Drinking too much is in the blood

Christmas time, mistletoe and wine. The party season is upon us. Behind the scenes the health service is under pressure to cope with a surge in liver disease.

From The Irish Times

One specialist unit admitted 14,000 people to hospital for treatment for alcohol dependency in a single year. St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, reported a 335 per cent increase in admissions with alcoholic liver disease between 1995 and 2010.

It makes me think that Des Bishop was correct in his Under the Influence assertion. In Ireland our culture enables us to feel like we are being normal when we drink too much.

Average alcohol consumption per adult declined by 12.5 per cent between 2007 and 2012, according to the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland.

Figures suggest that the average intake was 11.7 litres of pure alcohol in 2012. That is comparable to 411 pints of beer, stout or cider; or 42 full-sized bottles of vodka; or 124 bottles of wine. Consumption may have decreased, but we still like our drink.

Maximum limit
If we drank to the maximum low-risk weekly limit every week, our average consumption for the year would be only 9.2 litres, according to Alcohol Action Ireland, implying that many of us could be described as problem drinkers.

Its website, alcoholireland.ie, makes for stark but necessary reading. Worryingly, it seems that Irish teenage girls have been drinking as much and sometimes more than teenage boys since 1995.

Up to 95 per cent of alcohol is metabolised by a group of six enzymes, known collectively as alcohol dehydrogenase. These enzymes are found in small amounts in our stomachs and in larger amounts in our livers.

Females have less alcohol dehydrogenase in their stomachs than males, which is partly why we feel the effects of alcohol more quickly. Females have more fat and less water in their bodies too and so alcohol is less diluted in our systems.

All in all, it is physiologically more difficult for teenage girls to keep pace with teenage boys or for women to keep up with men. But many do.

Alcohol Action Ireland reports that drinking one standard alcoholic drink a day is associated with a 9 per cent increase in the risk of developing breast cancer, while three to six drinks a day increases the risk by 41 per cent.

Cirrhosis of the liver
The site has separate sections on men and women and comparisons in their risk of disease.

For example, men who drink six or more standard drinks a day are 13 times more likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver compared with non-drinkers: women need only four standard drinks a day to increase their risk to the same degree.

That’s about a half bottle of wine each evening.

There is evidence, however, that moderate drinking has some health benefits, as long as there is no personal or family history of alcoholism, mental health or mood disorders, or liver disease.

A number of large studies have documented an association between moderate alcohol consumption and a lower risk for coronary artery disease and stroke. This link was found in men in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Nurses’ Health Study demonstrated it in women.

Polyphenols found in red wine, such as resveratrol, have received a lot of attention in this regard. Scientists believe that these compounds reduce the risk of heart disease by preventing the oxidation and hardening of cholesterol on the inside of the blood vessels and by platelet clumping and blocking the vessels.

Resveratrol content
It seems that the quantity of resveratrol in grape skins varies with the grape cultivar and its geographic provenance. The total fermentation time a wine spends in contact with grape skins also impacts its resveratrol content.

Consequently, white and rose wines generally contain less resveratrol than red wines.

It also appears that the sweeter the wine, the more calories and the fewer the protective flavonoids it contains. The benefits of red wine may extend beyond resveratrol and other flavonoids of course.

A Danish study found that people who buy wine are also likely to buy heart healthy foods such as olives and olive oil, whereas beer drinkers are more likely to buy less-healthy foods, such as crisps and fizzy drinks.

Alcohol has been described as both a tonic and a poison. It’s not that long ago when pregnant women were encouraged to have a little Guinness for their iron levels.

Three pints of Guinness provide the same amount of iron as a single egg yolk (1.1mg) and alcohol is not good for babies.

Too much alcohol can also challenge the waistline. It’s not just the calories in those margaritas, it’s what happens to your resolve. If you don’t want to break into the fridge at 2am or stop for a bite on the way home from the pub, then look for strategies to help you drink less.

nTry white wine spritzers (half a glass of white wine mixed with half soda or sparkling water).

nTry an alcohol-free, reduced calorie beer.

nTry a Virgin Mary with plenty of Tabasco sauce or a Mock-ito.

nJust skip a round.

The recommended intakes of alcohol is

11 standard drinks for women, 17 for men.

One “standard drink” equals a half-pint of beer, a glass of wine (125 ml) or a pub measure of spirits.

These units should be spread throughout the week with two to three drink-free days.

Note to self: A glass of wine poured at home is usually much bigger than 125 ml.

Virgin Mary Mocktail

As a non-alcoholic version of the Bloody Mary, the Virgin Mary is a tomato juice drink that you can drink anytime. Perfect for the Christmas party season

Serves 1

2 good splashes Tabasco sauce

1 pinch black pepper

250ml tomato juice

1 celery stalk

Pour juice into a glass, add Tabasco sauce and stir with a celery stalk. Sprinkle with pepper. Serve immediately and enjoy.


Serves 1

6 fresh mint leaves

25ml fresh lemon juice

10ml agave syrup

200mls ginger ale

Crushed ice

Gently bruise the mint leaves. Add the crushed ice to a long glass and add the rest of the ingredients.

Swizzle with a long spoon until well mixed.

Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Paula Mee is lead dietitian in Medfit and a member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute.