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Alcohol and health

It’s something we all know about, but none of us ever really talk about.

It’s something I’ve recently had to come face-to-face with. As I’ve mentioned on the ‘Dry January’ thread, I’ve had some abnormal blood test results. These did not come with a “you have to stop drinking”, but a reminder that I should take a few nights off a week and that a unit of alcohol is smaller than I think it is.

It’s also something that we’ve touched on in the recent thread on sulphites. Regardless of marketing, current trends or any manufacturing processes, the most dangerous chemical in our wine is the alcohol. We all know this, we all know the impact it can have.

I guess what I am aiming for here is a safe space for us, as avid, but on the whole sensible drinkers, to share any experiences of the ill effects or alcohol and our ways of sensibly coping with the health implications.

In terms of my journey, as I have mentioned rather a lot, I’ve spent a big chunk of the past 18 months trying to buy a house (this post is being written from the dining table of that house, covered in “Enchanted Ivy” paint!). When sorting out the in case something bad happens to you insurance for the mortgage I had to do a medical. I got turned down by the insurance company. They didn’t say why, but said they’d forwarded the results to my GP. (two whole months of back and forth with the insurance company and the GP about whether or not the results had been sent/received later) I got a call from my GP saying that my cholesterol was a bit high (family thing, also not high enough to actually treat, especially as I am slap bang in the middle of where I should be BMI wise and my LDL/HDL ratio is very healthy thanks to my gym-bunny status), and that my liver results were odd. His words not mine. I’ve had some of these tests rerun, along with a whole lot more (I mean a lot, I’ve never seen so many different vials taken). Yesterday I had the follow up call to those tests with a “your liver is closer to normal than it was, but still odd” and “your Iron and Ferritin are oddly high, are you Welsh?”.

There’s still a chance that blood tests were taken too close to a bit of a session (which has happened more than is healthy, potentially very literally, during the latter part of last year), so we’re actually keeping an eye on the liver function still with another test happening this Friday, when I’ll have had nothing to drink since NYE. In a better safe than sorry type way I’m also being tested for Haemochromatosis (too much iron - genetic blood disorder and mainly effects Celtic men apparently) and having an ultrasound on my liver (still awaiting an appointment - it turns out St Thomas’s Hospital is a bit busy at the moment). Physically I am fine. I don’t have any symptoms of any of these problems at all, so any potential issues have been caught early.

While none of these issues are caused specifically by my drinking, they’ll certainly have been exacerbated by them and won’t be helped in future. I’m currently reflecting on what I am going to do, booze wise. In the short term I am going dry until I know what’s going on. I was already thinking about doing this for a while as I’ve had a few too many excessive nights and needed to reset my relationship with alcohol to back to being something I drink for the flavour rather as a crutch (particularly while gyms are closed).

Longer term I’m not so sure, but this’s definitely given me quite a scare. I’m aiming to get more careful with glass sizes and may even consider coravin/vacuvin/eto type things. I think my biggest problem is “the next drink” where once we’ve finished a bottle of wine, particularly in a social situation we’ll have one more (it’s never only one more, and is usually a hand poured spirit - strict use of jiggers is probably another step I need to take), so stopping this, or at least making sure it’s actually only one more, is something that needs to happen. I am very much open to/in need of suggestions on this one! Fundamentally I don’t want to have to stop drinking, and to do that I may need to start drinking very differently.

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Patrick, I drink far too much probably 30- 40 units a week. Not always that much but lockdown has not helped. I got turned down for life insurance many years ago because of high cholestrol which I managed to reduce.
it may be of no consolation but the insurer should have told you why they declined you. It was they who turned you down, to refer you to your GP was very poor behaviour.
Anyway, I shall try and cut down a bit, if I drink half to three quarters of a bottle of wine in an evening I feel fine, if I drink a whole bottle, I feel a bit “under the weather” the following morning. My mother had a serious drink problem, so I do have worries about genetic drink issues…

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We took a look at our consumption a few years ago when we realised our tolerance to alcohol was reducing as we got older :weary:.

