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Oral Health Tips

Some foods are good for teeth, but some are bad.
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Alcohol

Remember, breathing is vital. If you snore, you are likely to be a risk of sleep apnoea. Alcohol makes this risk much higher.

Eliminate alcohol in the evening. Alcohol depresses your breathing reflexes and significantly worsens sleep apnoea because it depresses your brain and makes the muscle of your throat floppy so it blocks against your tongue.

Apnoea sufferers should be very careful about excessive drunkenness. It’s possible that if you depress your reflexes enough, you might not wake up at all. The same thing goes for sleeping pills, drugs, or anything that might affect your breathing.

If you snore or suffer from disturbed sleep CLICK HERE for information on Sleep Studies

The use of alcohol, sleeping tablets and tranquillisers prior to sleep help to relax the upper airway muscles and make OSA (obstructive sleep apnoea) worse. Alcohol can also reduce the brain’s response to an apnoea which in turn leads to longer and more severe apnoeas in people who would otherwise only have mild OSA and who would otherwise only snore.

Ethyl alcohol is odourless, colourless and tasteless and also poisonous, tolerable only in small amounts. Alcoholic drinks are produced in strengths of around five per cent (beer), 12 per cent (wine), 18 per cent (fortified wines like port or sherry) and 40 per cent (spirits like vodka, bourbon and gin).

When swallowed, alcohol passes from the stomach to the digestive tract where it enters the bloodstream within minutes of consumption. Most (90 per cent) is absorbed within an hour. It travels to every part of the body, especially the brain, liver and kidneys. Because women generally have smaller body weights and smaller livers than men, a given amount of alcohol produces a higher blood alcohol level in females. For the same reasons, adolescents and elderly people tend to have higher blood alcohol levels than young and middle-aged adults, after consuming a given amount of alcohol.

Once in the bloodstream, alcohol begins to be broken down by the liver at the rate of about one standard drink an hour. The liver breaks down the alcohol into by-products which are then excreted via the kidneys. The rate at which alcohol is broken down can’t be accelerated by coffee, cold showers or anything else.

Defined scientifically, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant which acts as a tranquilliser and mild anaesthetic. No-one knows exactly how alcohol exerts its effects but it’s thought to cause the release of naturally-occurring pain relievers in the body called opioids. Generally speaking, the more a person drinks, the greater the effect, although this differs from person to person, depending on:

  • how much is drunk
  • how quickly it’s drunk
  • a person’s size and fat content (the bigger you are, and the more fat you carry, the more alcohol it takes to achieve the same degree of intoxication).

In small amounts, it produces a warm ‘inner glow’. Many people feel more at ease socially after a drink or two. However in larger amounts, it causes slowed mental functions, loss of memory, poor judgment, dizziness, poor co-ordination, slurring of speech, blurred vision, vomiting, and eventually unconsciousness and even death.

Hangovers

Anyone who drinks alcohol regularly knows what a hangover is – that combination of thirst, headache, nausea, stomach upset, fatigue, and dizziness the morning after a bout of excessive drinking. It’s caused by:

  • Dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic – that is, it increases urine output, depleting the body of fluid and making you thirsty.
  • Drinking a lot, and drinking quickly. The more you drink and the faster you drink it, the higher the peak levels of alcohol in the blood, and the greater the toxic effect on the brain (and the irritant effect on the stomach).
  • Drinking on an empty stomach. The more food you have in the stomach – or more correctly, the small intestine, where most absorption of alcohol takes place – the slower the absorption of alcohol.
  • Bubbly drinks. The gas in fizzy drinks increases the rate of absorption of alcohol, especially on an empty stomach. (That’s why champagne acts so quickly.
  • Mixing drinks. Drinking beer after champagne, or red wine after white wine for example, also increases the chances of a hangover.
  • Congeners. These are chemical by-products of fermentation that are thought to contribute to the headache and the dizziness of a hangover. Red wine, brandy, and bourbon have more congeners than other drinks, and so produce the worst hangovers. Gin and vodka contain few congeners and are least likely to cause hangovers.
  • Acetaldehyde. This is a toxic by-product of alcohol metabolism, made in the liver and eventually eliminated via the kidneys. When the acetaldehyde level builds up after heavy drinking, it has a toxic effect on body tissues including the brain.

Avoiding a hangover

You can avoid a hangover. Yes, it takes moral fibre, a steely determination and the ability to shrug off the jeers and taunts of your fellow workers. But in the morning it will be you who has the last laugh as you bounce out of bed with a spring in your step. So, when imbibing:

  • Drink on a full stomach.
  • Combine it with food.
  • Don’t drink champagne on an empty stomach when you arrive at a party.
  • Drink slowly. Choose your drinks for their flavour not their ‘kick’.
  • Set consumption limits and stick to them.
  • Dilute your drinks – add soda water, water or tonic to strong drinks, and/or have a glass of water or non-alcoholic juice between alcoholic drinks.
  • If you’re a beer drinker, drink light beer.
  • Don’t mix drinks, or drink a lot of drinks that have cogeners (such as red wine, brandy or bourbon).
  • Drink three large glasses of water before going to bed.

If you’re reading this the day after the party, and its too late – you already have a hangover – try these treatments:

  • Drink lots of fluids, preferably water.
  • Have a decent meal but avoid fatty food.
  • If you have a headache, take aspirin or paracetamol.

One treatment that is often effective is physical exercise. So go for a swim, a run or a workout at the gym. This releases endorphins – naturally occurring opiates – which remove the ‘furry head’ feeling of a hangover. It may be the last thing you feel like doing, but it might just restore your brain for the rest of the day.

Heavy drinking

In small amounts, alcohol – especially red wine – is thought to reduce the risk of a heart attack in people over the age of 40. It’s thought the benefit might come from antioxidants in grapes and other fruit used to make the drinks. However, antioxidants can be obtained from many fruits and vegetables, including red grape juice.

One thing is certain:- alcohol is a poison that damages a wide range of different organs, and is a significant factor in many dangerous and fatal accidents. In Australia it’s thought to be directly responsible for about 4,000 deaths and 50,000 hospital admissions a year, clocking up an annual health bill of about $8 billion.

Here are some of the major conditions alcohol can cause. The list, as you will see, is long.

  • Alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver.
  • Alcohol in large amounts irritates and inflames liver cells. It may cause acute (sudden) hepatitis, or chronic (ongoing) inflammation and cirrhosis of the liver, which can end in liver failure and death.
  • Neurological damage (that is, to the brain and nerves). Heavy drinking can reduce memory, thinking abilities and physical co-ordination. It can cause several brain syndromes such as Korsakoff’s syndrome (a loss of short term memory), ataxia (damage to the cerebellum, the brain’s centre for balance and co-ordination), and Wernicke’s encephalopathy (a disorder caused by a severe deficiency of vitamin B1 causing poor coordination, confusion and problems with vision). Alcohol also causes damage to nerves in the arms and legs, resulting in numbness, weakness, paralysis and leg ulcers.
  • Injury such as road trauma, violence, falls, accidental death (including drowning), and suicide. Young adults have the highest injury risk.
  • Cancers. Alcohol is known to cause cancers of the lips, mouth, throat, larynx, oesophagus, and possibly liver. It may also play a role in causing breast and bowel cancers.
  • Damage to the gastrointestinal tract. Alcohol can cause gastritis (inflammation in the lining of the stomach) and pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas, an organ in the abdomen that makes enzymes for digestion). Pancreatitis is a very serious condition.
  • Heart disease. Heavy alcohol use can cause cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, which may result in dangerous heart rhythms and heart failure.

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