Our long history with alcohol is woven into the fabric of many of our cultural traditions and norms. It's a passion for some, a way to manage (or forget) stress and a standard expectation at many celebrations and events. So when it comes to a discussion of health and alcohol, it is a subject that can be fraught with emotion.
In the middle of a global pandemic, the question of alcohol and health becomes even more important. I am hearing about increased consumption over the last several months and this is mirrored by what I have seen in the media. Many of us are using alcohol to help us cope and that might not be supporting our best health.
Whether low to moderate consumption of alcohol is beneficial for cardiovascular health and if the benefit will outweigh potential harms is still a question that has not been adequately answered (some experts argue that there is no safe amount). We know that there are some very real risks of alcohol consumption including increased risk of seven major types of cancer. Alcohol can negatively impact our hormones, our sleep, our mood, our blood sugar and our weight. And, I hear from many patients that they just feel better when they drink less.
So, if I may offer my educated opinion, it's that while it might not be realistic for some to give up alcohol completely, there are lots of other ways that we know to optimize our cardiovascular health. On the whole, drinking less will help improve our health. As we enter the year 2021, maybe this is the perfect time to set that goal?!
With all of that said, I'd like to offer some strategies to help you consume less alcohol this year.
If you are reaching for alcohol as a way to deal with anxiety or the stresses of the day, make a list of things that you might try before you open that bottle of wine. Here are some examples:
- Go for an evening walk.
- Try a guided meditation or deep breathing exercise. There are tons books, apps and tools online to help you with this.
- Call a friend/supportive family member.
- Have a relaxing bath.
- Make a cup of calming herbal tea – some of my favourites calming herbs include chamomile, lemon balm, lavender and skullcap.
- Speak with your naturopathic doctor about other ways to naturally take the edge off your anxiety. For example, L-Theanine is an amino acid found in tea that I sometimes suggest as a supplement to people for this purpose.
New ways to celebrate?
Can you think of new ways to celebrate and enjoys others company (*while still following health authority guidelines!) that doesn't include eating and drinking? For example, for several years now I have organized a nature walk for my family and friends to celebrate my birthday. It's a nice way to connect and talk with people while at the same time enjoying exercise and nature!
Or, if you do drink, go for quality over quantity and savour it to the max.
Consider opting for organic, especially wine. Grapes have long been listed on the Environmental Working Groups list of produce with the most pesticides. Perhaps spending more on a really special drink will help you to conserve and drink less overall? Think about the perfect way to enjoy it. Rather than a mindless drink as you make dinner or do something else maybe you'll sit in your favourite chair and really take that moment to enjoy the experience fully?
Here's to good health in 2021 and beyond!