Different circumstances so may not apply to you, but our strategy, which has worked pretty well for us, is to have three alcohol free days a week; always use a measure for spirits; reduce total bottles of wine consumed per week by one (half a bottle down each); try to match consumption of booze with similar consumption of water; ignore rules for special occasions. Maybe something there that helps.

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Cloud and silver lining springs to mind. It sounds like you are a very sensible individual and are now or will soon be in possession of a comprehensive health snapshot. In my book, that is a great starting point, as most of us won’t go down that route (mostly because we don’t have to, e.g. mortgage applications etc). Once you know where you stand, it is much easier, I think, to come to a reasonable way forward - health trumps everything else, and the day I find out I need to drastically reduce/stop, I’ll invest my time, passion and money (selling my cellar now would easily clear my mortgage!) into something else.
Hopefully it won’t come to that, but I’ve been thinking lately about drinking less and better, make it more of a mini special occasion each time, rather than the it’s time to open another bottle.
While I am very fit and healthy, do tons of cycling and walking, it’s always at the back of one’s mind that not all may be as positive as one thinks, and your journey reinforces that for me and may well prompt me to get some tests done, once the current situation settles a bit. Too easy to stick one’s head in the sand!

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Try one of these for your free-pouring, Spanish measures spirits concern (maybe not the Mercer one though).

We always use one, but when I weighed the measure because it looked a bit big, I discovered I was pouring 30ml shots rather than the standard 25ml.

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I watched that Adrian Chiles documentary a few years back, where he tracked his consumption. It made me think about how the units add up, so I got the ‘drink less’ app, and tracked what i drank. I set goals of max 30 units a week (approx 3 bottles of wine a week) and 3 dry days a week. I met them much of the time, and was very honest in my recording, and liked the gamification of it on the app.

It increased my awareness of what i was drinking and when. Most importantly it made me think of what/when I enjoyed drinking the most and the least. Generally that meant prioritising great wine with partner/friends at weekends and avoiding drinking mediocre wine at the many work events going on.

I also got a jigger for spirits, and a half bottle decanter, and use an empty half bottle to help preserve wine, all of which were small adjustments and are still in use.

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My Grandmother (maternal) and Grandfather (paternal) both had quiet serious drinking problems. My grandmother particularly would quite literally drink a bottle of whisky (usually Bells) a day. When she passed away, my Grandpa was suddenly shocked at how much extra money he had. This hadn’t really occurred to me as a concern until very recently, mostly again as part of this reflecting on my own health.

I agree with you on the poor form (at best, we’re investigating whether or not it was legal) of the insurer. So far the biggest stress of this was the not knowing anything at all, that came from the being turned down and not told why.

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This is a very good idea. We do this religiously and only drink three bottles between us each week. Savouring and not swigging is the answer. I’m willing to bet that a lot of middle-aged men are carrying between a half and a stone’s worth of weight because of their alcohol intake. Reducing my wine consumption at the grand old age of sixty-eight certainly helped me lose over four unwanted stones.

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I’d not take that bet. I am pretty sure I’m one of those, despite my regular exercise.

I think the decanting only half a bottle and getting the other half straight into another bottle is a great idea. I think regardless of the outcome of all these tests I’ll be introducing that one.

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There’s some lovely jiggers here.

I think I need one that’s just a 25ml pour rather than one that also has 50ml, just to help remove that level of temptation. That said, even a 50ml measure if probably smaller than my usual hand pour.

While replying to you, I’m reminded of a strategy I’d already implemented. pre-mixed negroni. Two reasons. Firstly aged negroni is delicious (if a tad hipster… what?!?). Secondly it makes it much easier to have a much smaller drink and/or use it to make Americano’s. I have some lovely LSA pearlescent liqueur glasses that take a far smaller measure than I’d want to make a single negroni, but really hits the spot size wise for them too.

