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Alcohol – A Health Malefactor
Many people consider alcohol as a social drink because its associated with parties, relaxation and adventures. Since the dawn of civilization, mankind has been aware of the benefits and harms of alcohol. Today, for some alcohol is part of an everyday complete meal. Because evidence has proven alcohol a health benefactor when consumed moderately, some people tend to consume more than their body needs, which turns it into an insidious substance. While the health benefits of alcohol are being promoted since it prevents coronary heart disease and stimulates the circulatory system when consumed moderately, those benefits should not be encouraged because not only does alcohol increase the risk factors of many internal organs, it aggravates many environmental problems.
Alcohol consumption has been part of many cultures. Before the European colonization, the native population of the territory that would eventually become the United States used to produce weak beers or other fermented. In the past, alcohol was used as a trading medium, often bartered for highly sought-after animal skins and other natural resources such as indigo. During the colonial era, however, not only was alcohol used for medicinal purposes, it was also employed for religious ceremonies. For example, until the twentieth century, alcohol was the only painkiller generally available in western civilizations. In addition, alcohol was applied to help people recover their health and to reduce the risk of certain diseases including flu. Furthermore, liquor was associated with transcendental experiences and other cultural rituals that were purported to put people in contact with supernatural forces.
The peyote ritual is a prime example of these ceremonies. Peyote ritual is a sacrament intended to put one in communication with spiritual forces to instill harmony in ones life. The ritual follows a prescribed structure: it is composed of a leader called a Roadman who makes certain rules and regulations that are to be precisely followed. Finally, the Roadman uses a variety of sensory stimuli [including] cedar smoke and sprinkled water to prevent participants from drifting off into a disconnected state of conscientiousness. In fact, the peyote ritual is often used within Indian communities for the treatment of alcohol abuse.
Moderate consumption of alcohol lowers the risks for coronary heart disease. According to the United States Department of Agriculture and Human Services, moderate consumption is defined as no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women. Ideally, a drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits. In order for the cardio-vascular system to function properly, the tissue that constitutes the bulk of the heart requires frequent supplies of oxygen containing blood, which is delivered to the heart through the arteries. Cholesterol and other fatty substances can accumulate within the coronary arteries and ultimately block the flow of blood. Normally, this blood clotting condition is known as a CHD (coronary heart disease) attack. Alcohol plays a momentous role in facilitating the circulation of blood throughout the body. For example, alcohol prevents the formation of blood clots. In addition to cholesterol and other fatty substances impeding blood circulation, clotting also occurs from chemicals released into the blood through the arterial wall. Moreover, alcohol not only suppresses fibrin, the substance that promotes clotting, it produces certain substances that preclude the clotting process. Alcohol basically prevents the risk of CHD by eliminating most of the contributing factors.
In addition, alcohol consumption might play an important role in stimulating the cardio-vascular system. For example, laboratory research has demonstrated alcohols usage as a positive factor in preventing arterial narrowing in mice. Arterial narrowing in the human body occurs in the blood concentration of certain fatty substances that influence the deposition of cholesterol within the coronary arteries. In addition, alcohol may prevent the formation of clots within already narrowed arteries. For instance, analyses of blood samples of many individuals indicate that alcohol consumption increases blood levels of anti-clotting factors and decreases the stickiness of the platelets, the specialized blood cells that clump together to form clots. Other laboratory research suggests that alcohol might help protect against reperfusion injury, which is a form of blood flow to heart muscles weakened by lack of oxygen. Alcohol can be considered something of paramount importance since it enhances the cardio-vascular system.
In contrast, alcohol consumption has detrimental effects. It impairs bone development. To begin with, alcohol has some harmful effects on the two types of bone the human skeleton encompasses: cortical bone, which is dense and thick, forms the outer layer of bone and the shafts of the long bones of the arms and legs and cancellous bone, which is a porous meshwork of thin plates [which shape the vertebral column]. Alcohol is harmful for both types of bone although the most crucial effects occur in cancellous bone. Medically speaking, the process of skeletal growth and maturation involves three general phases: growth and modeling, consolidation and remodeling. Heavy alcohol consumption interferes with the growth-and-modeling phase by stopping the longitudinal growth rate and the rate of proliferation of bone. Moreover, usage of alcoholic beverages affects parathyroid, the hormone that regulates the calcium metabolism.
Overindulgence of alcohol causes adverse effects, particularly on women. For example, alcohol might indirectly affect bone through estrogen since the deficiency of such a hormone is a major contributing factor of osteoporosis. Over the last decade, many studies have shown an obtrusive relationship between the consumption of alcohol and bone loss. Specifically, a 1997 study conducted by a group of researchers showed that women aged sixty-five and older who were heavy alcohol consumers had an increased risk of vertebral deformity compared to moderate alcohol drinkers. Another study investigated the influence of moderate alcohol consumption on ovariectomized rats to imitate menopause. Subsequently, the rats that had their ovaries removed for the experimentation exhibited a diminished bone density and volume compared to nonovariectomized rats. Because fewer osteoblasts are found in the alcohol-fed animals, this finding leads to the conclusion that moderate alcohol consumption has no absolute health benefits since it inhibits bone quality.
