Alcohol Nutrient Programs
Even though alcohol is in such general use worldwide, the regular consumption of alcoholic beverages is a serious health hazard and definitely a nutritional problem. Alcoholic beverages made by the fermentation of grains or fruits have been used for thousands of years. As with caffeine, occasional use or moderate social use is not a great cause for concern (other than for sensitive people or those who already have some disease of the liver, gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, brain, or nervous system), but alcohol abuse can lead to addiction, emotional problems, and a number of specific degenerative processes. Obesity, gastritis and ulcers, pancreatitis, hepatitis, cirrhosis, hypoglycemia and diabetes, gout, nerve and brain dysfunction, cancer, nutritional deficiencies, immune suppression, and injury and death from falls and auto accidents are some of the more common problems. Overall, alcohol is a toxic irritant for the human being.
Some people can handle as much as a drink or two a day, but that depends on their individual sensitivity. Certain drug-liberal medical authorities claim that two drinks daily may enhance our health and even increase our longevity by improving digestion, relaxation, and circulation, but I believe this is stretching it a bit, especially in light of the many chemicals used in the fermentation and bottling processes. These evaluations are done on people with average habits, and not health-conscious individuals who are trying to avoid intoxicants. For them, regular alcohol use can be very irritating.
Still, alcohol does have some positive physiological effects. It can stimulate the appetite and has a mild stress-relieving effect, though not as much as exercise. It is a vasodilator, so it improves the blood flow. Alcohol may also affect a mild increase in the HDL "good" cholesterol; however, it also raises the total fat levels, which is not so good. Small to moderate amounts (one to two drinks daily) may lessen the progression of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Some studies have shown a decrease in heart attacks in moderate drinkers over nondrinkers of the same age, possibly due to increased HDL cholesterol levels; and thus reduced atherosclerosis. Higher amounts of alcohol, however, increase blood pressure and heart disease risk. More research is needed to understand the real alcohol-heart disease relationship to see if drinking really helps without causing more problems, such as obesity, ulcers, liver disease, or cancer. I am sure that regular physical activity and nurturing personal relationships are much better health supporters and stress reducers to replace those couple of drinks daily, and will not have the side effects of alcohol.
There are over 100 million regular drinkers in the United States alone and an estimated 10 million alcoholics. More than half of our population (some estimates are that 80 percent of adults are social drinkers) use some alcohol, and more than three-fourths have tried it. Approximately one in ten drinkers have an alcohol problem. This is an even bigger concern in teenagers, who are not prepared to handle this depressant drug. More and more children are trying alcohol, and an estimated 15-20 percent of those 15-17 years old are regular drinkers.
Alcohol itself contains empty calories—seven calories per gram, almost double the calories in regular carbohydrates and protein (four calories per gram each). The average social drinker obtains about 5-10 percent of his or her calories from alcohol, while alcoholics may consume more than 50 percent of their calories as alcohol. This is a lot of calories and little nutrition, so deficiency diseases can be serious. In addition, the alcohol molecule is small and easy to absorb, so it gets assimilated before other foods and goes directly into the blood for that quick lift (or down). Most beer, wine, and especially the mixed drinks also rapidly affect the blood sugar. The liver is the only organ that really metabolizes alcohol, which can be converted into immediate energy or fat and is stored in the body or in the liver when there is excess consumption. Alcohol is not converted to glucose for use or to glycogen for storage, which is a significant nutritional limitation. When stored as fat in the liver, it is an irritant and can eventually lead to cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver tissue. Some alcohol, about 5 percent, is eliminated in the sweat, urine, and breath.
The opposite of caffeine, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It acts as a tranquilizer and mild anesthetic, for which it has been used for centuries. On the negative side, alcohol slows us down mentally and physically, as it hampers our reflexes and judgment. Many people believe it to be stimulating, but this is because it reduces inhibitions and, in small amounts, increases social interactions. It is a sedative that lowers our function and coordination. This is why there are so many alcohol-related accidents, occurring both while walking (or trying to walk) and while driving. Yet alcohol is part of much of our business life and social life. If it were used only for an occasional toast or celebration, we would be able to handle it much better; but when we feel emotionally depressed, we may want to celebrate all the time.
Alcohol is clearly an emotional suppressant, and because of this, it is cause for serious concern. Many people drink to cover up their feelings or to block pain. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are clearly emotional diseases. It is possible that for some people this disease is genetic, perhaps involving an enzyme deficiency, but this has yet to be demonstrated. A deficiency or improper function of chromium, a trace mineral important to blood sugar metabolism, may influence alcoholism as well. Alcohol problems definitely seem to run in families. Children of alcoholics grow up feeling emotionally deprived, as the alcoholic parent is really not there for them. Adult Children of Alcoholics have formed many support groups nationwide to help them deal with their common problems.
Alcohol can also be an allergy-addiction problem. Certain grains, grapes, sugar, and yeast can all produce allergy reactions, including intestinal and cerebral symptoms. Corn, wheat, rye, and barley may all cause allergic reactions, and alcoholism may be an advanced food addiction, wherein the drinker obtains a quick absorption of the addictive food/drug. The allergy itself stimulates addiction, as withdrawal produces immediate psychological and physical symptoms. Alcohol products can also be a problem for people with a yeast overgrowth, as it feeds the yeasts and stimulates their growth.
There are some who claim that alcoholic beverages are nourishing. Wine contains vitamin C from grape (or rice) juice. Most wines have about 9-12 percent alcohol; in sherry and port wines, it may be higher, at 12-18 percent. Beers and ale have B vitamins and minerals from the cereal grains and yeast; usually, the brews range from 3-6 percent alcohol. The alcohol distillates or "spirits," including gin, vodka, rum, and whiskey, are made from grain products. They range from 35-50 percent alcohol—that is, 70-100 proof. In reality, none of these beverages is very nourishing when we compare the calorie levels with the actual nutrient contents.
Calorie Content of Alcoholic Beverages