The real risks of alcohol on your body as you age after lockdown fuels booze boom
THE stress of Covid has driven us to the fridge for a refreshing beer . . . or three.
And given what everyone has been through in the past 18 months, who can blame us?
But stark new statistics suggest the pandemic penchant for “just one more” is here to stay.
Alcohol Change UK warns that one in four of us drank more alcohol in lockdown, and two-thirds admit they will carry on boozing now the pubs are open.
The charity’s findings suggest middle-aged and older people are most likely to overdo it.
One in five of those polled admitted they were drinking more due to stress, with parents of under-18s most likely to say they used alcohol to ease anxiety.
Meanwhile, younger people were most likely to cut down during the pandemic, with 11 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds going teetotal.
Alcohol Change chief executive Dr Richard Piper says: “From the start of lockdown, charities and treatment services have warned of the impact on people’s drinking.
“This research shows we were right to worry. It suggests those drinking more often during lockdown are less likely than others to cut back now Covid restrictions have eased.”
The stats come as scientists at Imperial College London warned that drinking alcohol increases the risk of 11 types of cancer, including some of the most deadly.
Their review of 860 existing studies identified links between booze and cancer of the liver, bowel, breast, stomach, lungs, skin, kidney, bladder, oesophagus, head and neck and gallbladder.
Previous studies have connected heavy drinking to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes too.
But research last week indicated that moderate drinking can help LOWER the risk of heart attack, angina, stroke and death in those diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.
Scientists at University College London (UCL) found consumption of 13 units a week — one fewer than the recommended weekly limit of 14 units, equivalent to six pints or ten small glasses of wine — can have a mild protective effect.
So how worried should we really be about enjoying our favourite tipple?
In moderation, a bit of what you fancy is fine. But knowledge is power. So we asked the experts to reveal the REAL risks of booze at each stage of life.
In your 20s and younger
THE GOOD: Easier hangovers.
CHANCES are that a slight headache and a few fleeting regrets is about as bad as your hangover will get. Enjoy it while it lasts, because post-30 it’s all downhill.
THE BAD: Pathological jealousy, injury, depression, as well as dementia, heart disease and cancer in later life.
YOUR twenties is the decade you are most likely to binge-drink, and that comes with some immediate risks – such as getting into fights and drink-driving.
Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director at Healthspan, says a fifth of people in their late twenties develop depression and pathological jealousy linked to their drinking habits, which is likely to fuel arguments and affect relationships.
Meanwhile, Dr Sally Adams, an assistant professor in health psychology at the University of Bath, tells Fab Daily: “If you binge-drink – that’s more than six to eight units in one session – you are likely to increase your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
The risks of drinking accumulate over time. It means young people can effectively be baking in problems for later in life.
"A higher BAC is associated with risky decision- making, impaired judgment and reduced motor control. And this can lead to accidents, injury and risky behaviours such as unprotected sex and violence.”
Short-term risks aside, the real dangers of boozing too much when you are young is the impact it can have on your future.
Colin Angus, a senior researcher at the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, warns one of the biggest risks of overdoing it in your twenties is the problems you could be storing up further down the line.
He says: “The risks of drinking accumulate over time.
“It means young people can effectively be baking in problems for later in life. You can’t reverse it, but you can stop accumulating further risk over time.”
Dr Adams explains that binge-drinking has also been linked to a higher risk of dementia and alcohol abuse, as well as some cancers and heart disease, as you get older.
In your 30s and 40s
THE GOOD: Weight loss.
AFTER a decade of boozing by the time most people hit mid-life, their drinking habits start to change.
A stressful day at work is likely to have you reaching for a tipple rather than running to the nearest nightclub for a blow out. Another side-effect of reaching your thirties and forties is that inevitable middle-aged spread becomes harder to shift.
A study by experts at Oregon State University found that a glass of red wine can help manage weight gain and reduce the risk of metabolic fatty liver, due to a chemical called ellagic acid, which slows the growth of fat cells and stops new ones forming.
You might wince at the thought, but a shot of 100 per cent agave tequila could also boost weight loss because it makes you feel fuller for longer, says the American Chemical Society.
