The Long-Term Impact of Alcohol on the Human Body: Guidelines and Alternatives

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THUNDER BAY – HEALTH – Alcohol, while often enjoyed in social settings and used to mark celebrations, can have profound long-term effects on the human body when consumed in excess.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol can significantly impact several major organs and bodily systems. For example, alcohol can interfere with the brain’s communication pathways, affecting mood and behavior, and impairing cognitive and motor functions​1​. Over time, heavy drinking can lead to heart problems such as cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, stroke, and high blood pressure​1​. The liver, tasked with metabolizing alcohol, can also suffer, leading to conditions like steatosis (fatty liver), alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis​1​. Pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas, can be triggered by the production of toxic substances caused by alcohol​1​.

Alcohol consumption is also linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer, including head and neck, esophageal, liver, breast, and colorectal cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed over time​1​. Lastly, alcohol can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis, and impairing its ability to fight off infections​1​.

Health Canada has established low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines to help individuals make informed decisions about their alcohol consumption. According to these guidelines, a standard drink in Canada contains 17.05 millilitres or 13.45 grams of pure alcohol. This is equivalent to a bottle of beer or cider (12 oz., 341 ml, 5% alcohol), a glass of wine (5 oz., 142 ml, 12% alcohol), or a shot glass of spirits (1.5 oz., 43 ml, 40% alcohol)​2​.

For women, it’s recommended to limit alcohol to no more than 2 standard drinks per day and 10 standard drinks per week, with a maximum of 3 standard drinks on special occasions. Men are advised to limit alcohol to no more than 3 standard drinks per day and 15 standard drinks per week, with a maximum of 4 standard drinks on special occasions. Both women and men are advised to avoid drinking alcohol on some days. Pregnant women are recommended to avoid drinking alcohol entirely​2​.

While these are “low-risk” guidelines, they are not “no-risk” guidelines, as any amount of alcohol consumption can have risks to your health. Furthermore, moderate alcohol consumption can provide certain health benefits such as reduced risk for heart disease and possibly reduced risk for ischemic stroke and diabetes​3​.

When it comes to enjoying social occasions without alcohol, there are plenty of creative and fun alternatives. Non-alcoholic cocktails, often called “mocktails,” offer the festive feel of a cocktail without the alcohol. Non-alcoholic beers and wines are also available on the market, offering similar flavors and experiences without the negative health impacts. Other alternatives can include a variety of teas, coffees, infused waters, and natural sodas. In addition to these, focusing on the social aspects of the event, engaging in games, and enjoying good food can all contribute to a fulfilling experience without alcohol.

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