It makes you think...the invisible effects of alcohol

We tend to associate alcohol problems with binge drinkers and those dependent on alcohol. But the truth is, no level of alcohol is risk-free and regularly exceeding the sensible drinking guidelines could have a negative effect on your health without you even realising.

Making small changes to your drinking habits now could not only make you look and feel better, it could also improve your long-term health and wellbeing so you're happier and healthier for longer.

Diabetes and drinking

People who drink too much are often overweight - and as a result, can go on to develop diabetes. Although the condition is manageable, diabetes can reduce your lifespan and require a careful diet as well as daily medication or insulin injections.

For more information on alcohol and diabetes visit diabetes.org.uk

Liver Disease

Alcohol turns some liver cells into fat and damages others. Because the liver has no 'feeling' in it, people often don't realise it's suffering until it's too late. Repeated heavy drinking scars the liver (cirrhosis) and causes permanent damage which can cause death.

Our livers make a special substance that breaks down alcohol and burns it as fuel. But alcohol exhausts the liver's ability to do this and too much, too often, can damage it permanently. Given a chance, the liver can repair a lot of damage. That's why it's important to stick to the sensible drinking guidelines and take at least two alcohol-free days a week.

High blood pressure

Regularly drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure over time. Alcohol also contains a lot of calories making you gain weight, which then increases your chances of developing high blood pressure. Drinking in moderation can help to lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Source:Blood Pressure Association

Heart disease

Regularly drinking more than the sensible drinking guidelines can have a harmful effect on the heart. It can cause abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure and damage to the heart muscle. Alcohol is also high in calories and so can cause weight gain, especially across the tummy area which brings with it a number of other weight-related health risks.

We often hear news reports on the benefits of alcohol to the heart and overall health. And recent research has shown that drinking 1 to 2 units a day may help protect men over 40 and post-menopausal women from heart disease. But there are safer and healthier ways to protect your heart like doing more exercise and quitting smoking.

For more information visit www.takelifeon.co.uk and www.canstopsmoking.com

Stroke

Did you know that regularly exceeding the sensible drinking guidelines dramatically increases you risk of having a stroke? A study of 6,000 Scottish men found that those who drank more than 5 units a day were twice as likely to die from a stroke as non-drinkers.* Although there is some evidence that small amounts of alcohol can be beneficial, no level of alcohol is risk-free and excessive alcohol can increase your risk.

*Source: www.bmj.com/content/318/7200/1725.full

Immune System

Too much alcohol deprives the body of valuable immune-boosting nutrients such as Vitamin A, and can make white cells - your body's defence against illness and disease - less able to kill germs. Damage to the immune system increases with the level of alcohol consumed. Sticking to the sensible drinking guidelines will help to keep your immune system healthy.

Fertility

For both men and women, too much alcohol lowers your fertility. As few as five drinks a week reduces a woman's chance of becoming pregnant and in men regularly drinking too much can lower sperm count. The best advice if you want to conceive is to avoid alcohol completely. And of course, alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy.

Visit the fertility section to find out more.

Cancer

Did you know that alcohol can be linked to seven types of cancer including mouth, throat, liver, bowel and breast cancer? After smoking, alcohol is the second biggest risk factor for cancers of the mouth and throat. Drinking too much can also increase your chances of developing liver and bowel cancer. Liver damage (known as cirrhosis) is often caused by drinking too much.

Recent studies show that for every two units of alcohol (equivalent to one standard 175ml glass of wine (11% ABV) or a pint of lager (4% ABV) a person drinks a day, their risk of bowel cancer goes up by 8%.

A women's risk of breast cancer increases from drinking as little as 1-2 units a day. Every unit drunk has been found to increase the risk of breast cancer by 7-11%.

For further information visit www.cancerresearchuk.org

Memory

Alcohol can do more than leave you struggling to remember the events of the night before. Over time, heavy drinking can lead to memory loss problems - in particular, a Vitamin B1 deficiency causes Wernicke-Korsakoff's Syndrome - a dementia-like illness.

Pancreatitis

Alcohol is the second highest cause of pancreatitis. This is an inflammation of your pancreas, an organ that makes enzymes for digestion, and causes pain just below your ribs. If you've overdone it you may feel this pain for a few days. In some cases it can become severe and persistent. This is called acute pancreatitis and can be life threatening.

Following the sensible drinking guidelines is one of the ways to help avoid developing pancreatitis.

Source: www.nhs.uk/conditions/pancreatitis/pages/introduction.aspx

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