.
3. Alcoholic Fibrosis
A liver full of fatty
degeneration will eventually lay down scar tissue (or fibrosis)
even if alcoholic hepatitis has not intervened. If fibrosis is
extensive, it interferes with the liver’s blood supply which can
lead to back pressure on vessels trying to feed blood to the
liver. Back pressure is pressure pushing backwards, so as it
builds up, it becomes increasingly difficult for blood to push
forwards against it. Subsequently, the vessels swell and
varicose veins develop in the oesophagus (the ‘food’ pipe
between the larynx and the stomach), which as a result can bleed
profusely. Fibrosis can become progressive and lead to
cirrhosis, especially if repeated attacks of alcoholic hepatitis
Alcoholic cirrhosis is a
serious liver disease from which it can be difficult to
recover. Cirrhosis develops as a result of liver cell death,
fibrosis, impaired blood supply and the desperate attempt of
some liver cells to regenerate new tissue. The balance between
blood supply and the regenerating nodules of liver is abnormal.
As a result, the blood-starved cells continue to die which
triggers more fibrosis and destroys more blood cells – and so a
vicious cycle is therefore established.
The liver takes on a shrunken,
‘nobbly’ appearance. Owing to inadequate blood supply, these
nodules of regenerated tissue fail to function properly. Back
pressure on the blood supply becomes worse, and the varicose
veins in the oesophagus enlarge further. Alcoholic cirrhosis
eventually leads to death from haemorrhage, liver failure or
liver cancer. Liver cancer develops in about 10% of cases, as a
result of the abnormal cell regeneration.
If people of average weight
drink more than 2 beers, cocktails or glasses of wine in an
hour, the alcohol becomes a powerful central nervous system
depressant. The more serious effects of alcohol tend to occur
in people who are addicted to the substance. Abstinence from
alcohol at this late stage can improve cirrhosis by removing the
toxin that is causing liver cell damage. In addition, extracts
of milk thistle have been shown to improve liver
function, even when cirrhosis is present.
evaluate your present levels of alcohol consumption, why not
Alcohol Audit Questionnaire
and see for yourself? It’s totally anonymous, it’s just there
for your own curiosity and it’s an opportunity to evaluate your
current lifestyle habits. There are also details of alcohol
support groups in the UK, which may also be of help.
are following a comprehensive detox programme, like
Healthy Starter Pack
in order to specifically
cleanse your liver, it is important to AVOID alcohol
altogether. Afterwards, you should limit your
intake to no more than 2 small alcoholic drinks per day in
addition to having several alcohol-free days per week.
Lycium and Peony Combination
is a Chinese combination that nutritionally support the blood,
liver, glands and general circulation, improving the quality of
the blood as it supports the body’s removal of toxins.
Vitamins that are essential to
a healthy liver include: Vitamins A, B6, C and E,
Zinc, Copper, Molybdenum, Thiamine, Pantothenic Acid, Folic
Acid, Amino Acids and Sulphur – all of which can be supplied by
a nutritious, varied diet. Certain herbs can also help maintain
a strong healthy liver and these include:
– This helps protect liver cells from free radicals,
inhibits the production of damaging inflammatory compounds
and boosts the production of the liver’s natural chemical
‘glutathione’ by 35%. Milk thistle also strengthens liver
cell membranes, making it more difficult for toxins to
invade; it stimulates the flow of bile and helps increase
liver cell regeneration when damage has occurred.
– The ‘bitter’ ingredients in the root
enhance liver function by increasing the production of bile
and by improving gallbladder function. Dandelion also
contains ‘choline’, a form of B vitamin that’s involved in
normal liver function, and dandelion root is rich in
vitamins and minerals and improves digestion and helps lower
– Its antioxidant properties protect the
liver from numerous toxic chemicals and can almost double
bile output and increase the solubility of bile - therefore
preventing and treating gallstones. Turmeric has also been
found to reduce cancer-causing agents in the urine of
smokers, lowering the levels of these toxins in the body.
Try to include turmeric in your everyday cooking!
– This traditional Chinese herb protects
against liver damage and also stimulates parts of the immune
system. Nature’s Sunshine’s
Peony and Cinnamon Combination
is a Chinese combination of 12 herbs, including Bupleurum,
to optimise the overall health of the organ by decongesting
an already distressed liver.
– Its berries protect the liver from damage
through its antioxidant effects within a variety of
substances. It is also a mild ‘adaptogen’ – that helps
improve overall health – essential when long-term stress is
part of your life.
In addition, you need to
drink 1.5 – 2 litres of water a day, detox 2-3 times a year and
make sure you eat a wholesome, high-fibre diet rich in fruits
and vegetables (particularly berries such as red grapes,
cranberries and blackcurrants), whole grains, oats, nuts
(walnuts and cashews), oily fish 2-3 times a week, and also
greatly reduce your consumption of convenience and processed
What’s more, regular
physical activity increases the liver’s detoxification cycle
by almost 60%. It takes about one month of regular workouts for
the effects to materialise. Finally, avoid toxins whenever
you can! Try to eat organically grown foods and avoid toxic
chemicals in household cleaning products and lawn and garden
supplies. Don’t smoke, try to keep your alcohol consumption to
a minimum and never use drugs or medication you don’t
Common over-the-counter drugs
such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can cause liver damage when
used over the long-term. If you take these drugs routinely
and also drink alcohol, the effect is even worse.
Finally, watch out too for
environmental air, water and soil pollution that can all
contribute to the body’s intake in toxins and a subsequent
overload of the liver! Try to be sensible - look after your
liver and it will work hard to look after you during your
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The above information should not be treated as a substitute for the
medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care