" I drink to your health when I'm with you,
I drink to your health when I'm alone,
I drink to your health so often,
I'm starting to worry about my own!"
Just as many Irish drinking toasts describe, St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday fueled by the desire to drink alcohol. Whether it’s a festive green beer or something a bit stronger, knowing how much alcohol is in a standard drink [http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/standard-drink] will help you to determine how much you’re consuming and understand the risks.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Addiction (NIAAA) recommends what research has determined to be “low-risk” drinking levels:
• Men: four drinks or less per day, totaling fourteen drinks or less per week.
• Women: three drinks or less per day, totaling seven drinks or less per week.
According to the NIAAA, excessive consumption over a long time or binge drinking on a single occasion can damage the heart, liver and pancreas, and may put you at risk for the following conditions:
• Hypertension – also known as high blood pressure.
• Steatosis – or fatty liver, the earliest stage of alcoholic liver disease and the most common alcohol-induced liver disorder.
• Alcoholic hepatitis – This may not present obvious symptoms but will be developed by approximately one in five heavy drinkers. It can cause fever, nausea, appetite loss, abdominal pain, mental confusion, and when escalated the liver becomes enlarged and causes jaundice, excessive bleeding, and clotting difficulties.
• Fibrosis – a build-up of scar tissue in the liver.
• Cirrhosis – This affects one in four heavy drinkers, causing a slow deterioration of the liver by excessive scar tissue build up. It may lead to jaundice, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and liver cancer.
• Pancreatitis – inflammation and swelling of blood vessels in the pancreas that prevent normal digestive functions.
• Cancer – The National Cancer Institute identifies alcohol as a risk factor for many types of cancer including cancer of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver, and breast.
Please know that my goal isn't to squash your festive spirit this holiday. As a physician, my goal is to educate so that you are empowered to make informed decisions regarding your health and well-being. The effects of alcohol overconsumption are real and they're very serious. From cancer to complete liver failure, I've counseled far too many patients who only wish they had known more before it was too late. In writing this, my greatest hope is that you never become one of them and that you’ll make positive and conscious lifestyle choices.
This holiday, don’t put all your trust in the luck of the Irish when it comes to your health. Be sure to eat a proper meal, stay hydrated with plenty of water and limit your alcohol intake.
More Reading & Resources:
• Alcohol’s Effects on the Body: http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body
• Beyond Hangovers: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Hangovers/beyondHangovers.pdf
• A recent article in USA Today highlights the Centers for Disease Control’s study of binge drinking in women: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/01/08/binge-drinking-women-girls/1817465/