Understanding Alcohol and Stress
Excessive drinking can have detrimental effects on your health but when taken in moderation, alcohol can help you to relax and socialise with your friends.
Alcohol has long been appreciated for its pleasurable effects on the body and has been used for centuries in religious and social rituals around the world. The uses for alcohol vary as much as the cultures in which it is an accepted ingredient of life. It’s now accepted that moderate drinking has some health benefits – as long as you stay within the recommended maximum amounts (new NHS guidelines state 14 units per week for both women and men). Increasing your alcohol intake even slightly can result in negative effects.
Alcohols beneficial effects may be party due to the fact that drinkers often have an active social life and therefore a network of friends on whom they can rely for support. If you’re feeling stressed and want to drown your sorrows with a drink, remember that it’s much better to phone a friend and chat. Invite a friend around and have a relaxing time with a glass of wine.
How Alcohol can Lower Stress and Tension
Once alcohol has been absorbed into the bloodstream, it has an immediate effect on the central nervous system. Alcohol can be a great stress-reliever if you’re shy or unsure of yourself. It can affect memory in the short term, allowing you to literally forget your problems.
Alcohol does this by affecting the function of chemicals within the body such as serotonin and dopamine, which enhances feelings of pleasure and reduce stress and anxiety. An excess can vastly reduce inhibitions and coordination.
Alcohol and Physical Stress
Moderate alcohol consumption can ease physical stress on your heart, lungs and brain, helping to counteract other harmful substances and the effects of ageing.
Reduce Stress on your Heart
A stressful lifestyle can lead to high blood pressure and heart conditions. But it’s been shown that people who have one or two drinks a day are less likely to have a heart attack than those who do not drink at all.
One or two glasses of red wine a day in particular can reduce stress on your heart and decrease the likelihood of coronary heart disease. This is thought to be due to the antioxidant resveratrol that is found in grapes, which lowers the levels of ‘bad’ LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol and elevates ‘good’ HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol, preventing your arteries from becoming clogged with fat. Red wines have more resveratrol than white wine, with the highest concentrations being found in pinot noir. Non-alcoholic grape juice works just as well, however!
Phytochemicals also found in red wine, offer an added safeguard by protecting arterial walls against damage from the arterial plaque that can occur in old age.
Flavinoids, compounds found in dark bitters such as stout (for example Guinness); prevent blood platelets from clumping and forming the clots that can lead to life-threatening heart attacks and strokes.
Reduce Stress on your Brain
It’s thought that moderate alcohol consumption can also help to counteract senile dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as it expands the arteries and aids blood flow to the brain – therefore improving the amount of oxygen the brain receives. This also protects moderate drinkers against vascular dementia, caused by minor strokes that result from blockages in the arteries to the brain.
A quick pint may also be a good excuse for elderly people – especially those living alone – to frequent their local pub and experience the social life it offers. Social interaction and mental stimulation, such as that offered by pub quizzes and good conversation, preserve the brain power and extend overall longevity. This may also help to explain why moderate drinkers appear to stay more healthy in old age.
Tolerance to alcohol decreases with age, however, so the elderly should be extra careful to stay within safe limits.
Your Stressed Lungs
Resveratrol can be good for your lungs, as well as your heart, as it reduces lung inflammation and can help fight chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The chemical appears to reduce production of interleukin 8, which causes lung inflammation – by 94% in smokers and 88% in people suffering from non-smoking related lung diseases
Two Glasses a Day
Some researchers have even suggested that drinking two glasses of red wine can off-set the harmful effects that one cigarette has on your arteries. Research has found that certain diseases occur less often among cultures where a glass of wine with meals is customary, such as in France, Spain or Italy.