Nutrition - Alcohol


For those of you who read my blogs regularly you know that the last 2 weeks I have focused on stress and how nutrition and eating well can go some way in supporting the body and mind during times of stress. I also mentioned about stimulants in the diet and how these can add to the stress load of the body. I mentioned caffeine and alcohol. It seemed a natural opening to talk in more detail about these stimulants. Loads of people ask me if it is alright to have a drink of alcohol. Well the answer is not as simple as yes or no so I thought I would use this blog to explain why it is not a cut and dried answer.

For those of you who do enjoy a drink red wine seems to be quite acceptable. It has attracted a great deal of interest, In fact the French pride their good health, longevity and lack of disease on their regular consumption of red wine. Also the Mediterranean countries, where red wine is a staple in their diets, have been observed to have lower mortality rates. But we must remember that their diets are also traditionally high in fruits, vegetables and olive oil.

One of the main reasons is the content of a polyphenol called resveratrol. Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant, its benefits were isolated for the first time in the 1940’s. Resveratrol is found in the fermented red grape skins during the wine making process. Its large amounts are not only due to the long fermenting process when making the wine but also due to the absence of oxygen in the bottles. Lack of oxygen prevents the resveratrol from oxidising. This is why raisins, which are also rich in some antioxidants, do not have resveratrol because it is degraded by the presence of air and sunlight in the drying process. Resveratrol is claimed to have many health benefits particularly when it comes to cancer. It was described in one article as the ‘wonder food’, and has caught the interest of the Havard Medical School and Memorial Sloan Kettering. I have a book called ‘Foods to Fight Cancer’, by Richard Beliveau and he dedicates a whole chapter to the virtues of red wine and it appears that moderated consumption seems to have some very beneficial properties related to our health.
So let’s have a look at some of these claims.
• In 1996 it was identified as the first molecule of dietary origin capable of interfering with the progression of cancer by inhibiting all 3 stages of the disease; initiation, promotion and progression, which is quite a claim.
• It is said to be anti angiogenic. Angiogenesis is the name given to the process whereby cancer cells develop their own blood supply to gain nourishment for growth. Obviously if this can be stopped or the process slowed down then this has got to be positive.
• It brings about apoptosis, or cell death, by producing a substance called piceatannol (piss- see-at-inol, good luck with that one!!!) which has been shown to be highly toxic to cancer cells but non toxic to healthy cells.
• It is a Sirtuin activator. Sirtuin is the name given to a family of proteins that when activated lengthen the life of a cell. This gives the cells the time to repair any DNA damage that occurs as they age. It is the sirtuin effect that is associated with the anti aging effects of the 2:5 diet (see blog). Because of this Resveratrol is said to have the capacity to activate cell repair. It supports apoptosis, inflammation, stress resistance as well as promoting energy efficiency and alertness. I will cover this in more detail when I look at the new research on fasting and Chemotherapy that is emerging and capturing the interest of many health professionals.

Resveratrol is so impressive that it has caught the attention of Professor Potter a medicinal chemist who has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 20 years developing anti cancer drugs. He recognised that equivalent chemical molecules developed in the lab are likely to be found in fruits and vegetables. There are no published trials in cancer patients and we no doubt will have to wait a few years for this type of evidence. The hard evidence to date is specifically on human cancer cells tested in the lab called “in vitro” research. However in 2007 an article was published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, where individual patients with various stages of cancer all had a positive response when given resveratrol.
This is all very interesting, obviously additional studies are needed to confirm its anti cancer properties but current evidence is very encouraging.

When we consider other types of alcohol like beers and spirits the general advice is to abstain if possible. The World Cancer Research Fund advises that even small amounts of alcohol should be avoided but if consumed at all should be limited to no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 for women.

Having said that I really think this depends on the mind set that the alcohol is drunk in. I want to share with you a story about a lady that I saw in my practice some years ago, a story that has always stuck in my mind. I was asking about lifestyle etc. and she told me she has 3 children under 5 and the only way that she could get through tea time is to have a couple of G and T’s. This did ring alarm bells in my head because obviously the G and T had become a necessary crutch that she relied on to get her through a very fraught time. If she had said to me that once the children were in bed she relaxed with her husband and enjoyed the odd G and T. To me this is a whole new ball game as it was for pleasure not for any other reason. So if you find that you enjoy the odd alcoholic drink with the right mind set then I feel that this would be fine. The key is moderation and occasional.
Next week I want to stay on a similar subject and look at coffee, black tea and green tea although we touched on green tea in the second blog on stress.


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