"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Before you take that next drink…

By on December 22, 2019 in Columnist with 1 Comment
Jim Brown

Alcohol in excess can speed aging, weaken our immune system

By Jim Brown, M.D.

Alcohol has a number of effects on our bodies as well as playing a significant role in our aging process. 

In the recent decade, some articles have suggested drinking alcohol, particularly red wine, might be associated with reduced mortality in heart disease in some people. 

This was thought to be related to an increase in the “good’ HDL cholesterol caused by the antioxidants and flavinoids in red wine.

The same is to be said for eating foods like grapes and red grape juice. 

However, there is no clear-cut evidence wine is any more helpful than a healthy life style. 

If one drinks wine or other alcohol, it is strongly recommended females have no more than one drink daily and males, no more than two drinks daily. A drink consists of one 12 ounce beer, one 4 ounce wine, or 1.5 ounce of liquor. 

Drinking more than that increases the risk and dangers of alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, breast cancer, suicide and accidents. The only real health benefit of alcohol is a small increase in good HDL cholesterol.

Regular exercise does the same thing, so, like a broken record, I say more walking and less sitting.

What effect does alcohol have on aging? 

Alcohol is linked to aging in many ways. It can affect various parts of our body as well as our mental health as we age. 

As we age we seniors tend to drink less water and are more likely to become dehydrated, which can result in increased fatigue and a slowing down of our mental faculties.

Although alcohol is a liquid, it actually pulls water out of our bodies, increasing our likelihood of dehydration. 

Our skin becomes drier as we age, which is a natural process we can’t control. That is why moisturizer creams and other products are such big sellers. It is another reason to reduce our alcohol intake.

Alcohol can affect some organs like our liver and kidneys, impairing their ability to function optimally. Alcoholism is a cause of liver disease including a form of alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis that can be fatal.

Alcohol goes straight to our brains and can relax us in a sense, but heavy drinking, more than the minimum recommendation, over time can shrink our brain cells leading to certain types of dementia, including lack of judgement, organization, ability to stay focused and anger issues. 

Alcohol in excess can weaken and adversely affect our valuable immune system. Our immune systems are our primary defense against many infections and invaders to our body, which can be more serious to older people.

As we age, we all lose some muscle mass and unfortunately gain fat. As a result, it takes our body longer to break down or metabolize the alcohol we drink. 

The longer alcohol stays in our system, it can adversely affect the way medications work, leading to potential serious side effects. The more we drink as we age, the longer the hangover will last as a result.

As we age, alcohol can make our common medical problems worse. Heavy drinkers are more likely to have osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, memory loss and mood disorders. 

Alcohol over time can damage our cerebellum, the area in our brain that controls muscle coordination. 

Many seniors have issues with sleep.

Many people think having a drink or “nightcap” before bedtime will help them relax and get a more restful sleep. Actually the opposite is more likely to happen, making it harder to get to sleep. 

Once asleep, it is often a more restless sleep. Seniors are more likely to wake up and have a hard time getting back to sleep. 

If they did have a night-time alcoholic drink, they are more likely to fall in the dark while getting up to go to the bathroom.

What is the take-home message of all this? 

Like most things in life, moderation should be our mantra. People over 65 who don’t take any medications (if there are any seniors like that), should have no more than one drink a day (women) and two drinks (men). 

To reiterate: maximum alcohol intake should be one 12 ounce beer, one 4 ounce glass of wine (two maximum in males) or 1.5 ounce of hard liquor. 

Do everything in moderation and keep walking, less sitting.

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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  1. Tracy faulkner says:

    Cheers my friend! May 2020 bring moderation in all that we do, experience and share. Except all the lovin’s to Jackson!

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