The festive season is just around the corner. It’s a time of parties and celebrations, but also usually a time of over-indulgence associated specifically with alcohol. Therefore, now is a perfect time for people to be informed about how to consume alcohol safely and be careful not to put their health at risk.
Two most common health topics in festival season: Apprehension and Alcohol
Some of my patients are more likely to feel apprehensive during the festival season. Ostensibly, happiness is all the rage for gatherings. But, in reality, many people feel isolated. And the coronavirus pandemic has shown to exacerbate this feeling. While drinking alcohol is often “advertised” and “believed” as an effective way to relieve stress, anxiety or other negative feelings, people who consume too much alcohol can endanger their health both in the immediate future and the long run.
Accidents are more likely to happen for intoxicated people, particularly scooter crashes or simple falls. Why does alcohol increase the risk of accidents? Drinking alcohol stimulates GABA receptors, and that’s why it makes you feel relaxed initially. However, as you consume more alcohol, it can switch off important parts of the brain, such as those affecting judgment and consciousness. And as your alcohol level rises, you start to lose the capacity to lay down memories. That explains why people are more likely to do stupid things or get into accidents when being drunk.
Image via UpToDate.com
Alcohol can also cause problems such as a hangover. Hangovers come partly from acetaldehyde (a breakdown product of alcohol), a toxin and carcinogen. There are other toxins in alcohol that contribute to hangovers, for example, congeners, that are impurities of fermentation, such as methanol (wood alcohol), and its breakdown product formaldehyde, used in paint thinner and antifreeze. These harm mitochondria, our energy factories.
So, how can you drink safely during the festive season?
The first step is how to avoid a hangover. It’s a bit funny because people just assume that excess drinking is inevitable, so it’s like asking ‘how much toxin can I imbibe without feeling too bad?’ I figured out when I was 18 that three drinks gave me a happy buzz, but left minimal hangover. Probably a 1-2 drink max is even better.
The main reason that I first cut back on drinking was because I was weary of wasting the following day of my life feeling so tired and unenthused.
Besides moderation or abstinence, here are tips for if you are going to drink:
Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
Do not drink on an empty stomach. Healthy fats, such as olive oil rich foods, oily fish, avocado and nuts, can be good before parties. Since healthy fats are also satiating, they’ll help you avoid overeating garbage snack foods. (One of my former patients insightfully asked his family, “Why do we have to celebrate by eating crap!?”)
Drink earlier in the day or evening to get enough sleep afterwards. Alcohol impairs your sleep quality. Drinking earlier in the day allows for earlier breakdown and clearance. Have you noticed that after a night of poor sleep you feel like you have a hangover, even if you didn’t drink?
Ibuprofen may help decrease some of the inflammation induced by alcohol. Inflammation is one of the main drivers of many diseases and alcohol is pro inflammatory. Hmmm. Take ibuprocen with food as both alcohol and ibuprofen can irritate the stomach lining.
Women are more vulnerable to hangovers than men due to a lower percentage of body water, and they’re more vulnerable to the cancer-causing risks of alcohol. Alcohol is also the number one ‘date rape’ drug.
But how can you ease anxiety over the festive season?
Here are some tips for you to pull it off.
1. You may resort to alcohol when you feel stressed, but try alternative ways such as yoga, meditation and sauna. Sauna has been shown to have a measurable detox effect and reduces deaths from all causes.
2. You may want to redeem yourself with exercise. Indeed, exercise can be a very positive way to punctuate overindulgence and to embrace the positive over the harmful effects of alcohol. Exercise release endorphins, natural mood elevators, and may help your sleep the following night.
3. Different colored vegetables and fruit can help buffer some of the damages of junk food like cookies, cakes and biscuits, soft drinks and sweets.
“Are there any foods that seem like a no-no that are actually good for you?”
Some foods such as clean modern malatang, spicy hot pot without the bad oil, garlic, and curry seem like a no-no, but they can be great ways to get multicolored vegetables and prebiotic fiber.
4. You may take some supplements such as Vitamin D, CoQ10, Fluimucil and Spirulina to help boost your health. Vitamin D is recommended for everyone, since it’s hard to get enough from sun and food. As it interacts with about 1,000 different genes, it is more like a steroid hormone than a vitamin and can help prevent colds, flu, COVID, Alzheimer’s, dementia and diabetes.
CoQ10 helps our mitochondria energy factories (hammered by alcohol), while Fluimucil (NAC) helps our detox process. Spirulina is a great source of phytonutrient free radical scavengers from blue green algae, so it is very natural.
So, enjoy the social aspect of festivals, without automatically buying into the overindulgence paradigm. If you are having some food or drink that is not ideal, remember that “it is the portion that is the poison,” so BLTs can help. No, not Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato, but Bites, Licks and Tastes. And, since we’re in China, keep your Yin/Yang balance.
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Dr. Stephen Misch
Chief of New Bund Clinic, General Practitioner
With more than 30 years of experience in the US, Shanghai and Chengdu, Dr. Misch has expertise in a broad range of family practice problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, cholesterol concerns, depression and anxiety, as well as urgent situations like treating lacerations, fractures, etc. He is also interested in promoting natural, lifestyle, preventative health measures and helping patients understand their obstacles to improvements.
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