Connections between drinking Alcohol and health


1. The components of alcohol

Alcohol is made from rice, oat, millet, sorghum etc. and fermenting material. Because of it raw materials, fermentation process, storing time etc. all a different, there are so many sorts of alcohol, its components also differ greatly. One can classify it in two major sorts, as distilled (like Kaoliang or maize spirit) and undistilled (Shao Hsing Wine, Grapewine) alcohol. Normal alcohols all contain ethanol, distilled ones just in a higher amount than undistilled ones.


2. The characteristics and functions of alcohol

In TCM alcohol is characterized as sweet-bitter and hot, toxic. If drunk in small amounts it stimulates blood circulation, reduces haematomae, vitalizes blood, drives out "wind" and dispels "cold" symptoms, transports medicaments and disperses bad influences. in the clinic approach alcohol is often used to cure "wind", "cold" and pain, neuralgia, cold and painful chest and belly.


3. The pharmaceutical functions and results of modern research

A. The influence on the central nerve system (CNS)

Ethanol caused "stimulation" is absolutely not a real excitement, it is only a slackening of the brains controlling functions. Big amounts of alcohol taken habitually make their imbiber forgetting his good behavior, modesty and self-control. Furthermore it decreases his sense if distinction, memory, concentration and reasoning. The eyesight (focusing) also often worsens.

B. Influence on the digestion system

Drinking beverages with lower ethanol levels (about 10%) raises the acidic level of the stomachs secretions, therefore ulcer patients should strictly abstain from drinking alcohol. Beverages with an ethanol level of over 20% inhibit the secretion of gastric juices and so weaken the ability to digest animal protein. If the level is over 40% the mucosa of the stomach is irritated, such leading to gastric ulcer when regularly swallowed.

Internally applied ethanol can cause sickness and vomiting because during its oxidation in the body it produces acetaldehyde (CH3-CHO) which has those toxic effects on the central nerve system.

C. Influence on the circulation system

Medium amounts of ethanol widen the smaller blood vessels of the skin, such reddening the skin color and making the imbiber feeling warmer. But it can not serve as a measure against coldness; the skin shrinks normally under low temperature (goose skin) which is its only protective reaction, but alcohol restrains this function and moreover causes a higher loss of warmth by the increased radiation, resulting from the widened blood vessels; in this situation coldness can become a mortal danger.

Medium amounts of ethanol do not obviously influence the heart, but high amounts can paralyze the nerves in the brainstem and so damage the whole blood circulation. According to research reports alcohol abuse easily causes acute and chronic intoxications and a blood-alcohol level of only 0.5‰-2‰ can cause states of drunkenness. If a level of 4‰ is reached, a lethal acute intoxication will follow.

D. The stations of the course in the body

Alcohol is rapidly absorbed in the digestion tract. In general 29% is already absorbed in the stomach and the rest follows in the small intestine. The fastest absorption happens in a completely empty stomach, spirits with low ethanol level even after then those with a high one. The absorbed ethanol will be oxygenated by 90%-98%. Every gram of it produces 7.1 Kcal. (divided into fats and carbohydrates) which are all ready to be used by the body. Adults can oxidize about 10ml/hr., by changing rapidity, independent of the alcohol level in the blood. Drinking bigger amounts of it, causes the absorption speed to be faster than the oxidation speed, such leading to an intoxication. Unoxidized ethanol can leave the body via lungs by exhaling and the kidneys; it can also be found in sweat, tears, bile, saliva in small amounts.

E. External application

Ethanol if applied on the skin causes heat radiation, although it feels cold by evaporation. Clinically it is used for patients with high fever. As an antiseptic its strongest effects are above 70%. Below 60% or higher than 80% is less effective.

F. Toxicity of alcohol

I. Acute intoxication:

In light cases with gradual excitement and vomitus no special treatment is necessary. In severe cases with unconsciousness and sopor (deep sleep) the stomach should be pumped empty and coffeine or other CNS stimulating medicaments administered. Preserving the patients body temperature is also essential.

II. Chronic intoxication:

Patients with history of chronic alcohol abuse can develop a insensibility against ethanol but only up to a certain limit. Often they can drink 3-4 times more than a normal person of their weight. The reason for this insensibility is generally considered lying in the CNS. In times of abstinence withdrawal phenomena usually don't occur.

Abuse over a long period causes chronic intoxication. Mainly by nervous influence tremors occur, the memory fails, other symptoms are similar to those of acute intoxication, but also acute gastritis, liver cirrhosis, neuritis and neuritis of the optical nerve, and often heart and kidney diseases are likely to occur as well.