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At the risk of being controversial, perhaps - but with my counsellor’s hat on (kick it off my head if what I say is annoying!) - I am yet to see clear proof that propensity for heavy drinking is a biological trait we somehow ‘inherit’. In my decade of counselling people - many addicts included - I have observed that there is something about addiction as a behaviour, that is very much a learnt thing - and the manifestation of the behaviour is similar, whatever the specific crutch may be. It is almost always a tool to block out pain, to reduce intolerance to difficult living circumstance - a way to cope, in short. If one grows up seeing one’s relatives use this as a coping strategy, there is much more chance this will become a ‘script’ to absorb, however unconsciously.

I think there is some temptation to see it as a ‘disease’ in some people - and it can start to manifest as a disease if consumption is too regular and too heavy, but more often than not, it does not develop in a void.

Of course, we’re all products of the nature/nurture interaction, and addiction is a very complex field with competing narratives, so feel free to ignore the above :slight_smile:

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For an idea of what we’re battling against, my first thought was “ooooh! an excuse to open a bottle of Sauternes!”.

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Sorry forgot to add that I have only ever drunk Port in addition to still table wine and sparkling wines. Personally, in my humble opinion, I cannot for the life of me understand how spirits can do one any good. They rank just behind smoking in my book as deleterious to health.

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I would agree with you. In my ‘very’ unprofessional view, heavy consumption of alcohol (and food for that matter) often hides a more serious psychological issue.

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Thanks for being brave enough to start a thread on this subject, it’s very timely. My consumption has increased over the last year too due to an inability, for obvious reasons, to pursue the other pastimes that used to put a smile on my face. Things I’d previously taken for granted, cinema, concerts, the gym, visiting friends, etc. I just seem to have filled that void with food and wine. So far, I’ve suffered no obvious ill effects from my increased consumption but common sense dictates that might not always be the case.

I’ve been thinking long and hard recently about ways to address the issue but haven’t come up with much in the way of how to do so. Many thanks to everyone who’s posted so far for giving me a few ideas on a way forward.

Brushing up on my pigeon French in the evening, in place of wine, was one idea I had which I will pursue this year. Learning a new skill, like pasta making, might fill the additional spare time constructively too.

All the best @strawpig. Fingers crossed that any future tests taken are more positive, in a good way, and that you gain some reassurance from their results.

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I very rarely drink before 6pm, even on holiday or at weekends. For me I enjoy a glass or two of wine in the evening and try to make sure it’s with or after a meal. I can be tempted by a Cognac or malt whisky, but I also recognise their (my) potential for overdoing it and manage this by not buying spirits very often.

I am honest when I’ve had health check-ups (being 50+) and said my weekly units are much more than 14, which has never been a problem with the medical professional (to drink just a bottle and a half of red per week seems implausibly low to me). I do have a sort of brake that comes on at about half-a-bottle when I know I’ve enjoyed enough, but there are times when this is for most of the week, so my total units can be 30+

My aim is still to be able to enjoy the wines in Reserves that have 5 - 15 years left in them over the next two decades, so I am focussing on having 2 or 3 dry days per week, avoiding the habit by changing what I do on some evenings. Wine drinking for me is a very enjoyable pastime and I want it to remain this way - I’d hate to have to give it up!

Alternative drinks have their place and I am planning to investigate decaf coffee (from a good source) as an evening ‘treat’ that could take the place of wine a couple of days per week. Lower alcohol wines have a role to play, even a 12% wine has quite a bit less alcohol than a 14.5% monster.

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It’s also a simple truth I’m afraid that the more wine one buys the more ‘pressure’ to taste and drink. Different people are at different stages of their wine buying adventure (especially en primeur) but I’ve certainly found that I’ve bought too much in the past, and now feel a ‘slight’ pressure to keep up with drinking the stuff!

