to the body isn't something that only regular drinkers and
alcoholics have to worry about.
People like to think light or moderate drinking won't hurt them, and
may even make them healthier. But at the end of the day alcohol is a
poison, and ingesting small amounts of poison won't do you any good.
Humanity's drinking habit goes back a long way, but is not as natural
Alcohol Damage: A Long History Of Illness
I was baffled, but not incredibly surprised, to run across a raw food
restaurant in New York City that goes by the name "Pure Food And Wine".
It serves not only an array of raw food dishes touted as the height of
healthy cuisine, but also an extensive selection of alcoholic
beverages, as if the two went together perfectly.
many raw foodists and other healthy-eating
advocates who maintain that alcohol consumption is natural and health
reasoning usually involves the fact that man was brewing alcohol at the
dawn of civilization 10,000 years ago.
Great civilizations like the Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks all used
diluted-alcohol as the major drink in their culture. Flip through the
old and new testament and you'll find that virtually every reference to
drinking pertains to alcohol use of some kind.
What most fail to understand, though, is that these cultures had no
choice but to drink alcohol or abandon their settlements and return to
the life of wandering hunter-gatherer tribes. After our
species settled down to agriculture and food surpluses lead to
population booms, the ever-growing amount of human waste we produced
quickly polluted whatever water sources were in the area.
Based on how many people die of dysentery and other infectious diseases
brought about by unclean water today, the toll on developing
civilizations must have been staggering. Fermentation, however, our
ancestors a solution: the antiseptic power of alcohol and the high acid
content of beer and wine kill many pathogens, even when the beverages
were diluted with potentially-contaminated water.
Although the Romans developed partial solutions to this problem with
their sewage systems and aqueducts, it wasn't until the end of the 19th
that improved sanitation began making clean drinking water available to
the average human
living in a populated area.
Alcohol Damage: But Don't Animals Get Drunk?
Although some animals
consume fermented foods, and there are anecdotal reports of them
becoming drunk off fermented fruits, or even dying of alcohol
these are rare occurrences possibly linked to an animal not being able
to obtain sufficient fresh food.
Among frugivorous primates, including our closest genetic relatives,
the bonobos and the chimps, none seek out the overripe or fermented
which are common in the hot and humid tropical forests they call home.
If they eat any fermented fruit at all, it appears to be accidental. A
survey of 20 primatologists - who collectively represented thousands of
hours of field research - found that none had seen an inebriated
fruit-eating primate, but one had spotted a silky safafa - a large
lemur that eats leaves and seeds - apparently showing some signs of
intoxication after consuming fruit seeds that may have been toxic or
attached to overripe fruit pulp (9).
Alcohol Damage: Why We Drink
Why do primates and many other
animals avoid fermented fruit if they
have easy access to it?
Most likely they, like us, are repulsed by the taste of fermented fruit
flesh and juice. One study that asked humans eating mandarin oranges to
rate their desirability and flavor found that 90 percent of the
variation in flavor scores could be attributed to the amount of ethanol
present (essentially, the more fermented the fruit was, the worse they
thought it tasted) (10). Fruit bats also eat a lot less food when their
fruit is higher in ethanol (alcohol) (9).
A human walking through a grape arbor might reach up and pick some
delicious grapes, but if he accidentally grabs a smashed, fermented
grape and pops it in his mouth, he'll quickly spit it out because he
finds it repulsive.
Yet that same man might not think it odd to sip some wine at dinner
because he's conditioned himself to endure the taste, and in some
cases, even love it. However, it's clear we begin life with a desire to
avoid alcohol. I've yet to see a child who savors his first sip of wine
or taste of beer. Give a child fruit juice, though, and they'll be
happy to drink it.
Some researchers see a connection here between our evolutionary past of
fruit eating and our current alcohol drinking. One recent theory is
that because early humans and our prehuman ancestors ate a diet that
predominated in fruit - which contains at least a small amount of
ethanol (alcohol) when ripe - but we've since switched to a mixed diet
that includes little fruit, our urge to drink alcohol may be a
vestigial evolutionary cue to go eat fruit (11).
Primatologist Katherine Milton disagrees with this idea because ethanol
is only present in fruit in small quantities until it's overripe, and
primates avoid overripe fruit. She notes that studies
have failed to find any inherent nutritional wisdom in humans, and that
our food choices are mostly based off learned preferences which are
passed down through our families and societies. She also points out
that our desire for alcohol despite other animals' avoidance of it may
simply be based on the fact that we appear to be the only species to
developed such a high level of self-awareness. Other animals avoid
alcohol because it tastes bad, but they're not trying to escape their
own consciousness (9).
