21 Jan How alcohol affects your mind and body
Many of us are missing the simple pleasure of meeting up with friends over a glass or two. As a fan of herbal medicine, I know that Milk Thistle helps me avoid a hangover if I’ve had a glass or two more than I should.
But did you know that even relatively small amounts of alcohol can affect your health and take its toll on your state of mind, as well as your body?Milk Thistle
During the current restrictions, many of us have replaced nights out to the pub or a bar with virtual get-togethers with friends over Zoom, giving us some of the same feelings of camaraderie and connection as going out.
The downside of this way of ‘meeting’ friends or family is that it’s much easier to lose track of how much you are drinking while you chat online.
So you may also find that you have your first glass earlier in the evening than usual, meaning you drink more than you usually would.
What constitutes ‘heavy’ drinking?
The UK’s Chief Medical Officer recommends that we keep to below 14 units of alcohol a week consumed over three or four days, with a block of alcohol-free days every week.
Even if your consumption is a little higher than this, avoiding binge drinking is key: it is far worse to drink a bottle of wine all at once on Saturday night after a week of abstinence than to have a single glass on several evenings during the week.
This is because – brilliant as it is – your liver can only remove a certain amount of toxins from your body at once.
Binge drinking is also more likely to lead to a hangover than the every-now-and-then approach, which means that you are more likely to feel grumpy and guilty won’t be much fun to be around the next day.
There is a very useful listing on the NHS website which shows how quickly alcohol consumption can go from a pleasant and pretty safe social activity to one that can have very serious repercussions on your longevity and overall wellbeing.
Alcohol and depression
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain, increasing the risk of depression.
Heavier drinking also means you are more likely to wake up with hangovers more often, creating a cycle of feeling ill, anxiety about how you will cope with the day ahead and – almost certainly – guilt.
Drinking bouts can also cause friction with friends or family who may be concerned about whether you are drinking too much, and who may find any changes in your behaviour when you drink hard to live with. And if you drink regularly, it can cause problems at work if you’re not as on the ball as you should be.
The good news is that if you are concerned that alcohol is having a negative effect on your mood, stopping drinking for as little as four weeks will make a significant difference in how you feel.
You won’t just feel brighter in yourself, but will probably find that friends and family will find you more fun to be around, helping to lift your mood and taking away a source of worry for them.
There are lots of resources online to help you understand more about the relationship between alcohol and mood and to help you cut back or stop drinking altogether.
If you suffer from mild depression, low mood or mild anxiety and this is contributing to your need for a relaxing alcoholic drink, the natural herb St John’s Wort will be more helpful. However, it should not be taken with alcohol, so it is worth trying to give up drinking first, then seeing if St John’s Wort could be helpful to give you the lift you need instead.
HRI Good Mood offers the highest dosage of St John’s Wort in a licensed medicine on the UK market, but you should always read the patient information leaflet as it is incompatible with some pharmaceutical drugs and can interfere with the efficacy of hormonal contraceptives.
Long-term effects of alcohol on your brain
In addition to messing around with the chemistry of your brain in the short-term, some research has shown that over time, alcohol can actually affect the physical size of your brain, particularly the frontal lobes which are the areas that control behaviour and thinking.
However, the brain is a marvellous and highly complex organ and can recover remarkably well given a few weeks abstinence from alcohol.
Alcohol and your liver
After the brain, the liver is the most complex organ in the body. It performs a myriad of roles to keep us well, including filtering toxins, helping with digestion, regulating our blood sugar and cholesterol levels and helping to protect our bodies from disease and infection.
Suffice to say, the liver has a lot on its plate and, when it has to work overtime to remove the toxins in alcohol from our bodies, it is not able to perform all its other tasks as effectively. And although the liver can regenerate itself, some cells die every time it has to deal with alcohol, which could lead to liver damage over the long term. That’s where many people find that Milk Thistle helps.
How Milk Thistle helps your liver
As a popular herbal remedy often used to support liver function, the traditional medicine Milk Thistle helps to relieve the symptoms of over-indulgence in food or drink.
Milk Thistle contains a complex known as Silymarin, which helps to regulate the body’s metabolism. It can also help the liver synthesise protein and is popularly believed to help accelerate the regeneration of damaged liver tissue and cells.
You should always choose Milk Thistle tablets that carry the Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) logo and read the patient information leaflet carefully, particularly if you are already suffering from liver disease.
Alcohol and your heart
Drinking to excess also puts a strain on your heart as alcohol increases blood pressure, which significantly increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Alcohol is also packed with ‘empty’ calories which are likely to cause weight gain, putting further pressure on your heart.
So if the stresses of the past year have meant that you have fallen into the habit of drinking a bit more than you know is good for you, now could be a good time to start thinking seriously about how alcohol affects your health and take steps to cut back or get some support to help you take a complete break from drinking altogether.
Your mind and body will thank you for it.
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