Alcohol is the most frequently abused drug in the world. It is a substance that has been discussed frequently in scientific literature and has been the focus of a large amount of research. Many of those who read media reports regarding the effects of alcohol are confused. Is this a dangerous drug, or is it a miracle potion that reduces the rates of heart attack—a frequent cause of disability and death in the United States and throughout the much of the world?
The French Paradox
Citizens of France actually consume much more alcohol per capita than Americans. What is interesting about the French is that they eat diets that are higher in fats when compared to Americans, yet they suffer less atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries of heart, which leads to “heart attacks”) than in the U.S. In fact, the French have the second lowest rate of heart disease in the industrial world. This high level of fat intake with low risk for atherosclerosis is termed “the French paradox.”
Researchers have studied this situation, attempting to learn why. It appears, from volumes of excellent research, that the very moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with an increase in a person’s high-density lipoprotein (HDL). We all want to have lots of HDL. When we do, we tend to have less arterial disease. What appears to happen is that the alcohol somehow increases our HDL, which then removes cholesterol from the blood, which is then removed from the body by the liver. In fact, some researchers suggest that we can decrease our risk of having a heart attack by 40 percent if we just use alcohol in moderation!
The Other Side of Alcohol
But what about alcohol’s negative effects?
The body has a special substance called alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme whose function is to convert alcohol from its active form into a second chemical called acetaldehyde. As this process of conversion takes place, the person feels less of the effects of alcohol on the brain. If a person is drunk, they will remain intoxicated until the body converts much of the alcohol into acetaldehyde.
Your liver and stomach make a alcohol dehydrogenase. Men and women both produce alcohol dehydrogenase in their livers, but women have very little of this enzyme in their stomachs. This means that if a man and a woman who weight the same consume equal amounts of alcohol until they are intoxicated, the woman will suffer drunkenness sooner than the man will. Women are at a disadvantage to men when it comes to alcohol consumption.
Along with alcohol’s effect on the brain causing sedation or drunkenness, it causes a general loss of brain tissue. There is a specific condition of the brain called alcoholic dementia, in which individuals develop difficulty swallowing, suffer impaired problem-solving skills, and have difficulty in manipulating objects.
The liver uses fatty acids as fuel. When alcohol is present, the liver prefers to use the alcohol as its fuel source, and the fatty acids (lipids) then build up, causing small droplets to be stored in liver cells. Cirrhosis of the liver is a condition that alcohol is known to cause and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States .
Heart disease is another concern for individuals who drink. Isn’t it interesting that on one hand alcohol is protective for disease of the coronary arteries, while on the other hand it causes disease of the muscle of the heart wall? Those who drink have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, which can then go on to cause strokes or further heart problems.
Alcohol is associated with cancers of the mouth, tongue, throat, esophagus, stomach, liver, lung, pancreas, colon (large intestine), and rectum. These cancers may result from alcohol’s irritating effects on the body tissues. Despite the “French paradox,” French men are three times more likely than American men to die of cancer of the esophagus. Also, French men and women are twice as likely to die of stomach cancer as are Americans.
There are also very serious social consequences of alcohol (many resulting from alcohol use in a single event).
During a research study conducted among students who attended 69 parochial schools throughout the U.S. and Canada , students were asked if either of their parents used alcohol and then whether or not the student had ever used alcohol. Then they were asked about their sexual habits. The results were striking. Only 3.5 percent of the students who had never used alcohol and whose parents did not use alcohol were sexually experienced. However, if the student had tried alcohol and at least one of their parents was an alcohol user, the percentage of those who were experienced sexually increased tenfold to more than 30 percent.
Other data from the same research showed that if alcohol was not used by either parent, 37.6 percent of the students had tried alcohol. However, if a parent did use alcohol, the rate of alcohol use by the student jumped to 71.7 percent.
There was even a strong effect of the parents’ alcohol use on the student’s history of the use of many other drugs. If a parent was an alcohol user, the student’s rate of tobacco use increased from 24.4 percent to 47.3 percent, marijuana use increased from 11.5 percent to 27.1 percent, cocaine use jumped from 2.2 percent to 6.7 percent, and use of other hard drugs increased from 4.9 percent to 14.6 percent.
Reprinted from Vibrant Life Magazine . All rights reserved.
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