Heavy alcohol consumption may lead to the necessity of liver transplantation. Because the liver is the largest organ in the body, it performs a variety on tasks, namely digesting, absorbing, and processing food. Moreover, the liver stores vitamins, synthesizes cholesterol, controls blood fluidity and regulates blood-clotting mechanisms. A liver disease is one of the most serious medical consequences of long-term alcohol consumption. In 1991, 25,000 Americans died mainly from liver cirrhosis, making it the elevenths nation leading killer. Another study demonstrates approximately one half of cirrhosis deaths have been ascribed to alcohol usage. Moreover, long-term alcohol consumption is the most prevalent single cause of illness and death from liver disease in the United States since the only possible cure is a liver-transplantation, which is a risky undertaking. In addition, the liver is so fragile that a single occurrence of heavy drinking is enough to dispose fat in the liver and may lead to alcoholic hepatitis, a severe inflammation of the liver characterized by nausea, weakness, pain, loss of appetite, weight loss and fever. Finally, alcoholic cirrhosis is the most advanced form of liver injury. The disease is characterized by progressive development of scar tissue that blocks the blood vessels and distorts the livers internal structure, impairing the liver’s function. Basically, liver disease compromises the body’s ability to perform multiple functions essential to life.
Furthermore, alcohol consumption can damage the nervous system. Because alcohol is a toxic substance, it can cause alcoholic and chronic drinkers to suffer from abnormalities in their mental functioning and changes in behaviors associated with brain impairment. Alcohol consumption can have direct or indirect effects in the neurological system, which makes it even more dangerous to consume casually or regularly. Over the past twenty-five years, images of the brain created with modern neurological techniques, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computer Tormography (CT), generally show a [clear] relationship between prolonged alcohol consumption and changes in the brains structure. For example, MRI and CT results have shown brain shrinkage and brain lesions or tissue damage in some alcohol consumers.
In addition, alcohol has some adverse effects on many other neurological processes. While moderate alcohol consumption of alcohol lowers body temperature, severe intoxication in cold weather may lead to hypothermia, a massive, life-threatening decline in temperature. Moreover, alcohol usage can interfere with normal sleep patterns. Light consumption of alcohol can cause early sedation of sleepiness, awaking during the night and suppression of Rapid-Eye-Movement (REM). Psychologically speaking, REM is the dreaming state of sleep and when it occurs near wakefulness, it often produces vivid hallucinations. Another severe consequence of alcoholism is the Korsokoffs Syndrome (KS), a devastating memory disorder in which a person forgets the incidents throughout the course of his day or as they occur. Hence, because of this dramatic loss of short-term memory (also called anterograde amnesia), patients with KS virtually live in the past.
Not only is alcohol consumption detrimental for the user but for others in his path. Drunk driving is one of the nations leading killers. Over the past decade, drunk drivers have killed more than 42,000 people on a yearly basis. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, alcohol significantly increases the changes of fatal car accidents. In 1997, more than 17,000 Texans died mainly from drunk driving accidents. Another study of the same year shows more than 30 percent of driving fatalities involved alcohol consumption. Most shocking of all, teenage drivers represent less than 7 percent of the total population; however, the damage of teenage drunk drivers is more than 13 percent of motor vehicle deaths. In order to minimize driving fatalities, most states have now adopted the Zero Tolerance policy in compliance with the National Highway Systems Designation Act of 1995. Fortunately, with the new law in place, more than 17,000 lives are being saved every year.
In addition, alcohol plays a causal role in violence. Over the past forty years, many studies have shown a conspicuous relationship between alcohol consumption and violent events. According to these studies, alcohol is linked to one-half to two-thirds of homicides, in one-fourth to nearly one-half of serious assaults. In addition, alcohol consumption appears to be connected with sexual assault. For example, police reports have demonstrated 24 percent of a group of identified sexual offenders and 31 percent of their victims had been drinking. Moreover, although many people consume alcohol moderately and responsibly, studies show that a number of people drink to get drunk and therefore, their behaviors create some serious problems for people around them. For example, alcoholics and people who frequently binge drink usually have problems with friends, marriage, home-life, work and finances. Statistically speaking, 5 percent of drinkers reported that their drinking affected their finances. Furthermore, heavy drinking can have major social costs on society including lost of productivity in the workplace, family violence, which in most cases, leads to a divorce, accidental injuries and even death.
Although there are opposing viewpoints on the effects of alcohol, there is one factor on which researchers can agree: Heavy consumption of alcohol is harmful. From some researchers standpoint, moderate consumption of alcohol can also be harmful because it can interfere with the normal functioning of the liver, impede bone formation and most importantly inhibit the nervous system. Medically speaking, alcohol has no health benefits without negative externalities.
In summary, although some have found that moderate alcohol consumption has some benefits, the actual adverse impact that it has on society is far from being beneficial. In order to circumvent being affected by the deleterious chain-of-reaction that comes along drinking, society has to understand one fact: the best way to prevent something is never to start.
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