Alcohol friend and foe | Dean Burnett | Science| Health Pick

Alcohol: Friend or foe?

Alcohol friend and foe

Medical knowledge is progressing at the speed of light, with reports of a new finding practically on a daily basis. Sometimes, one study contradicts another on the beneficial/harmful effects of a particular food item. Alcohol consumption, for example, is often in the eye of the storm of controversies. Some scientists believe the moderate quaffing of alcohol, or a glass of wine daily, provides protection from heart attacks, while others scoff at such claims. Unfortunately, the association between alcohol and the heart is complicated, as the heart is susceptible to a large number of diseases which may respond differently to alcohol consumption.

A recent study highlighted this discrepancy by demonstrating that moderate alcohol consumption was associated with risk of atrial fibrillation.

For the study, researchers examined data on echocardiograms, medical records and alcohol intake from 5000 adults. All subjects were between 40 and 60 years of age, and on average consumed one drink per day. An analysis revealed that on average, eight people could develop atrial fibrillation over a 10-year period. For every glass of alcohol in addition to the average one-drink-per-day, the risk of developing atrial fibrillation increased by 5%, as did the size of the walls of the left chamber of the heart. These results indicate an increased risk of stroke (as atrial fibrillation, or irregular pumping of the heart, could generate blood clots which can travel to the brain causing stroke). Increased heart wall size could suggest alcohol-induced heart damage. The mechanism by which alcohol causes damage to the heart is not clear and more research is needed to answer that question. However, the results of this study provide evidence to encourage cautious drinking habits.

So while a glass of wine a day could save you from a heart attack, it may still be wreaking havoc on the walls of your heart.

While we might not have reached a consensus as to whether alcohol is a friend or foe to the heart, we are absolutely sure that the alcohol cannot be a friend to another vital organ in the body which is the liver.

Alcohol is toxic to the liver. With growing incidence of obesity, the amount of liver fat also increases a condition which is referred to as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It is increasingly being acknowledged as an important cause of liver disease even cirrhosis of the liver which is the end stage of liver disease. Hence compounding the effects of obesity with intake of alcohol can never be good for the liver.

Most of the studies which have which have been done comparing the fracture of alcohol on the hot have failed to acknowledge that these are mostly conducted in location population. Indians as a ethnicity have much smaller livers and our ability to metabolise alcohol is also much lesser than that of Caucasian populations.

Hence we must exercise caution before we learn about effects of alcohol on our body is based on studies which are done in Caucasian populations so while we might be fighting or arguing about effects of alcohol in the heart the effect of alcohol on the liver is well established and it may not be prudent to recommend it.

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