Alcohol Damage: Cancer In Every Sip
Today, science has pretty clearly established that alcohol is a
carcinogen (cancer causer). Worldwide, alcohol is considered directly
responsible for 3.6% of all cancer cases, 3.5% of cancer deaths (1),
and is specifically linked to cancers of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx
and larynx (2), liver cancer (3), breast cancer (4), and stomach cancer
In Europe, the huge ongoing European Prospective Investigation Into
Cancer (EPIC) recently linked 10% of all cancers in men and about
3% of all cancers in women to previous and current alcohol damage, and
found that even moderate drinking lead to cancer (6).
According to a statement on the study put out by Cancer Research UK,
which helps fund the EPIC Study, "The cancer risk increases with every
drink, so even moderate amounts of alcohol — such as a small drink each
day — increases the risk of these cancers."
These finding echo recent research that also identified low to
moderate drinking as a cause of cancer in British women studied under
the The Million Women Study.
With a background incidence of 118 cancers diagnosed per 1000 women,
researchers found that consuming 1 drink per day increased this risk by
an extra 15 cancers per 1000 women, and 2 drinks a day increased it to
an extra 30 cancers per 1000 women (7).
"From a standpoint of
cancer risk, the message of this report could not be clearer. There is
no level of alcohol that can be considered safe (8)."
-Editorialists Michael Lauer, MD, and Paul
Sorlie, PhD, on the Million
Alcohol Damage: Putting On The Pounds
You've probably seen more than your fair share of beer bellies hanging
over waistlines, one of the most overt signs alcohol damage.
Generally, drinking is presumed to cause weight gain because alcohol
slows the body’s ability to burn fat for energy while
acting as an appetite stimulant.
Drinking more than one drink per day for women and two drinks for men
is associated with extra fat around the waist (12).
Alcohol Damage: In Vino Veritas
Despite all of the above, you still hear plenty of people
praising alcohol consumption, particularly wine.
The general line is that a drink a day will prevent heart attacks.
The truth is that no study has actually shown a causal link
between light drinking and increased heart health, but merely that the
often go together, or are correlated. Researchers point out that the
average moderate drinker tends to be more educated, eats better,
exercises more, is more affluent, and generally has a bundle of factors
that predispose him or her to better heart health than abstainers and
heavy drinkers. No study has ever isolated drinking to see its effect
outside of these other elements. Another problem is that the alcohol
industry is now financing a number of studies designed to show off the
benefits of alcohol (13).
Alcohol Damage: The Wrong Perspective
Alcohol is not actually
heart healthy. Something that is heart healthy would have to
demonstrate the ability to prevent or reverse the build up of the fatty
plaque deposits in our arteries that lead to heart attacks and strokes,
as a low fat
vegan diet has been shown to do (14).
Alcohol simply has
anti-clotting effects, which is a trait shared my many drugs, such as
aspirin. Research has shown that moderate drinking is enough to thin
the blood and thereby reduces heart attacks in populations that have
clogged arteries brought about by the disease-promoting standard
But thinning out the blood, whether you do it with alcohol, aspirin
or some other drug, is only necessary for the unhealthy. It's just
another example of people trying to side step a symptom rather than
addressing the underlying cause: diet and lifestyle.
Wine does contain beneficial compounds such as flavonoids and
resveratrol, but these are found in the skin of fresh grapes as well as
in berries and other plant foods. You don't need to drink wine to
get them in your diet.
But simply put, using alcohol in an attempt to treat your heart disease
"To talk about alcohol
as though it were some new prophylactic drug is ridiculous and
dangerous. In a clinical trial it would fall at the first fence: it's
addictive, it impairs neurological function, it increases the risk of
violent death, suicide, hypertension, haemorrhagic stroke, cirrhosis,
and many cancers and causes huge social problems (15)."
-Dr. Peter Anderson of the World Health
1) Boffetta P,
Hashibe M, La Vecchia C, Zatonski W, Rehm J (August 2006). "The burden
of cancer attributable to alcohol drinking". International Journal of
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Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research (2007). Food,
Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global
Perspective. Washington, D.C.: American Institute for Cancer Research.
ISBN 978-0-9722522-2-5. Retrieved 8 April 2011. 3) Voigt MD
(February 2005). "Alcohol in hepatocellular cancer". Clinics in Liver
Disease 9 (1): 151–69. doi:10.1016/j.cld.2004.10.003. PMID 15763234. 4) Dumitrescu RG,
Shields PG. The etiology of alcohol-induced breast cancer. Alcohol.
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consumption of alcoholic beverages and risk of 13 types of cancer in
men: results from a case-control study in Montreal". Cancer Detect.
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Kahn. 1987. Effect of waxing and cellophane lining on chemical quality
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Historical Origins of Human Alcoholism in Primate Frugivory,
Integrative and Comparative Biology, Aug 2004. 12) Dallongeville
J, Marecaux N, Ducmetiere P, et al. Influence of alcohol consumption
and various beverages on waist girth and waist-to-hip ratio on a sample
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