As of 2010, there were approximately 1.5 million binge drinkers in the U.S. Binge drinking occurs when a person consumes 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more drinks for women in two hours. Individuals who binge drink are at higher risk for certain diseases and nutritional deficiencies and most binge drinkers are not alcoholics. Because of this, alcohol should be limited.
Too much alcohol affects multiple organs of the body from the brain to the small intestine. Excessive alcohol consumption places an individual at increased risk for:
- liver cirrhosis
- chronic pancreatitis
- high blood pressure
- nutritional deficiencies and
- various cancers
The harmful effect of alcohol depends on:
- a person’s age
- the amount consumed
- the frequency of alcohol consumption
- health status and
- family history
If heavy drinking or binge drinking occurs frequently, an individual may be at risk for nutritional deficiencies. Common deficiencies include:
Folate is absorbed in the gut and a deficiency can cause megaloblastic anemia (weakness, fatigue, irritability, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath). Alcohol interferes with folate absorption and increases folate losses in the kidney.
Fat soluble vitamins
Alcohol inhibits fat absorption which means that Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and Vitamin E cannot be absorbed effectively. These vitamins are important for vision, bone strength, and total health.
Alcohol in moderation (2 drinks per day for men, 1 drink per day for women) has been shown to benefit the heart. Risk of heart disease in moderate alcohol drinkers is lower than that in non drinkers. However, if you don’t drink, it is not recommended that you start because it is not possible to predict which individuals may have problems with alcoholism.
Limiting alcohol intake can improve overall health and lead to a healthier you. Take the alcohol quiz to see if you can limit your alcohol consumption and the rethinking drinking quiz to find out your risk for alcohol related health issues.
Deidra Nelson is a dietetic intern at the Memphis VA Medical Center.