Can alcohol be good for you?
Numerous scientific studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption (defined as 1-2 drinks per day) is associated with reduced risk for heart disease.
The summer season is kicking in, and our social time will increase. The culture of alcohol consumption in the UK makes us one of the top contenders on the scoreboard of alcohol consumption.
Between colleagues, team sports and friends, we like to have the drink to help us unwind from our busy life and create some positive social bonds, or just having a laugh. It then seems almost counter intuitive to advise against any alcohol consumption.
However, what do we know so far? Is alcohol a real poison? Do you know your gene variants can play a role in preventing you from the negative effects of alcohol consumption? Can alcohol have some benefit at all?
The possible benefit of Alcohol
Several possible explanations of the benefit of alcohol have been proposed. Resveratrol, a phytonutrient found in red wine has been shown to protect against heart disease. This is where the ‘French paradox’ originated, but this does not explain the cardio protective benefit also found with moderate consumption of beer and spirits.
Meet your CETP gene
‘Cholesteryl ester transfer protein’ (CETP) is a plasma glycoprotein that mediates the transfer of cholesteryl ester from high-density lipoproteins (HDL) to triglyceride-rich lipoproteins in exchange for triglycerides. Several genetic variants at CETP locus have been identified and they have been generally associated with increased HDL-cholesterol concentrations.
Consequently, it was originally thought that these gene variations could be life extending, because the higher HDL would be cardio protective. Moderate alcohol consumption also increases HDL cholesterol (the ‘good cholesterol’), a negative risk factor for heart disease. This variation would therefore ‘alcohol proof’ your heart from alcohol consumption to some extent and reap the benefits of the rich anti-oxidant content found in wine.
Benefits have also been attributed to the physiological mechanisms whereby alcohol prevents the tightening of the blood vessels and blood clotting, and therefore prevents heart attacks and strokes.
Another growing current of the Genomic revolution called Meta Genomic proves that social behaviour, connecting with people switches on and promotes healing genes.
So some social time at the local pub with your friends now and then is good for your health!
However the poison is in the dosage....
Alcoholism is a serious matter; it destroys millions of lives and tears families apart.
So what can trigger the negative effect of alcohol consumption, both physiological and emotionally? Where do you stand? Can your genes predict your behaviour and addiction?
Certain gene variants in genes that are involved in the brain’s emotion and reward centres increase an individual’s chances of forming addictive tendencies and may lead to alcoholism or other types of addiction. Mainly if you are feeling stressed, tired or overwhelmed, you will tend to run on autopilot, leaving little chance for your willpower to manifest.
Variations in two hedonic genes, DRD2 and OPRM1, directly affect the brain’s dopamine functions and lead to emotional eating or drinking. It can also play a role in becoming addictive to something.
Being proactive by creating a new pathway and building new habits upon the trigger that leads us to ‘lose control’ is crucial for those who have these variations.
Being proactive and learning to make the right choices, as well as creating a favourable environment will play a role in preventing any addictive behaviour that could lead to the suffering of an imbalanced life, as well as the health and social disconnection and implications of any addiction.
Other genes like the COMT gene, which regulates the body’s metabolism and detoxification of the chemical transmitters such as dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline in our brain play a role here. Some of us have COMT genes that clear the brain of dopamine rapidly and efficiently and others have a slower and steadier response.
The slow variant of variation can lead to Depression, Alcoholism's drinking buddy, which will make things even more difficult to change in the long run.
Individuals with a higher risk of genetic variants (the slower response) should refrain from drinking alcohol and instead boost their heart-healthiness and increase their HDL levels by losing weight if overweight, and increase their level of antioxidants by eating more fruits and vegetables, as well as maintaining the basics such as regular exercise and good nutrition.
They should also quit smoking and consume more omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in their diet to further protect the heart.
It’s your health and your responsibility. While drinking on a social level occasionally is part of life's precious pleasures, there is a fine line when it becomes too regular and drifts towards the edge. This sets a path to more serious and damaging health problems related to alcohol, both physiologically and mentally. Knowing what your traits and tendencies are will put you back in charge and hopefully lead you to become more proactive in taking preventative measures by making the right choices.
So know who you are, where you stand and enjoy it!