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Is Drinking Alcohol and Smoking Cigarettes bad for you?

Updated on April 28, 2010

Find out what alcohol and tobacco do to your body.

How drinking and smoking affect your body


Is there any nutritional value in alcohol? And how can a change in diet help you if you smoke?

Benefits of alcohol


Research shows that moderate drinking - no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women - helps to protect against diseases of the heart and circulatory systems. Contrary to popular belief, this may apply to all forms of alcohol, not just red wine1. However, the people who benefit most are those without apparent heart disease; those at risk of having a heart attack or stroke; and/or those at risk for development of coronary heart diease. Drinking above the recommended daily level reduces the benefits1.


Alcohol contains empty calories; seven calories per gram compared with four calories per gram for carbohydrates and proteins, both of which offer nutritional benefits2. Some view alcohol as nutritious. Wine contains vitamin C from grape juice; beer has B vitamins and minerals from cereal grains and yeast; and hard liquor is made from grain products2. However, none of these are very nourishing when their low nutrient content is compared to the high number of calories they contain.


Dangers of excess alcohol

Over time problems may occur with the liver's functions due to excess alcohol. A damaged liver reduces the body's ability to absorb and use the nutrients in food, such as fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K). Heavy drinking can also cause stomach cells to become inflamed and susceptible to ulcers, and cause the kidneys to increase the quantities of magnesium, calcium, potassium and zinc they remove from the body. The nutrients a heavy drinker may lack will also be affected by their diet and genetic disposition3.


How to avoid a hangover

You can do a number of things to keep from absorbing too much acohol if you do decide to drink. The first is to limit the amount of alcohol you consume to no more than two drinks per day if you are a man, and one drink per day if you are a woman. Your blood alcohol level is affected both by how much you drink and how fast you drink. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach means the alcohol is absorbed immediately, so try to eat before you have a drink. The best foods to eat if you are drinking are low-salt carbohydrates such as bread or crackers, which delay alcohol absorption2. To further reduce alcohol absorption, fat/protein snacks such as milk or cheese will also help2.


And if you drink more than you should have, have two to three glasses of water before going to bed to help combat the dehydrating effects of alcohol.


Smoking and diet

While you may get some benefit from a moderate intake of alcohol, there are no benefits from smoking. One in two long-term smokers will die prematurely as a result of smoking. Most die from one of the three main diseases associated with smoking: lung cancer, bronchitis and emphysema, and coronary heart disease4. Although the risks of smoking are well publicized, people still choose to smoke. A change in diet may at least help to counteract some of the harmful effects.

Cigarette smoke produces chemicals in the body called free radicals. Vitamins C and E and beta-carotene act as anti-oxidants destroying free radicals. Smokers need twice the amount of vitamin C that non-smokers need. Plenty of fruits and vegetables will help ensure you get enough vitamin C and beta carotene3. Wheat germ, avocados, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds will ensure a good intake of vitamin E. Smoking also depletes the body of B vitamins, which can be found in whole grains, lean meat and fish3.

A well-balanced diet will help you get the nutrients you need. However, taking a multivitamin each day can help you get any nutrients you are not getting from food.


Sources

  1. Harvard School of Public Health. www.hsph.harvard.edu
  2. Elson M. Staying healthy with nutrition, 1992. Celestrial Arts.
  3. British Nutrition Foundation; www.nutrition.org.uk
  4. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). Factsheets. www.ash.org.uk

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