If you’re over 40 and live in Britain, the chances are you like a drink. Last week, a YouGov survey found ‘Empty Nester’ mothers were at the forefront of the middle-aged drinking epidemic in Britain, with 28 per cent of women over 45 admitting they drank as much or more than their grown-up children. It’s also the older generation – those 65 and over – that are most likely to drink on five consecutive nights each week. As the Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies considers the current NHS drinking guidelines, experts are urging us to spare a thought not only to the short-term effects of alcohol on our brains, but also to the damage our drinking habits are doing to our bodies as we approach middle age.
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Some of the ways alcohol affects our health are well known, but others may surprise you. Here are six less-known effects that alcohol has on your body, according to gastroenterologist K. V. Narayanan Menon, MD:
- Drinking gives your body work to do that keeps it from other processes. Once you take a drink, your body makes metabolizing it a priority — above processing anything else. Unlike proteins, carbohydrates and fats, your body doesn’t have a way to store alcohol, so it has to move to the front of the metabolizing line. This is why it affects your liver, as it’s your liver’s job to detoxify and remove alcohol from your blood.
- Abusing alcohol causes bacteria to grow in your gut, which can eventually migrate through the intestinal wall and into the liver, leading to liver damage.
- Too much is bad for your heart. It can cause the heart to become weak (cardiomyopathy) and have an irregular beat pattern (arrhythmias). It also puts people at higher risk for developing high blood pressure.
- People can develop pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, from alcohol abuse.
- Drinking too much puts you at risk for some cancers, such as cancer of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver and breast.
- It can affect your immune system. If you drink every day, or almost every day, you might notice that you catch colds, flu or other illnesses more frequently than people who don’t drink. This is because alcohol can weaken the immune system and make the body more susceptible to infections.