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This comment echoes uncannily…

I will sometimes have wine at lunchtime, if we are on holiday and it’s the main meal of the day, or at a special lunch. Likewise if I’m at a Test Match, beer or Pimms will be had in the afternoon, but not before…

I have noticed in the last three or four years that it takes less wine for me to think I’ve had enough (the half(ish) bottle brake that you describe, and I don’t do hangovers these days, haven’t had one for a good few years.

I too try for 2-3 dry days a week, and Coravin can make for one small glass on one or two other days. I don’t pretend that I adhere to 14 units a week and never have, though some weeks it will be that or less just because it is. Other weeks will be a good bit more!

Finding other things to do helps…I’ve been busy doing a couple of quasi legal documents all evening, and fly tying will start soon for the new season…alcohol doesn’t tend to mix with that…

For reasons too long and boring to go into, and ultimately not discovering anything ‘wrong’, I’ve had full MOT blood tests done for just about every major function twice in the last 10 years…much to my wife’s amazement, liver function was fine both times. Had a borderline underactive thyroid last year, but that was ok on re test and as ever put down to ‘a virus’. Last year I thought that alcohol was worsening my nose/sinus problems, but it appears that a chronic infection was lurking there, which was only sorted when I got an antibiotic for an ear infection. That was a relief as it would have spoiled the Christmas wine sampling somewhat…though I reckon that between us we had about 10 bottles over 2 weeks and that included 5 of us for Christmas Day. Plus the odd malt, but not many.

I do think that some people are more resilient than others to the effects of alcohol too. 12% alcohol helps too…I am unlikely to add to my Chateauneuf du Pape collection I think.

I did dry January twice just to prove I could, but don’t now. I prefer to go without for 2-3 days a week instead. Nor did I lose any weight doing so, I suspect that Christmas chocolates saw to that…hoping that the 10 miles a day walking will help keep that off…

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This thread also chimes with me. My wife does not drink (alcohol has never agreed with her) and our children are children, so just me that imbibes. Although the dog does look for beer traps in the Summer… I love wine but am also into brewing my own all grain beer. Not just the drinking but the planning, research and, in the case of beer, making and experimenting that floats my boat.

Most (of my) family members drink too much. I certainly drink more than the guidelines. I otherwise eat healthily and exercise daily in between zoom call meetings and the like. I would hate to have to completely abstain, especially having built up a fab collection of EP purchased wines over the past 20 years that I have barely touched (awaiting special occasions when I can share the wine with others). Have recently bought a Coravin…as otherwise it’ll be inheritance or spoilage territory.

What is working for me is 3 dry nights a week. I am now upping that to 4. Nothing Mon to Thurs inclusive, a selection of nice herbal teas for an evening too. Currently doing Dry January to reset things and to help make the transition from 3 to 4 dry nights a week. You sound very sensible and I have no doubt that you’ll navigate your way through this and find a lifestyle which works best for you. I find that I appreciate a glass of whatever all the more after several consecutive dry nights. I expect most do. Bon courage.

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Kudos to you for starting a thread and having the mindset to approach the issue sensibly and seriously.

I had liver tests a few years ago, and they came back fine, but since my main emotion at that was surprise we decided to look at our consumption. It’s still too high, but we now enforce the three nights off (working nights helps!), outside of holidays, and it’s vanishingly rare for me to drink before 1830.

I semi justify it as looking at life as a series of risk judgements. I don’t smoke, I exercise (less now, thanks pandemic), I eat somewhat healthily. But these things only offset risks like weight gain - not liver damage.

Will I drink less? Probably marginally, over the next year. Is it a crutch for a professionally and personally stressful life? Yes, definitely. In moderation, that’s not an entirely bad thing.

(Edit - as an aside, I think you’ve mentioned that you do some semi-serious weights work. You don’t use protein products, do you? The doctor who did my bloods had just been doing tests for someone who probably caused damage through over consumption of those).

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