How Alcohol Affects Your Body Long-Term

Drinking alcohol to cope with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic increased by 46% in the months after it began. But even moderate consumption during less stressful times can lead to long-term health risks. We want to help you make well informed health decisions while coping with stress of any kind.

Impact on Weight

In addition to being composed mainly of “empty,” non-nutritional calories, alcohol interferes with metabolic function. This means that even moderate alcohol drinking can lead to weight gain. “Research shows that as few as two standard alcoholic drinks can slow down your body’s fat-burning process by a whopping 73%,” according to Women’s Health. This may lead to weight gain, and can also make it difficult to lose weight you’ve already gained.

Effects on Brain Function

Your brain may physically shrink as a result of too much alcohol. Over time, heavy drinking causes brain cells to change and even reduce in size. University of Oxford researchers, for example, found measurable shrinkage in the brain’s hippocampus (which is associated with memory and reasoning), based on how much alcohol participants drank.

Extensive alcohol use is also associated with short-term and long-term memory issues, such as dementia, and may cause irreversible damage to cognitive ability.

Increased Health Risks & Negative Impacts

Heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive issues are a few of the many health risks of drinking alcohol. There are also many cancers linked to alcohol use, including:

  • Breast
  • Liver
  • Colon
  • Rectum
  • Throat
  • Esophagus
  • Mouth

Excessive alcohol consumption also overworks the liver, leaving toxic byproducts behind in the bloodstream. At the same time, consuming alcohol increases the risk of heart issues, including high blood pressure, and stroke.

Sleep — another important bodily function —  is also impacted by alcohol. Despite being a sedative, alcohol causes sleep disruptions. Heavy drinking before bed may lead to a couple of hours of deep sleep, followed by fragmented periods of sleep and restlessness as alcohol levels drop and the brain shifts into heightened activity. This will keep you from getting the recommended 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep you need for optimal health.

Other serious health risks of alcohol consumption include mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Alcohol use also weakens immunity and interferes with the body’s natural ability to fight infection, disease, and other illnesses.

How to Avoid Health Complications

Abstaining from alcohol — even for a short period of time — may be the best way to help avoid health complications associated with long-term use.

Moderate consumption is the next best option, though even that over an extended period of time can still lead to alcohol-related health issues. Moderate drinking is defined as two drinks or less per day for men and one drink or less per day for women. (Heavy or excessive alcohol use is defined for women as consuming more than seven drinks per week and for men as consuming more than fourteen drinks per week.) Overall, eliminating or drastically limiting alcohol consumption is vital in order to avoid the health complications associated with alcohol use.

After tobacco, alcohol is the second most common form of substance abuse in the United States. If you are concerned about alcohol use and related health complications, our specialists can help. At United Physician Group, we are committed to your health and believe in prevention and intervention. Contact us online or call 833-523-0906 to make an appointment today.

Are You What You Eat When it Comes to Chronic Pain?

The month of March marks a time of change: There’s the coming of spring, the start of daylight saving time, and even a chance to change your luck on St. Patrick’s Day. But March is also National Nutrition Month® — which presents an opportunity to change your eating habits, too. 

Turns out, paying attention to what you’re putting into your body isn’t simply good for your general health and well-being. Studies suggest that our diets can also help with chronic pain.

“A lot of chronic pain is the result of chronic inflammation,” says Dr. Fred Tabung, in a 2018 article from Harvard Health Publishing, “and the evidence is quite strong that your diet can contribute to increased systemic inflammation. But your diet is also one of the best ways to reduce it.”

Extinguishing the Flame of Inflammation 

Several sources can help point you in the right direction when it comes to identifying foods that either promote or prevent inflammation. The Fit Institute of Chicago, for example, recommends avoiding red meat, refined carbohydrates (in most cases: products made with processed white flour), soda, and fried foods to aid in inflammation reduction. Harvard Women’s Health Watch agrees, and adds margarine to the mix. 

Margarine (rather than butter) is on that list for a reason, as excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids (not to be confused with their cousins, omega-3 fatty acids), may also contribute to inflammation, according to The Arthritis Foundation. This means check the ingredients on your salad dressings, and moderate your intake of safflower, corn, grapeseed, peanut, sunflower, and vegetable oil. Mayonnaise may be a place where omega-6 fatty acids lurk, as well. 

“To reduce levels of inflammation, aim for an overall healthy diet,” Harvard Health Publishing recommends. Several studies suggest the Mediterranean Diet, with its focus on plant-based foods and whole grains, but the Mayo Clinic also breaks down their advice fairly simply when they suggest “eat more plants” and “cut the processed stuff,” among their five “simple rules of thumb for anti-inflammatory eating.”

