It’s the most wonderful time of the year..
Happy holidays to one and all! While it is the season to be jolly, it is also the season where one may tend to consume too much alcohol. It is important to keep in mind not to drink too much. Excessive alcohol intake in one sitting can lead to intoxication, impaired judgement and negative physical behaviour such as drink driving and unsafe sex. Chronic alcohol overuse can lead to an increased risk of liver disease, some cancers, unintentional injury and social problems.
How much is too much?
If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation. According to Singapore’s Health Promotion Board (HPB), women should limit themselves to one standard drink a day and men to two standard drinks a day. A standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol, and is equivalent to:
- 330 ml (one can) of beer (158 kcal)
- Or 100 ml of wine (140 kcal)
- Or 30 ml of hard liquor (89 kcal)
Alcohol and Cardiovascular health
There is a paradox regarding alcohol and cardiovascular health. It is true that alcohol in low to moderate amounts has a cardioprotective effect. However, excessive alcohol intake can cause high cholesterol and high blood pressure, leading to an increased risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke. In men, erectile dysfunction can sometimes be the first sign of impending cardiovascular problems.
The Asian flush
The dreaded Asian flush, the bane of many and frequently a source of embarrassment. To understand why some people turn tomato red after just a few alcoholic beverages, we first need to understand the basic chemistry of alcohol metabolism.
Alcohol or ethanol is broken down initially by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase into acetaldehyde, a highly toxic compound that contributes to the hungover feeling. In most people, acetaldehyde is subsequently converted by the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase into harmless acetate and water.
Approximately 70% of East Asians (Han Chinese, Japanese and Korean descent) have a mutated or altered form of the aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) gene. This causes reduced activity of aldehyde dehydrogenase, therefore such people take a much longer time to completely digest alcohol. As more toxic acetaldehyde circulates in the body, it leads to facial flushing and other symptoms such as headache, lightheadedness, nausea and palpitations. In other words, if a person experiences the Asian flush, it is the body’s way of signalling to stop drinking and start hydrating instead.
3 common facts about drinking alcohol
Fact 1: Women have a tendency to get drunk faster than men.
This is true. A woman’s body typically takes longer to process alcohol. This is because women have a different fat-to-muscle ratio and a smaller blood volume than men. Women also have lower levels of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which begins the initial metabolism of alcohol in the stomach. Hormonal changes during a woman’s menstrual cycle can also affect alcohol absorption.
Fact 2: Alternating with non-alcoholic drinks will help to slow down alcohol absorption.
This is true. Drinking slowly or alternating with non-alcoholic drinks such as water, soda water or diet cordials will reduce the rate of alcohol consumption and also slow down alcohol absorption.
Fact 3: Drinking more non-alcoholic drinks after alcohol consumption will help to cure a hangover.
This is true. A person who is having a hangover is likely to be dehydrated and deficient in electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. Drinking plenty of water, sports drinks or coconut water can help to replenish the fluids and electrolytes, and helps to speed up the recovery from a hangover.
3 common myths about drinking alcohol
Myth 1: Mixing different types of alcoholic drinks gets you drunk quicker.
This is false. The level of alcohol in one’s blood is what determines the likelihood of a person to get drunk. Therefore, the type of alcohol or mixing different types of alcohol does not make a difference. What is more important is the amount of alcohol being consumed. Drinking a lot of any type of alcohol can lead to dehydration, intoxication and a nasty hangover.
Myth 2: Eating oily food before consuming alcohol will help keep one sober.
This is false. Drinking on a full stomach only delays the rate of absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, as the fat content in oily food helps to coat the stomach lining. However, it does not prevent one from eventually getting intoxicated if the alcohol intake is high.
Myth 3: Taking a cold bath or drinking hot coffee will help one to sober up.
This is false. While showers, fresh air and hot coffee or tea might feel a little refreshing, none of these things will help to sober a person up. Only time can help a person to sober up. It takes the body approximately one hour to eliminate the alcohol from one standard drink.
Coffee contains caffeine, a stimulant that helps one feel more alert and awake. It does not speed up the process of alcohol metabolism. You may mistakenly think that the hangover has resolved, but when the effects of caffeine fade, extreme lethargy starts to kick in, which can result in potentially fatal consequences while driving or operating machinery.
Tips for responsible drinking and avoiding getting drunk
- Learn to say no. Do not be influenced by your friends or social circumstances. Focus on socialising and conversing with friends instead of drinking.
- If you must drink, drink slowly and do not treat alcohol as a thirst quencher.
- Avoid engaging in drinking games.
- Always stay hydrated and alternate your drinks with non-alcoholic drinks such as water, soda water or diet cordials.
- Avoid pre-mixed drinks with added sugars, or mixing alcohol with energy drinks as they can be higher in calories.
- Never drink on an empty stomach. A light and nutritious snack or meal before a drinking session can help slow down alcohol absorption.
- Avoid salty food as they can make you thirsty and reach out for more drinks.
- Light beer and wine spritzers have a lower alcohol and calorie content and are good ways to reduce overall alcohol intake.
Therefore, the next time you raise that wine glass during your round of merrymaking, please think about regulating your amount of alcohol consumption, and drink responsibly.