Effects of alcohol

Vitamins and alcohol detox

A long period of over doing alcohol – what can we do to feel better, to detox or simply recover and live a healthy way of life again?

Dink-smoothy

Keep it simple : Juice your fruit and vegetables. You get fluids, plenty of fibre and vitamins straight to the blood, in an easily digestible form.

Juice whatever you want – carrots, spinach, celery, beetroot, cucumber, banana, orange, red grapes, berries, cherries (take stones out) and if you are really brave, a raw egg. Add some flax seed, evening primrose, magnesium, calcium and zinc for minerals.

If juicing is not an option, then consider vitamin supplements.

 

Vitamins can help those suffering from alcohol withdrawal and anxiety but alcohol depletes the body and leaves it lacking many resources, especially Vitamin B’s and C.

Alcoholics easily become deficient in Vitamin B. Niacin (Vitamin B3) is such an example. It has been proven that some alcoholics spontaneously stop drinking when they start taking Niacin. In studies, animals also craved alcohol when their diet lacked Vitamin B-complex.

Evening Primrose Oil containing 360mg gamma-linolenic  acid (GLA) is also recommended. Tests showed that 4 grams of the oil, per day, led to better liver function. GLA is a precursor to prostaglandin E1 (PGE1), another substance in which alcoholics may be deficient.

Doctors also advocate 1-3 grams per day of vitamin CThis antioxidant helps the body purge itself of alcohol and protect it from free radical damage. We all know the benefits of vitamin C but the body uses more vitamin C during alcohol consumption than under normal circumstances.

L-Glutamine, a non-essential amino acid, becomes an essential amino acid under stress situations as with continuous alcohol intake. L-Glutamine is changed to Glutathion, a very important antioxidant, which not only removes harmful free radicals but also decreases the desire to drink alcohol. It also decreases anxiety levels in stressful situations.

In addition to the help that vitamins give with detoxing, medical studies have indicated that a daily intake of a specified amount of vitamin C, niacin, vitamin B6 and vitamin E can lower anxiety levels in a few weeks. Another supplement of D,L-phenylalanine (DLPA), L-tyrosine, L-glutamine, and L-tryptophan (now only available on prescription) and a multivitamin-mineral supplement led to a significant reduction in withdrawal symptoms and decreased stress in alcoholics compared with a placebo. Unfortunately, no such effect has been seen in people with alcohol related depression.

Consider phospholipids too. Phospholipids have been used for years as a supplement for various liver ailments, including alcoholic liver disease, hepatitis, malaria and jaundice. Animal studies conducted with baboons over an eight-year period proved that those on a high alcohol diet and fed phospholipids did not develop cirrhosis compared to the group not receiving phospholipids. Phospholipids are a vital part of most cell membranes in the body and have to be manufactured by the liver to repair the liver cell walls. Options are lipid replacement therapy (for fatigue) or take Dink when you drink. Dink is a supplement with one of the highest concentrations of readily available phospholipids on the market.

IMPORTANT : If you are on regular medication, check with your pharmacist before you embark on the vitamin road. Some supplements react with medication and render the medication useless. Also, a vitamin A or beta-carotene deficiency, induced by alcoholism, must only be dealt with under medical supervision, as these combined with alcohol can cause damage to the liver, so the liver should be monitored.

Alcohol and liver diseases

The Government has provided guidelines for drinking alcohol, advising people that they should not regularly exceed the following number of units per day :-

  • Men : 3-4 units of alcohol a day (equivalent to 1.5 pints of 4% beer)
  • Women : 2-3 units of alcohol per day (equivalent to a 175 ml glass of wine)

They also recommend avoiding alcohol for 48 hours after a heavy drinking session. ‘Regularly’ means drinking every day or most days of the week.

Continuous alcohol intake could lead to cirrhosis. This is a gradual process where normal liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue. This scar tissue can affect the normal structure and repair process in the liver. The liver gradually loses its function. Hepatitis and cirrhosis develop slowly and the chances are good to develop these if you drink heavily and regularly.

What is the effect of alcohol on the liver?

The liver works hard, having 500 different roles and is the largest organ in your body. It breaks down food and converts it into energy when you need it, it helps to deal with waste products and it is vital in fighting infections, particularly in the bowel. Keeping within the government’s daily unit guidelines and taking a regular break from alcohol will help your liver stay healthy.