Anti-inflammatory eating doesn’t just help with chronic and arthritic pain, either. Several sources, including The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy and The Neuropathic Therapy Center at Loma Linda University Health suggest it can benefit those suffering from peripheral neuropathy, too.

Can What’s in Your Stomach Also Go to Your Head?

Following the Mediterranean Diet and keeping omega-6 fatty acids low could also help with migraine headaches a 2020 study in Nutrients suggests, though the authors also encourage a willingness to experiment with solutions. Because of the more complex causes and contributing factors of migraines, one single diet plan may not be a fix-all. An elimination diet to identify more specific food triggers is recommended. Researchers also find ketogenic, modified Atkins, or an epigenetic diet may provide relief.

More reason to be flexible, and willing to experiment? The American Migraine Foundation says a variety of different foods may trigger migraine, including alcohol (especially red wine and beer), chocolate, aged cheese, cured meats, smoked fish, yeast extract, and artificial sweeteners. But even making sure you’re eating regularly is something the Foundation suggests may relieve this specific kind of pain. 

Pain in a Bottle

While alcohol shows up as a specific potential trigger for migraine, it has a variety of dangers for those in chronic pain. 

It may be tempting, for instance, to numb chronic pain with a cocktail or glass of wine, but the National Institute of Health warns that mixing alcohol with pain medications could cause dangerous problems. They also note that, as tolerance to alcohol’s effects develops, more alcohol is needed to reach the same analgesic effect. This can create alcohol dependence, and the consequential string of health risks associated with it, as listed by the CDC, including stroke, heart disease, and the risk of several cancers.

Keep in mind, whether you’re in chronic pain or not, alcohol is a well-established cancer-causing agent (among other health problems), and moderating your alcohol consumption is good practice for anyone concerned about their longevity.

Cup of Caffeine Instead?

Alcohol may be a clear thing to avoid, but advice about caffeine is a little less consistent. Though the American Migraine Foundation suggests limited caffeine might help treat migraine headaches (and acknowledges that caffeine is a common ingredient in many over-the-counter headache medicines), The Global Pain Initiative recommends caution with it:  “Caffeine actively causes pain by decreasing the pain threshold and making the nervous system more alert to pain.”

Tracking your consumption of and sensitivity to caffeine (as well as other specific foods) in a food diary may be the best way to help you narrow down the cause of (or solution to) the pain that ails you in this regard.

Find a Friend for This Relationship

Navigating the effects of chronic pain is complicated enough, without also having to sort out the best way to stock your fridge and pantry at the same time. Even when the relationship between what we eat and how we feel seems clear, the exact solutions aren’t always so easy to find. It’s why we recommend reaching out to a pain specialist for help crafting an individualized plan to address the whole experience of your chronic pain. Contact us any time to schedule an appointment and craft a comprehensive strategy (including what you eat) just for you. 

Is Intermittent Fasting Healthy?

Intermittent fasting has made a lot of news the past few years, with some preliminary studies suggesting it may be beneficial for weight loss, reducing insulin resistance, lowering blood pressure, and even supporting better brain function. These results are not settled science — we don’t yet know with confidence if the benefits are real — but some of the early studies show encouraging results. Keep reading below if you’re wondering is intermittent fasting healthy?

There are a few different models of intermittent fasting, but the most common is called time-restricted eating. This is when you only eat during a certain span of hours during the day, either some days or every day. For example, in the common 16:8 time-restricting eating practice, you eat only during a predetermined 8-hour window each day and fast the other 16 hours.

During the fasting period, most people still drink water and other no-calorie drinks, such as black coffee or unsweetened tea. This may make fasting easier and protects against dehydration.

While the effectiveness is still uncertain, if you’re considering trying intermittent fasting, it’s important to first determine whether it’s safe for your health.

An article published by the Harvard School of Public Health warns that intermittent fasting is not safe for people who are diabetic, pregnant, breastfeeding, or currently using medications that must be taken with food. It’s also not safe for adolescents or others in a growth stage of life. And intermittent fasting is dangerous for anyone who currently or has ever struggled with eating disorders.

If none of these apply to you and if you’re generally in good health, intermittent fasting may be safe and could potentially offer some health benefits. But it’s always best to ask your doctor before starting any diet. They can advise you on safe eating practices suited to your present health. And they may offer better alternatives for achieving your health goals.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to monitor the latest results on intermittent fasting, and we’ll alert you as new information emerges.

Concerned About Your Weight or Insulin Resistance?

Contact your United Physician Doctor for an assessment and some sound advice if you’re wondering is intermittent fasting healthy?