Most of us enjoy a drink now and then – and often more regularly. But we should never lose sight of the fact that alcohol is a toxin. If you drink too much it could damage not just your liver but also your heart, cardiovascular system, your gut and especially your nervous system and brain.
As a general guide, men are advised not to drink more than three to four units of alcohol a day (that’s about one and a half pints of standard four per cent alcohol beer). Women are less able to break down alcohol in their liver and are more sensitive to its effects, so the limit for them is only two to three units a day (about a 175ml glass of wine). If you prefer to drink spirits, you’ll find that a single 25ml shot contains about one unit.
Your body can break down alcohol, but this process is slow and it is particularly dangerous to drink a large amount in a small time. Drinking more than nine units in a short space of time for men and six for women is known as binge drinking. Very large amounts of alcohol taken in a binge could cause confusion, vomiting, seizures, reduced breathing and a drop in temperature.
In the longer term, drinking 50-plus units a week if you’re a man and 35-plus units a week for women is linked to an increase in accidents, mental health problems, inflammation of the pancreas, heart disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers (especially mouth, throat and bowel) and cirrhosis of the liver. Having worked on a liver disease ward recently I cannot emphasise enough how miserable it is to live with alcoholic liver disease.
Taking action about your alcohol consumption is completely in your own hands, so what should you be looking out for? Warning signs include regularly exceeding the recommended limits, needing a drink first thing in the morning, being unable to remember what happened the night before, simply suspecting that you should cut down or being told this by someone else.
Your GP or practice nurse can help you look at your drinking and provide advice about local NHS support groups. Not all GPs run alcohol services but there will be a clinic in your area and you can refer yourself without seeing your GP. You can find these by typing in your postcode on the NHS Choices website at www.nhs.uk/Livewell/alcohol. More help can be found at Alcoholics Anonymous (0845 769 7555) and Alcohol Concern (0300 123 1110).
Q. Why do I keep getting water infections?
Dr Trisha says: It may be down to your age. After the menopause the soft tissues of the vagina and pelvis become thinner and weaker, and the bladder may become leaky or not empty so efficiently, letting infection set in more easily.
Anything which obstructs the flow of urine, such as a prolapse or constipation, also increases the risk. Conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes increase the risk of all sorts of infection. Also after about 65, your immunity generally gets weaker and you’re less able to prevent infection setting in.
Check your GP sends urine samples to the laboratory every time you have an infection to check what the bacteria is, whether it’s sensitive to the antibiotics you’re taking and if it has gone from your urine after treatment. It’s common to be re-infected with the same bacteria so getting the right treatment could really help.
- Dr Trisha writes a column every fortnight in Yours magazine. Ask Dr Trisha about your health problems by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.