Just in Time for New Year’s Eve, Getting High Makes Headlines

A plethora of newspapers and magazine articles about alcoholic beverages appear for our perusal as we approach New Year's Eve. The emphasis seems to be upon recipes rather than warnings, so Shelf Life Advice will dispense with the former and focus on the latter. We're fast approaching that evening when imbibing enough to get yourself a bit tipsy is expected and even encouraged by some well-meaning hosts who want you to have fun. Therefore, we're here to give you some trustworthy and sometimes sobering information about alcohol and your body.  No, we're not trying to bash the bottled holiday "cheer."  There are benefits as well as risks involved, as we point out.


At the bar, are women the equal of men?

They certainly shouldn't be, according to a recent article in Harvard Women's Health Watch.  In "A few things you might not know about alcohol," the newsletter lists 3 reasons that women have a lower capacity for alcohol than men. All 3 reasons relate to the obvious fact that, in general, men have bigger bodies than women. 


1)The way the human body handles alcohol is mostly due to enzymes called "alcohol dehydrogenase," which break down some alcohol BEFORE it enters the bloodstream.   (The liver removes the rest.)  Men have more of these enzymes than women.


2) Because women tend to be smaller, their circulatory systems hold less blood. The result is that one drink produces more alcohol in the bloodstream  than the same drink would produce for a typical man. 


3) "Women's bodies have proportionally less water." The result is lower blood volume and a higher concentration of alcohol (compared to men).  This is true even for a man and woman who weigh the same.  "After a few drinks, a 160-pound woman will have a blood alcohol level closer to the legal driving limit than a 160-pound man will."


How much is too much?

According to the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter “Even if you’ve had only one drink, think twice before driving.”  The article points this out: the blood alcohol limit for driving in the U.S. is 0.08%.  However, blood levels as low as 0.01% can increase the risk of a “potentially dangerous crash.”  This gloomy information comes from a study done at the University of California, San Diego and was published in the journal Addiction in September.  One drink can lead not only to serious crashes but also to speeding and forgetting to click that seatbelt.  Guess what the blood alcohol limit is in Japan and Sweden.  The former: 0.03, the latter, 0.02.  Consider all this information and then, when partying, consider spending more time at the buffet and less at the bar.  Also, drink early in the evening, so the effect has time to wear off, and then eat well.


Is alcohol healthy?


Here’s the good news from Environmental Nutrition: “Moderate alcohol intake can fit into a healthy lifestyle and even offer some benefits—welcome tidings for the estimated 100 million American adults who drink responsibly.”  The positive effects of alcohol on health and quality of life have been known since 1979, when one of the first research papers on this subject was published.  What are the benefits?  Here are some mentioned in the article:


-        Moderate drinking is associated with a 25-40% reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease.

-        Moderate drinking improves insulin sensitivity, which controls blood sugar levels and therefore wards off type 2 diabetes.

-        People who drink alcohol moderately (one drink a day for women, two for men) live longer than those who don’t drink at all.  What’s one drink?  According to the USDA, it’s 1.5 oz. of 80-proof distilled spirits, 5 oz. of wine, or 12 oz. of beer. 

-        Furthermore, the Harvard Women's Health Watch article  quoted above mentions this benefit: "Moderate amounts of alcohol can stimulate the production of HDL (good) cholesterol."  (However, drinking enough to damage the liver will lower HDLs.)


So what’s the downside?


-        The risk of getting breast or colon cancer increases even with only one drink a day.

-        Alcohol is highly addictive, and heavy drinking can lead to addiction. Addiction can lead to a host of life-threatening problems including cardiac muscle damage, high blood pressure, brain cell damage, and liver and kidney damage. 

-        Alcohol has  also been linked to increased risk of osteoporosis and dementia.  Brain shrinkage can occur and can  increase faster in women  than in men who drink the same amount, says the Harvard Women's Health Watch.

-        Alcohol is fairly high in calories, so drinking a lot can lead to weight gain.


Environmental Nutrition offers this advice: “Stick with moderation by alternating a glass of water for each alcoholic drink—you’ll save calories, stay hydrated, and drink responsibly for your health.”


What about energy drinks?


To feel good on New Year’s Eve, should you eschew alcohol and substitute an energy drink for your beverage(s) of choice?  Don’t overdo it. If you eat a lot of salty snacks and get thirsty, seriously consider water as a solution. According to the Chicago Tribune, visits to emergency rooms as a result of drinking energy drinks have risen sharply in recent years.  And these are not mostly due to combining energy drinks with alcohol. Recent research revealed that 56% of emergency room visits related to energy drinks involved energy drinks alone.  High quantities of these beverages can cause heart palpitations, lightheadedness, dizziness, and headaches.  Don’t decide to mix alcohol and energy drinks with the idea that the caffeine in the energy drink will keep you sober and enable you to enjoy more alcoholic beverages. The combination, consumed to excess, has sent many people to the emergency room.


Although the American Beverage Association claims that these drinks contain only half the caffeine of a cup of coffee, a problem develops when people drink 8 or more of these in a day, guzzling then down as they would an ordinary can of pop.  The journal Pediatrics reported that energy drinks have about three times as much caffeine as colas. 


To reach links to this site’s other articles on energy drinks, type the words “energy drinks” into the search box.  Ditto for alcoholic beverages.  The following is especially relevant to this article: http://shelflifeadvice.com/content/just-why-are-caffeinated-alcoholic-drinks-both-dangerous-and-illegal-fda-explains


Happy New Year to all!  Be careful on the roads on New Year’s Eve.  We want all of you in perfect condition and back on Shelf Life Advice after the holiday.




Harvard Women's Health Watch, "A few things you might not know about alcohol," November 2015. 

University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter, January 2011

Environmental Nutrition, December 2011

Chicago Tribune  “Study delivers harsh buzz on energy drinks” December 5, 2011





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