I am a male who just celebrated my 18th birthday, and until now, I have observed the law and have not drunk alcohol (although many of my friends do drink). I was wondering if some alcohol is good for health or causes harm, and how much is too much. L.D., Liverpool, England

Dr. Olga Raz, head of the clinical nutrition department in the Health Sciences Faculty of Ariel University in Samaria, Israel, replies:

A study published last summer in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet found that alcohol consumption is a very significant factor in harming health and shortening life expectancy.

Alcohol is an inseparable part of social life, meals, going out at night, longing, separation, joys and more. All this makes the alcohol industry a very powerful economic force. In the US alone, alcohol sales reach $220 billion a year – even though the dangers of alcohol abuse are well known and reported.

Some health organizations have claimed “moderate” alcohol consumption can be beneficial. But what is “moderate” drinking? According to the US Department of Health and Human Service and the Department of Agriculture, one or less drinks per day for women and up to two drinks daily for me is “moderate drinking.” The difference between recommendations for men and women is based on physiological characteristics: Among other things, perhaps the main reason is that the level of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol is lower in women’s bodies than in men’s.

Second, it is necessary to define what an alcohol dose is: beer about 330 milliliters, wine about 150 ml and whiskey and other “heavy” drinks about 45 ml.

Heavy drinking by women is four drinks or more in a day or more than eight per week; for men, it is five drinks or more in a day or more than 15 per week.

Aside from the fact that drinking alcohol seriously raises the risk of road accidents and violence, there are harmful effects on health:

  • Increased triglycerides (harmful fats) in the blood, leading to r rise in the risk of cardiovascular disease)
  • fatty liver (increased risk of liver cirrhosis and liver failure)
  • increased risk of dementia, heart disease and high blood pressure
  • increased risk of cancers, such as gastrointestinal, breast and liver cancer
  • a higher risk of depression and suicide
  • in women who use alcohol during pregnancy, an increased risk of having a baby with brain injury, irreversible damage from fetal alcohol syndrome and more.

Are there any positive effects of alcohol consumption? This is not certain at all. The abovementioned Lancet study claims that globally, alcohol consumption is one of the most significant factors that negatively affect health and shorten life expectancy.

The study showed that alcohol drinking causes death from any cause, especially cancer mortality, in direct proportion to the amount of alcohol. The study concluded that the level of alcohol consumption that minimizes the health risk is not drinking alcohol at all.

According to the results of the study, life expectancy at the age of 40 for those who consumed seven to 14 servings of alcohol per week decreased by six months; for those who consumed between 14 to 25 servings per week one to two years; and those who consumed more than 25 servings per week four to five years.

So should you avoid alcohol altogether? If you have not drunk alcohol until now, you should not start drinking. If you’ve already started, drink as little as you can. You should not copy your friends’ dangerous behaviors just to be “part of the crowd.”

The policies of those health organizations that recommend moderate drinking for health must be thrown out. It is true that quite a number of studies have shown that moderate drinking can reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack and more. The problem is that these studies do not prove a cause-and-effect relationship, and even if there are advantages in general it is impossible to know who will benefit them specifically and who will be adversely affected. In other words, it is impossible to predict how specific alcohol consumption will affect a particular person.

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I am a 54-year-old woman who has had type-2 diabetes for eight years. I try to eat right, and I eat whole grains rather than processed flour and other grains. I have something of a “sweet tooth” and was wondering if eating a handful of dried fruit daily can cause harm. W.B., Melbourne, Australia.

Judy Siegel-Itzkovich comments:

People with diabetes and followers of diets based on the glycemic index (GI) can enjoy dried fruits knowing they do not cause a blood sugar spike compared to starchy foods such as white bread, according to a new study published in the journal Nutrition and Diabetes.

The results of the study also suggest there’s potential for food manufacturers to develop low GI foods with reformulations that include dried fruit, maintained Dr. John Sievenpiper of Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital and researcher Cyril Kendall of the hospital’s clinical nutrition and risk-factor-modification center.

The glycemic index was developed by Dr. David Jenkins of St. Michael’s Hospital in the early 1980s as a way of explaining how different carbohydrates affect blood glucose and to find out which foods were best for people with diabetes.

Foods high on the GI index – such as white bread, most breakfast cereals, potatoes and white rice – produce a spike in blood glucose and insulin, while the carbohydrates in low GI foods – including whole-grain pasta, beans, lentils, barley and oats – are broken down more slowly and cause more moderate increases in blood glucose and insulin.

The study compared the glycemic response of four dried fruits — dates, apricots, raisins and sultanas – versus white bread in 10 healthy participants and found the fruit had a lower GI and could lower the glycemic response of white bread through displacement of half of the available carbohydrate.

People often worry about sources of sugar and fruits being one of them, What we’re showing here is that dried fruit have a lower glycemic index, so they don’t raise your blood sugar very much,” wrote Sievenpiper.

“This study finds people can use dried fruits as a low glycemic index food source to replace higher glycemic index foods, so as a snack food, for example. Dried fruit is going to be preferred to a grain-based cracker or snack.”

But Sievenpiper said longer and larger randomized trials will be needed to confirm whether dried fruit can contribute to sustainable improvements in glycemic control and whether other dried fruits have a similar GI – thus you should personally consult your primary physician or diabetologist before making such dietary changes.

If you want an Israeli expert to answer your medical questions, write to Breaking Israel News health and science senior reporter Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at judy@israel365.com with your initials, age, gender and place of residence and details of the medical condition, if any.

Source: Israel in the News