The impact Coronavirus is having on our health is quite clear but what does the consumption of alcohol do in that regard? Dr Martyn Williamson takes a look at what you need to know..
One significant question immunologists beseech during any pandemic would be why some people fare so much better than others who happen to be same age and gender. It turns out that a person’s diet and lifestyle can make an enormous difference to their outcome. This undoubtedly includes the insatiable 100,000 year old appetite we have for alcohol and how we choose to drink it.
There are so many reasons people drink alcohol. Some people drink for religious or cultural reasons where alcohol is steeped with tradition. Some drink to be festive. Some drink for pain relief, both physical and emotional, or to help them de-stress. Some even believe that the consumption of red wine has alleged health benefits, which has been persistently hailed by the marketing arms of the alcoholic beverage industry. These reasons alone might explain why the consumption of alcohol is continually on the rise. In fact, 4 in 5 New Zealanders (79%) consumed alcohol over the past year.
Yet, all over the world, on some level, everybody knows that too much alcohol is not a good thing. So is it only sensible people who keep their intake to a moderate and realistic level? Aren’t people who drink alcohol moderately actually more healthy than those who don’t drink at all? After all, isn’t red wine good supposed to be good for heart disease?
Well a lot of what think we know about alcohol turns out to be not quite true. Although many New Zealanders have heard or read numerous articles or reports that suggest red wine has some purported health benefits, namely from its polyphenolic and antioxidant compounds (known to fight inflammation and prevent blood clots), it’s not quite the panacea you believe it to be. You would have to copious amounts per day to glean any benefit its polyphenolic and antioxidant compounds, and this is definitely not recommended. The problem with all these reports advocating the consumption of red wine, is that many studies would include a ‘no-alcohol’ group containing people whose health was already damaged by disease or excessive alcohol consumption and thus have a poorer long term outlook. When recent NZ researchers adjusted for factors like this they found no benefit at all from drinking.
The most pressing issue for us all right now is COVID 19, so what does alcohol do in that regard? Well, it impairs your immune system response for starters, the more you alcohol you have, the worse it is. If you drink regularly, you might notice that you catch colds, flu or other illnesses more frequently than people who don’t. This is because alcohol can weaken the immune system and make the body more susceptible to infections.
Secondly alcohol has been shown to impair the cells which line our respiratory tract and which help keep the bugs out. Alcohol is linked to increased susceptibility to respiratory conditions like pneumonia. (Pneumonia is among the most dangerous secondary infections that can exacerbate moderate-to-severe cases of COVID-19.) Alcohol consumption has also been found to increase your risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDs), and sepsis, a dangerous infection of the blood. Many people who frequently drink alcohol also take longer to recover from infections and injuries.
So alcoholic drinks not only weaken our system overall, they weaken the very tissue which is our last line of defence should we get COVID virus into our lungs. For most types of alcohol, the risks of consuming certainly outweighs any potential benefits. And let’s be honest, if it’s just the polyphenolic and antioxidant compounds you’re after then just eat the grape itself.
A good question to ask ourselves and our loved ones is “how can we use this time to become even healthier than we are now?” Our simple answer to this is to eat whole, plant based food cooked without added oils and drink healthy drinks like a refreshing glass of cold water, immune boosting teas such as green tea, or if you’re feeling festive, there are a growing number of non-alcoholic beverages on the market that mimic the flavour of the real thing, yet with 0% alcohol. What’s not to love about that?!
Let’s raise a non-alcoholic glass to good health and happiness during the Covid-19 crisis. Together we’ve got this.