Alcoholics often consider alcohol as their main nourishment and don't pay attention to what they eat. For this reason they often suffer from malnutrition and deficiency of vitamins. This all constitutes to their maladies in the area of the nervous system and the sense organs.


4. Records about alcohol in ancient scripts

As early as in the Yellow Emperors Internal Classic (Huang di nei jing) cases of utilizing alcohol as a treatment are already recorded. Another famous book the Precious Prescriptions (Qian jin yao fang) has collected receoies for medial wines curing all kinds of diseases like anti-arthralgia wine (du huo ji sheng jiu)against stiffness, anti-malaria wine (niu xi jiu) against fever, wolfs bane wine (fu zi jiu) against tympanites (drum-belly) and bowel disorders and eucomnia tonic wine (du zhong jiu) against weakness in the lower abdomen and pain in the waist.

A famous physician, Tao Si said: "When even the great sea is frozen, wine still is not, proofing its hot character and unique abilities. Pharmacists often apply it, which shows its usefulness, people sometimes drink it until stupor, which shows it toxic character. If in former times three persons encountered unhealthy, cold fog in the early morning, one will recovered, one became sick and one died. The recovered one drank wine, the sick one ate congee, and the dead one had an empty stomach. In this case the alcohol's power overcame the cold malady even better then food."


5. The benefits of drinking alcohol in proper amounts

Alcohol can not only be used as medicine, bur also to prolong life. Especially old people, when their "YANG-QI" lacks, their blood vessels became rigid, they often suffer from climatic attacks like wind, coldness, fog and cold rain. They should sip an appropriate amount of alcohol to drive out the wind, tonify the blood, lighten the body and lengthen their life. Some people say; drinking medical wine in the winter for a couple of times and stop when the spring begins will make you age-old and prevents a hundred diseases.

The books of old record as well: "In the summer get up early, eat some fried garlic and drink one, two cups of wine nourishes the blood raises the qi. In the winter taking out the alcohol early drives out the cold or even better eating some ginger with it, to overcome the bad (climatic) influences. Alcohol and medicine combined together increase the maintenance of health and support a long life. The famous Sir Zhou's 100 year wine (Zhou gong bai sui jiu) recorded in ancient medical books is said to cure deafness, recovers lost eyesight, makes the hair black and strong again, if often taken cures many diseases and prolongs life.


6. Rules of drinking alcohol

I. There are many sorts of alcohol, having all different functions. For steeped medicine white, clear alcohol is the best to use with, for higher absorption of medicine rice wine is helpful. Thick, yellow alcohol (like port) tonifies blood and helps against pain; whereas grapevine goes good with a meal, strengthens the heart, raises the spirits. The barley sprouts of beer after fermentation are very nutritive and stabilize stomach and digestion. The way and quantity of drinking differs according to the individual physique.

II. The major rules of drinking alcohol are to drink not too much, not too strong refrain from excessive boozing and from mixing different sorts.

If in the daily life people drink some small cups of weak alcohol with some good friends who came, stay and talk- there is nothing wrong with it to raise the spirits in that way, just be careful not to mix different sorts of alcohol, since people become easily drunk by that.


7. Points of attention after drinking

I. According to ancient sources the best way to rinse the mouth after drinking alcohol is with salty water, in this way preventing damage to the teeth. Especially after consumption of freshly brewed alcohol too much tea should be avoided otherwise the burden to the kidneys may be too much and they may be hurt, causing pain in the waist. Even more severe cases will gradually loose their legs strength and become finally so handicapped that they are unable to walk.

II. After brewing fresh alcohol there still may be some toxic methanol residues, hence it is better to drink aged alcohol.


8. The harms of drinking too much alcohol

The physicians of the history were all aware of the damage that can result from overdoses of alcohol and continuously kept a steady viewpoint it. They said: "A little is good, but abuse shortens the natural life span, since its toxicity is a rather strong one. In short: Alcohol abuse means short life!" Cao Cao of the Warring States period called alcohol the origin of decadence and debauchery. "Alcohol is like water: It can drown the boat- but it can also make it floating merrily on it."

In the Herbal Materia Medica (Ben cao gang mu) it also is confirmed: "A little alcohol is good for the blood circulation, raises the spirits, improves the mood and drives out depression; albeit vigorous consumption harms nerves and blood, hurts the stomach, destroys the sperm, causes bad temper and manifold diseases."

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Letzter Update: 02 May 2003