THE BAD: Smaller penis, shrunken testicles, erectile dysfunction, infertility.
ONE of the main booze-related health concerns at this age affects your sex drive and fertility.
Dr Brewer says: “As much as 40 per cent of male infertility has been blamed on just a moderate intake of alcohol alone.”
Boozing too much is linked to erectile dysfunction, shrunken testicles, a smaller penis and loss of pubic hair, she warns.
But “stopping drinking can improve sperm count and increase both male and female sex drive within three months”, she adds. And women who drink five or fewer units of alcohol per week are “twice as likely to conceive within six months” than those drinking double that, according to a study by the National University Hospital in Denmark.
Are you drinking too much?
HERE are some signs you’re drinking too much alcohol, according to the NHS:
- You feel you should cut down on your drinking.
- Other people have criticised or commented on your intake.
- You feel guilty or bad about your drinking.
- You need a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover.
- You are unable to remember what happened the night before.
- You fail to do what’s expected of you the next day, such as work or keeping an appointment.
In your 50s
THE GOOD: Lower risk of alcohol-related death, stronger bones.
IF you drink in moderation, the good news is that once you hit 50 certain drinks can bring some health benefits.
Scientists at the Boston Medical Centre found many antioxidants in red wine can help keep your heart healthy and reduce inflammation in the body.
The same study found that younger people – those below 50 – were more likely to die from alcohol-related illnesses, due to binge-drinking.
The findings suggest that if you stick to a moderate intake, and choose what you drink wisely, opting for red wine and cutting down on beer, which leads to weight gain, it could prove better for your health.
What’s more, another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found drinking a glass of beer a day can increase bone density, which reduces the risk of fractures.
The findings showed the greatest benefits for postmenopausal women, who saw bone density increase by 8.3 per cent.
THE BAD: High blood pressure, obesity, heart attack, stroke and cancer.
THERE’S no denying there are still risks for this age group. Mr Angus warns: “Cardiovascular disease doesn’t take 20 years [to develop]. If you drink heavily in your 50s, you are increasing your current risk.”
Two alcoholic drinks a day in middle age may increase the risk of stroke by a third, a study found.
Dr Brewer warns: “Regular heavy drinking raises blood pressure, damages arterial linings and is associated with an irregular heartbeat as well as heart failure, with the risks increasing over time.”
In your 60s and older
THE GOOD: Memory boost.
WHEN you reach your sixties, your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) shoots up.
And while that’s nothing to celebrate, if you have been diagnosed with the condition, moderate drinking can actually help the heart.
Dr Chengyi Ding, who led the UCL study, said: “Our findings suggest that people with CVD may not need to stop drinking in order to prevent additional heart attacks, strokes or angina, but that they may wish to consider lowering their weekly alcohol intake.”
That’s not to say people with CVD who do not drink should be encouraged to take it up!
Another study by scientists in the US found that in people aged 60 and over who don’t have dementia, light to moderate alcohol intake can improve their memory.
They found it was linked to a larger volume in a part of the brain that is critical for recalling past experiences.
Signs you have a problem
- YOU worry about where your next drink is coming from and plan your social life around alcohol.
- You have a compulsive need to drink and it’s hard to stop once you start.
- You wake up and drink alcohol, or feel the need to.
- You suffer feelings of anxiety, alcohol-related depression and suicidal thoughts.
- You suffer physical withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking and nausea when you stop drinking.
- You are no longer interested in your everyday life.
- You need to drink more to achieve the same effects.
- You feel tired, unwell or irritable.
- You have become secretive or dishonest.
THE BAD: Obesity, type 2 diabetes, liver damage and heart disease.
THE effects of ageing – “hardening and furring up of the arteries, weight gain and Type 2 diabetes” – can be exacerbated by drinking too much in your 60s, Dr Brewer warns.
She adds: “Long-term excessive drinking is linked with four particular types of liver damage: Fatty degeneration, inflammation (hepatitis), formation of scar tissue (fibrosis) or even alcoholic cirrhosis – a serious condition in which the liver shrinks.”
- IF you’re worried about yourself or a friend, your GP can suggest local support services, or call Drinkline on 0300 123 1110.
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