Binge drinking has a devastating effect on your health, but is it enough to make you cut back?
Excessive alcohol consumption and it’s associated anti-social behaviour makes the headlines most weekends, yet many Australians still continue to overindulge in everything from beer and wine to cocktails and alcopops. Statistics from 2010-2011 show that on average Australians aged 15 years and over consume 2.2 standard drinks each day. While this amount may sound OK, when you consider how it is consumed – via binge drinking a couple of times per week – you’ll notice it’s not healthy. Even more alarming however, is the fact that many people don’t perceive their consumption to be a problem, instead believing they are simply “social drinkers”. But, large quantities of alcohol (even if just once a week) is having a damaging effect on their health.
Alcohol has been linked to more than 60 different medical conditions including cirrhosis of the liver, inflammation of the gut and pancreas, cancers including cancer of the mouth, throat and oesophagus, breast cancer and bowel cancer, heart and circulatory problems, sleep disorders, male impotency, eye diseases, and alcohol dependence. In the short-term, alcohol effects concentration, coordination and judgment, slows response time in unexpected situations and increases the likelihood of risk-taking and aggressive behaviour. Many of us are aware of the negative impact alcohol can have on our lives, yet many of us still find it hard to cut back on our consumption or go without. Even when we’re trying to get our health back on track after the festivities over Christmas and the New Year, many still succumb in social situations feeling powerless to refuse a drink when offered. But heavy consumption of alcohol is making your health quest harder than you think with new research showing binge drinking increases insulin resistance.
According to new research published in Science Translational Medicine, binge drinking causes insulin resistance, increasing the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. In the study, rats were treated with alcohol for three consecutive days to simulate human binge drinking, while a control group received the same amount of calories from non-alcohol sources. Once the alcohol was no longer detectable in the blood, glucose metabolism was studied and the rats treated with alcohol were found to have higher concentrations of plasma insulin than the control group. In fact, the rats fed the alcohol were resistant to insulin for up to 54 hours after their last dose. Alcohol appeared to cause inflammation in the hypothalamus (an area of the brain that is important for metabolic processes), which disrupted the insulin-receptor signaling, reducing the amount of glucose that can be taken up by the cells and leading to insulin resistance. According to the researchers, “someone who regularly binge drinks even once a week, over many years, may remain in an insulin resistant state for an extended period of time, potentially years.” Insulin resistance not only increases types 2 diabetes risk but also increases fat storage and makes losing weight hard.
With the number of people with type 2 diabetes growing by the day and more and more people being diagnosed with pre-diabetes, these findings show us that when it comes to our health, alcohol is just as bad as the food we eat and our sedentary lifestyles. While you might think insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes is only a concern for middle-aged people and older, in reality it is detrimental to all of us, particularly young women. It is thought about 10 per cent of Australian women aged 27-34 years suffer from PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), while 70 per cent of PCOS cases are believed to be undiagnosed in Australia. As the majority of PCOS suffers have insulin resistance and are overweight, large quantities alcohol is something they should be avoiding in a bid to help manage their condition. But, with many young women socialising with friends over drinks, banning alcohol intake merely isolates them from their social scene. If we can empower young women to adjust their drinking habits by educating them on the best alcoholic choices and the effect if has on their health, this can help them improve their health and the way they look and feel.
Is knowing that binge drinking increases insulin resistance enough for you to cut back?