Drinking more than these recommended limits on a regular basis and/or drinking every day of the week will greatly increase the risk of liver damage and liver disease. All the research shows that the more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to develop liver disease. A damaged liver can also go undetected, often until the condition becomes serious.

Regularly exceeding the limits is a major cause of the 25% increase in deaths from liver disease in England over the last decade (from 9,231 in 2001 to 11,575 in 2009). Alcoholic liver disease accounts for more than a third (37%) of liver disease deaths. Also, figures show that more younger people are being affected by liver disease – more than 1 in 10 of deaths of people in their 40s are from liver disease, most of them from alcoholic liver disease.

Liver Disease

Drinking alcohol to excess causes ‘alcoholic liver disease’

  • Acute liver disease – problems develop over a few months.
  • Chronic liver disease – damage over a number of years.

When the liver tries to break down alcohol, the resulting chemical reaction can cause cell damage, which can lead to inflammation and scarring as the liver tries to repair itself. This is known as Oxidative stress. Alcohol can also damage the intestine. This can result in toxins from the gut bacteria getting into the liver, again leading to inflammation and scarring.

The four stages of liver disease are:-

1. Fatty liver: your liver contains excessive fat . (Reversible). Most heavy drinkers have a fatty liver.
2. Hepatitis: the liver becomes inflamed. (Usually reversible). 1 in 4 drinkers with fatty liver disease will develop alcoholic hepatitis.
3. Fibrosis: scar tissue starts replacing healthy liver tissue. (Possibly reversible)
4. Cirrhosis: scarring of the liver. (Rarely reversible). 1 in 5 drinkers with fatty liver disease will develop cirrhosis

The NHS identifies the following two groups as at a high risk of developing serious types of alcoholic liver disease:

Men who drink more than 35 units of alcohol a week for 10 years or more
Women who drink more than 28 units of alcohol a week for 10 years or more.

Evidence suggests other factors that increase your risk of developing liver disease include:

  • being dependent on alcohol
  • being female, as women develop higher blood alcohol levels
  • being overweight, as this exacerbates many of the mechanisms of alcohol related liver damage
  • certain genetic factors, such as the liver’s ability to handle fat

Excessive drinking (more than 8 units a day for a man ; more than 5 units a day for a woman) for 2-3 weeks means you are likely to develop ‘fatty liver’. The liver turns glucose into fat and then sends it round the body to store for later use. Alcohol affects the way the liver handles fat, so the liver cells become full of it. Symptoms include abdominal pain, due to the liver being swollen, nausea, fatigue, diarrhoea and loss of appetite and can be confirmed with a blood test.

Reducing the amount you drink can help reverse damage or early stage liver disease.

If you stop drinking alcohol for 2 weeks and then remain within the guidelines, the liver will start to disperse the extra fat and repair itself. If, however, you continue to drink in these quantities it may well progress to the next stage of liver disease.

Symptoms of later stage (more serious) liver damage can include:

  • jaundice (yellow  skin)
  • vomiting blood
  • fatigue, weekness
  • loss of appetite
  • itching
  • easy bruising
  • swollen ankles, legs and abdomen
  • liver cancer
  • bleeding in the stomach
  • increased sensitivity to alcohol and drugs

If you start soon enough, you can reverse problems with your liver caused by alcohol.  Once stage 4 (cirrhosis) develops, it is vital that you stop drinking alcohol, as this can lead to liver failure and death. In the most serious cases of cirrhosis, a liver transplant is only offered to those who do not drink alcohol for at least three months.

People with no previous symptoms, who stop drinking when they have cirrhosis, have an 80% chance of being alive after 10 years. Even for those with symptoms, stopping drinking has a beneficial effect – it is never “too late” to stop drinking – even with cirrhosis.

 

A Helping Hand

3 ways to help you stay in control of your drinking:-

1. Try alcohol-free days. If you drink regularly, your body starts to build up a tolerance to alcohol, so it is important to take a break from drinking and give your liver a break too.

2. Healthy Eating. A healthy meal before you start drinking, and low-fat, low-salt snacks between drinks can help to slow down the absorption of alcohol. Good nutrition can help support your liver function and general health.

3. Track it. It is one way to find out if you are drinking too much. Try the MyDrinkaware drink tracking tool on www.drinkaware.co.uk