While mocktails and dry month challenges are increasingly popular, the health benefits of decreasing your alcohol consumption are not usually part of the conversation. Sharing some drinks with your friends and coworkers can be a great way to wind down and connect, but habitual drinking can be detrimental to your health and well-being. This February, we explore the heart-healthy benefits of choosing alcohol alternatives or reducing your intake.
How does alcohol work?
As we drink, alcohol is absorbed into our bloodstream, where it starts to take effect. The noticeable changes are ones many of us are familiar with; they include lack of inhibition, feeling warm, becoming noticeably excited, and drowsiness. The speed at which alcohol is absorbed and the effects it may have on the body can depend on several factors, including age, weight, sex, hormones, speed of ingestion, and whether or not you’ve eaten before or during.
Those who are genetically predisposed to alcoholism or chronic drinkers may have a harder time discerning the effects of alcohol. If you continue to feel happy and alert while others are starting to feel drowsy, it’s important to assess your relationship with alcohol accordingly.
- What is excessive drinking?
Excessive drinking is defined as either heavy drinking or binge drinking. Heavy drinking is anything in excess of the recommended maximum intake of one drink or less per day for women and two drinks per day or less for men. Binge drinking is more than four drinks or more on a single occasion for women and five or more for men.
- The serious consequences of drinking
Drinking in excess can have a significant impact on your body, from slurred speech and loss of motor function to difficulty remaining conscious and trouble breathing. Alcohol has a serious effect on your body’s ability to regulate its temperature, so you should never swim or stay outside too long without proper clothing.
- Drinking and Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
It is recommended that anyone who is taking hormone replacement therapy avoid drinking in excess and listen to their body. There is currently very limited research on the effects of alcohol on those who are using HRT, especially for those who are medically transitioning. Always talk to your doctor about your medication and alcohol use.
Alcohol’s effect on the heart and cardiovascular system.
The effects of alcohol on our cardiovascular system are multi-faceted.
Chronic or excess drinking increases our blood pressure, causing strain on our hearts and vessels and increasing our chances of developing heart disease, stroke, and cardiomyopathy.
- Stress, Anxiety, and Mood Regulation
Regular alcohol use has also been found to significantly reduce our non-drinking capacity to manage anxiety and stress, which can impact how we negotiate our non-drinking time and make it more likely that we will reach for alcohol when we are having a stressful day. This can impact our heart health over the long term, as stress management and resiliency are essential factors in long-term heart health outcomes. In addition, alcohol use can severely disrupt our body’s ability to regulate and balance our hormones both while drinking and during our non-drinking time.
Even moderate alcohol consumption can reduce our sleep quality by a significant amount. Alcohol causes disruptions in the body that prevent us from getting the right balance of sleep cycles, which leads to us feeling tired and groggy the next day. In addition, regular alcohol use can trigger insomnia symptoms as well as exacerbate the symptoms of sleep apnea. Poor sleep is linked to high blood pressure, chronic stress, and chronic fatigue, which can all negatively impact our heart health.
Delicious alcohol alternatives to try!
As the harmful effects of alcohol become more understood, many bars and restaurants are offering up alternatives that are as delicious as they are alcohol-free! If you want to try reducing your alcohol consumption but still go out and have fun with friends or celebrate with your coworkers, there are more options for you now than a Shirley Temple.
With many fantastic, complex, and intriguing options available, it’s easier to follow the guidelines for 1-2 drinks or less per day. If you’re trying a dry month challenge, find your favourite alternative to share with friends and family. Not only will it help you maintain a healthy body and mind, but it can also spark your creative energy!
If you still want that fizzy satisfaction and mouth feel but without the buzz, kombucha is a great way to feel satisfied and give your gut microbiome a boost! A well-functioning microbiome can help prevent illness (the opposite effect that alcohol has on our immune systems).
Mocktails use curated flavours like bitters, sodas, and syrups to make sophisticated alternatives to alcohol. In some cases, you can now find non-ABV beer, wine, and even spirits! The name of the game is experimentation. We love mixing Fentimans sodas with homemade infused simple syrups and choosing a chic garnish.
- Zero-percent alternatives
As we mentioned above, the non-ABV options are becoming more readily available, and they taste incredible; there is a mix of products with complex flavour profiles that build delicious mocktails and non-alcohol options which replicate gin or rum without the side effects.
Maintain your heart health by reducing your alcohol intake this year!
Drinking less can feel like a daunting task, but with more options and less social pressure, it can be easy to make changes. When reducing your alcohol intake, remember that it can take time to regulate your system, so allow your body the time it needs to adjust. By consuming delicious, non-ABV options, you can still be a social butterfly while making heart-healthy choices. In addition, you can reduce the stress that many who choose sobriety face by including zero alcohol options for your friends and guests. Happy mocktail mixing!