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While most folks drink responsibly, there seems to be a fine line between being in or out of control of your alcohol use.
For example, the numbers of Alcohol Use Disorders (AUDs) – which is when drinking causes distress or harm – in the United States are quite staggering, with almost 17 million adult cases and 855,000 youth (ages 12-17) cases reported in 2012.
What might surprise you is how easy it is to be diagnosed with an AUD. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), if you answer “yes” to any two out of the eleven following questions within the past 12 months you would be diagnosed with an Alcohol Use Disorder. (1)
In the past year, have you:
- Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
- More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
- Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
- Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
- More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
- Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
- Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?
If you did answer “yes” to any two of these questions in the past year, visiting a health professional who can perform a more formal assessment may help ward off an addiction in the making.
From the Ayurvedic perspective, you may have a drinking problem when you find yourself thinking about alcohol, craving it or looking forward to drinking it. In this definition, it has control over your thoughts and it is time to take back the control. Any food that you find yourself craving can be problematic.
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Alcohol and Your Health
Drinking is hard on the liver and, over time, it can take its toll.
- In 2013, there were 71,713 total liver disease deaths among individuals aged 12 and older, and 46.4% involved alcohol. Among all cirrhosis deaths in 2011, 48% percent were alcohol-related. The percentage of cirrhosis deaths that were alcohol-related was the highest for those aged of 25-34, at 72%. (1)
- In 2009, alcohol-related liver disease was the primary reason behind almost 1 in every 3 liver transplants in the United States. (1)
- Drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver, and breast. (1)
- Moderate alcohol consumption – which includes one drink for adult women and 2 drinks for adult men per day – may have beneficial effects on health. These include decreased risk for heart disease and mortality due to heart disease, decreased risk of ischemic stroke (in which the arteries to the brain become narrowed or blocked, resulting in reduced blood flow), and decreased risk of diabetes. (1)
Ayurveda and Alcohol
Alcohol has been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years. From preserving herbs and foods, creating bacteria-free beverages, preparation of herbal medicine and making herbs more potent, it certainly isn’t a substance that has been avoided. Navigation of the pros and cons of alcohol has been understood in Ayurveda.
Even thousands of years ago, Ayurvedic experts suggested herbs to protect the liver from toxins, poisons, stress and the environment. Today, these herbs are needed more than ever to ward off higher levels of stress, pollutants and toxins than ever before. The herbs that help to detoxify and protect the liver from the damage of alcohol are bitter in nature, and many folks tend to avoid that taste in their diet. There are 5 Ayurvedic herbs that have been used for thousands of years in Ayurveda to protect the liver, and new research has confirmed this ancient wisdom. They are: Bhumyamalaki, Barberry, Turmeric, Guduchi and Amalaki – which make up the LifeSpa Liver Repair formula. Taking these herbs before drinking alcohol has been shown to protect the liver from alcohol-related toxicity.
- Bhumyamalaki (Phyllanthus amarus) – is Ayurveda’s most revered liver-protective herb. In one study, it supported the healthy function of liver cells when exposed to alcohol stress. (2) In another study, Bhumyamalaki enhanced liver cell recovery from alcohol-induced liver cell injury. It did so by restoring liver enzymes to normal levels after injury. (3)
- Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) – are extremely bitter, vitamin C-rich berries that have been used for centuries to protect the liver, increase bile flow, support healthy cell replication (4) and healthy blood sugar. Studies suggest that barberry is rich in an alkaloid called berberine and is a potent antioxidant and liver-protectant against toxins. (4)
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a bitter rhizome that has literally thousands of studies suggesting benefits for the skin, digestion, brain and liver. (7) For the liver, turmeric has been shown to boost the body’s natural antioxidants and liver- and brain-protectant properties when exposed to alcohol-induced oxidative stress. (5,6,7)
- Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia) – has been shown to exhibit antioxidant effects protecting both the liver and kidneys while exposed to a wide array of toxins including heavy metals, environmental toxins and pollutants. Guduchi supports production of powerful liver-protective enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase and glutathione peroxidase, which are all depleted when exposed to alcohol. (8)
- Amalaki (Emblica officinalis) – or Indian Gooseberry is a small fruit that is rich in vitamin C, antioxidants and nitric oxide-producing compounds. (9) It has been shown in studies to support healthy liver cells by increasing superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase and glutathione. (9) In another study, one of the tannoids in amalaki demonstrated protection against alcohol-induced brain mitochondrial dysfunction. (9,10)
It is very clear that alcohol can damage the liver and compromise its function while exposing the body to a host of other health issues. (1) While many studies suggest a small amount of alcohol is good for the heart, there are other studies that suggest that there are more health risks than health benefits, and that we should avoid it all together. My suggestion is, of course, moderation and to re-introduce the bitter tastes back into our diets that we have lost. In a toxic world that is lacking in the bitter foods, roots, berry, spices and herbs that protect the liver, supplementing with these protective whole herbs makes sense in my opinion.
No herbal supplements can prevent intoxication, and they are not intended to treat or prevent the consequence of excessive alcohol consumption.