I’m the kind of GP who believes in moderation. I tell my patients often that a glass of red wine, a piece of chocolate cake, a cheese plate is all OK – just not all the time. I think it can be really tricky to look at the guidelines when it comes to health and tick all the boxes all the time – whilst I know that 30 minutes of exercise most days is recommended, and that the recommendation is for 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables per day for Australian adults – I don’t nail it every single day and I would be lying if I said I did. I try, and I try my best, but I’m not a hero.
The same goes with alcohol.
The truth about alcohol is that we likely still don’t know what amount, if any, is “safe.” With emerging evidence, the recommendations get revised regularly and the amount that has been deemed “acceptable” has slowly declined.
Currently in Australia the guidelines recommend that Australian adults limit consumption of alcohol to no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than 4 standard drinks in a sitting. What’s a standard drink? It’s 100mL of wine (which is a smaller glass than you likely pour at home, trust me) and 30mL of spirits. The risk of drinking more than 4 standard drinks in a sitting is that it leaves you at increased risk of alcohol related injury and harm – like falling over.
Whilst red wine is an integral component of the Mediterranean diet, which has evidence for reducing the risk of heart disease (see I added a plus in!), alcohol can also have a lot of negative health impacts. It can negatively impact sleep quality and mood; in fact, for my patients with depression and/ or anxiety I prescribe a reduction in alcohol (if indicated) because we know that alcohol can worsen symptoms.
A lot of my patients are surprised when I mention limiting alcohol intake, or ceasing altogether for a period, when they are struggling with sleep issues. Whilst a glass of wine may make you feel relaxed and calm temporarily, the impact on sleep quality isn’t good because of the way alcohol acts on the brain.
Alcohol consumption can also increase the risk of some cancers like breast, bowel, and oesophageal cancer. It can also play a role in the development of heart disease, liver issues and blood pressure problems.
So, you can see that the potential health impacts are far reaching when it comes to increased alcohol intake – the brain and body can both take a hit. But it’s all about balance. After reading this you may be wondering if you need to reduce the quantity you drink per day or the number you drink across the week. You may be thinking of ways to replace your evening glass of wine with a non-alcoholic beverage (there are loads of non-alcoholic spirits now like gins that are delicious) or you may be letting the seed be planted and you will ponder it – and that’s fine.
I’m not saying never ever – and trust me, I love my glass of red wine – I’m just saying be aware of how much! Some food for thought!