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The Effects of Alcohol on Your Health

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Have you ever wondered what your weekly booze binge does to your health? Well here we explore the lasting effects of alcohol on your health.

Alcohol and Heart Disease

Research has shown that there is a link between drinking alcohol and a reduction in occurrences of coronary heart disease. This does not mean that the more you drink the less likely you are to have a heart attack! As a general rule, the more you drink, the more likely you are to die.

A limited intake of alcohol has been shown to lower the risk of getting heart disease. Research demonstrated that people who drink around 2 units of alcohol per day are the least likely group to die from heart disease. Drinking any more than 2 units per day increases the risk of death from heart disease and other causes.

Alcohol and Cholesterol

If you’re up to scratch on dietary information you’ll know that there are two types of cholesterol – LDL- and HDL-cholesterol. The former is the “bad” kind, it furs up your arteries and is the main cause of heart disease and the blood clots that cause strokes. This kind of cholesterol is created in the body when you eat foods high in saturated fat. HDL-cholesterol is the “good” kind. It helps to stop your arteries from furring up by taking the fatty lipids back to the liver.

Research has shown that drinking alcohol raises your HDL-cholesterol levels, thereby protecting you from diseases associated with the furring of the arteries. Alcohol also reduces blood platelet activity and decreases fibrinogen levels, lowering the risk of blood clots forming. This explains why people who drink a little alcohol are less likely to die than those who drink none at all. However, the benefits of drinking alcohol diminish as consumption increases as other causes of death become more likely.

Measuring Alcohol Intake

Research has demonstrated that the optimum level of alcohol intake is 2 units per day. The UK government's daily-recommended intake is 3 to 4 units for men and 2 to 3 for women. The difference is because women generally have less water in their bodies, which makes them more susceptible to alcohol intoxication. We measure our alcohol intake using the unit system. Since there are so many different types of alcoholic drinks that all contain varying levels of alcohol we need one measure to enable us to quickly work out how much we're drinking.

The alcohol unit system was invented to meet this need. By counting our alcohol intake in units, we can create a standardized measurement system.

Calculating an alcoholic unit

A unit of alcohol is 8g or 10ml of ethanol. Ethanol is pure alcohol. A glass of ethanol is therefore 100% alcohol by volume (ABV).

Beer, on the other hand, contains a lot less alcohol by volume. A typical beer might be 5% ABV. That means that 95% of the liquid in beer is non-alcoholic.

Different types of alcohol have different ABV scores. Wine has an ABV ranging from 8% to 14%. Spirits range from 25% ABV to over 75% ABV. Trying to calculate how much ethanol is contained in a glass of wine in comparison to a measure of whiskey might seem complicated but it’s actually pretty easy to work out.

The Unit Equation

Not all drinks will have nice easy ABVs in multiples of 5 or 10. Some drinks might have an ABV of 13.5%, whilst others might be 37.5%. Also, drinks don’t come in glasses of 100 or 200 millilitres. In the UK we have a whole range of glasses like pint glasses, large wine glasses, and shot glasses. So, how do we work out how many units in a drink if the numbers look complicated?

Calculating this is actually very easy. You can use a calculator (there’s one on your mobile phone). All you need to know is this simple equation:

Number of units = volume in ml x percentage ABV / 1000

If your maths is a bit rusty, never fear! All the information is available to you – just plug it into the equation.

How many units in a pint of Fosters?

In order to answer this question we need 2 bits of information; how many millilitres in one pint; and what is the ABV of Fosters.

Google “pint millilitres” and you’ll find that 1 pint = 568ml (to the nearest ml)

You’ll also discover pretty easily that Fosters is 4% ABV

Now all you need to do is put those numbers into the equation.

Units = (568ml x 4%) divided by 1000

Put that through your calculator and you get...

1 pint of Fosters equals 2.27 units (roughly two and a quarter units)

10703 Modified November 2012

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