Men's Health Australia


“Heavy drinkers prematurely age their brains by 5-10 years”

Take a cold, hard look at the past 10 years. If, a bit like legendary Hollywood drinkers Russell Crowe or Colin Farrell, you’ve spent much of the last decade caning it, then your body is due some attention. A sustained barrage of live-for-the-moment hedonism can often lead to the equivalent volume of pain later in life. Unless you’re the bastard son of Keith Richards, that is. First, determine the level of damage you’ve accrued, then learn how to undo the effects and skip the long-term consequences for your health. This round’s on us.

The Damage

Hangovers are misleading. They make us think our punishment is finished 24 hours (okay, 48) after we call time on our boozing. But the real damage is insidious.

“The more you drink, the more your blood pressure goes up,” says Dr Paul Wallace, chief medical advisor for Drinkaware. “This dramatically raises your chances of a heart attack later in life.” Call it one for the road.

Then there’s the liquid kilojoules. Weight gain as a result of sustained drinking increases your risk of cardiomyopathy, where the heart gets so weak it struggles to pump blood around your body.

Your liver is also eroded by drink. Excess alcohol leads to an accumulation of fat that raises your risk of liver disease.

Finally, your head takes a beating too. “Heavy drinkers prematurely age their brains by 5-10 years,” says Dr Jonathan Chick, an expert in addiction research. But the best thing about a life lived like Oliver Reed’s buck’s night is that the damage is reversible if you catch it by middle age.

The Clean-Up

Let’s work off that bar-tab. First, the booze. Rather than suddenly turning teetotal, aim to have two to three days alcohol-free per week, in line with advice from the Royal College of Physicians. Count the money you save: based on three schooners, three days a week, you’ll gain $288 per month.

At work, fuel your body with four cups of coffee. This was shown to offset liver damage from alcohol by 80 per cent in the Archives of Internal Medicine.Then hit the bike: cycling just 30km a week cuts your heart disease risk in half, says the British Medical Association, helping to pay back the glass-by-glass damage to your ticker.

Back this effect up in the kitchen, with vitamin B-rich veg such as broccoli or bok choy. “People with a high fruit and veg intake have low homocysteine levels,” says dietitian Dale Rees. This amino acid is a good indicator of cardiovascular risk.

Try taking milk thistle tablets. “The key factor is silymarin, a flavonoid which is shown to protect your liver,” says Rees. Combine this supplement with seaweed extract: the University of South Carolina found it lowers your risk of metabolic syndrome – another result of years spent at the bar.

The Results

1. Sleep more soundly

Reducing the amount you drink improves your breathing during sleep for better quality rest.

University of Michigan

2. Heal your grey matter

Research shows that when you cut your alcohol intake after years of heavy drinking, your brain tissue begins to repair itself.

Stanford University

3. Beat disease

By reducing your blood pressure and the accumulation of fat on internal organs, you can lower the long-term risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. You’ll also more than halve your risk of liver cirrhosis.

University of Oxford

4. Burn off belly fat

By trading the binges for regular, modest tipples (say one drink a day, three or four times a week) you can dramatically reduce your body-fat percentage.

American Journal of Epidemiology

5. Lift your libido

Binge drinking lowers testosterone in your testes. Cut it out and your sex drive will rocket.

Alcohol and Alcoholism