The Truth About Drinking In Your 50s & Beyond

The Truth About Drinking In Your 50s & Beyond

Fond of a drink each evening? It might be time to cut back – just a little. From how alcohol can trigger IBS to the toll drinking takes on your sleep and skin, four experts delved deeper for us…

Dr Johanna Ward, GP & co-founder of Zenii Skincare, says…

The Liver Slows Down With Age

“All our organs deteriorate in function with age and the liver is no exception. The liver is one of the hardest-working organs and one of the most important detoxification organs. Modern living, with its heavy intake of processed food, medicine, chemicals, alcohol and heavy metals, places a significant toxic load on the liver. Over the years, this constant exposure to toxins causes low-grade inflammation and damage to the liver. The liver is an organ with great regenerative capacity but, as we age, this regeneration becomes impaired and there are many studies that show the liver gets less effective with age.”

Hangovers Do Get Worse

“Hangovers are a combination of dehydration, toxic overload, histamine sensitivity, congener sensitivity, electrolyte imbalance and low blood sugar. For the vast majority of people, hangovers get worse with age and alcohol tolerance decreases. When we drink alcohol, it turns into a toxic metabolite called acetaldehyde, which is more toxic than ethanol itself.”

Regular Drinking Will Take Its Toll On Your Skin

“Alcohol is high in sugar and causes a process of accelerated glycation in the skin. Glycation is a process where sugar molecules attach themselves to proteins in the skin, such as collagen and elastin, and damages them. It’s an irreversible process of skin damage that causes stiffening of collagen fibres and loss of elasticity. This causes wrinkles, sagging and loss of radiance. Alcohol also affects sleep, which in turn can affect skin. Even though a glass of wine makes you feel sleepy, it reduces the quality of your sleep and affects sleep duration. It also impairs REM sleep – the most restorative part of the sleep cycle.” 

It Could Increase Your Risk of Disease

“At the end of the day, there is no safe level of alcohol. It has no nutritional value, contains lots of sugar and empty calories, and turns into a toxic metabolite that requires considerable intervention from your detoxification organs to render it safe. Around 4,000 breast cancer cases per year in the UK are estimated to be due to alcohol, according to Cancer Research UK. And in terms of bowel cancer, moderate to heavy alcohol consumption is associated with a 1.2-1.5-fold increase in cancers of the colon. Given that the risk of cancer increases with age regardless, it is wise to curb your alcohol intake if you want to stay in good health.”

It’s Worth Taking Precautions

“Always eat a meal before drinking so your stomach lining is less likely to be irritated by the alcohol and, if you are histamine sensitive, then taking an anti-histamine before drinking can help. A nutritional expert can help you test your histamine levels – ask them to do a histamine prick test or measure your levels of diamine oxidase (DAO). I also recommend taking 600-1500mg of NAC (a potent antioxidant) and glutathione before drinking. NAC is used to treat paracetamol overdoses in A&E – it’s a powerful protector for the liver, and glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant. These are taken as supplements and are easy to find in the UK. They tend to come as separate supplements but they can be combined."

Sophie Medlin, leading consultant dietitian and founder of City Dietitians, says…

It Could Trigger IBS

“Almost everyone notices their gut becomes more sensitive with age. Alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach, increases levels of stomach acid and delays gastric emptying which can make IBS feel much worse. It can also increase the rate of transit of food into the colon, meaning any foods you notice that cause mild irritation suddenly seem like much more of an irritant. Over time, excess drinking can also harm your gut microbiome – in clinic, I regularly see patients with chronic IBS who develop it following a period of heavy drinking.”

It’s Worth Having A Few Days Off

“When we get to our 50s, the body is less able to compensate for our poor lifestyle choices like it can do in our 20s and 30s. This is because all our organs are working less efficiently – we are more affected by sleep deprivation and dehydration and are less able to clear the alcohol from our system as effectively. The science says we should not exceed 14 units per week, which is equivalent to six pints of average strength beer, or ten small glasses of lower-alcohol wine. This should be spread over at least three days. Anyone exceeding this needs to think about cutting down. The truth is that no scientist or healthcare professional would ever recommend drinking alcohol now, and if it came on the market as a new drug, it would be banned straight away.”

Red Wine May Have Some Health Benefits

“Red wine contains powerful antioxidants, which may make it a slightly better choice if you do want a drink. However, as soon as you exceed a couple of glasses, the damage to the body outweighs any benefits.”

Your GP Can Check Your Liver 

“Sadly, we often don’t know about harm to our liver until it’s too late. The physical symptoms of liver disease include yellowing of the eyes and skin, abdominal pain and swelling, itching skin, swollen ankles, diarrhoea, chronic fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite and a tendency to bruise easily. Your GP can test your liver function.”

The good news is that many of the effects of alcohol are reversible if you reduce the amount you drink, even as you age.

Dr Naveen Puri, associate clinical director at Bupa Health Clinics, says…

Try To Stick To The Guidelines

“Alcohol can damage nearly every part of the body and your risk increases as you age. Plus, the older you are, the longer alcohol can stay in your body as it’s processed more slowly than usual. The good news is that many of the effects of alcohol are reversible if you reduce the amount you drink, even as you age. Having some alcohol-free days each week is one of the simplest ways to reduce your overall intake. Try to stick to 14 units of alcohol per week and spread your units evenly over at least three days of the week. If you regularly have a large glass of wine, opt for a smaller glass and drink water between alcoholic drinks.”

Keep An Eye Out For The Warning Signs

“Abdominal pain and tenderness, a dry mouth and fatigue are all signs of alcoholic liver disease. Feeling constantly tired, regularly experiencing hangovers, sweating a lot and having regular headaches are all signs you’re drinking too much. Also watch out for psychological changes such as feeling anxious, experiencing mood swings and intensely craving alcohol.”

A Month Without Alcohol Is A Good Starting Point

“There’s no set timeframe for when you’ll start seeing results if you do decide to cut back – genes, your lifestyle and how much you drink all factor into the equation. However, if you go alcohol-free for a month, it’s likely you’ll wake up feeling more refreshed, your skin may feel more hydrated and you may lose weight. Removing alcohol for a month can also improve liver function – studies suggest that if your liver isn’t too badly affected by alcohol, it can recover fully within four to eight weeks. To give your liver a helping hand, eat plenty of fish, pulses and brown rice, as these can help, too.”

Looking to cut down? Here, Ailsa Frank, alcohol reduction hypnotherapist, shares her top tips…

Mix Up Your Routine: Change your habits around the time you’d usually pour a drink. Try going for a walk, having a bath or drink sparkling water instead of wine. Enjoying life as you go is key to feeling more in control. Lots of small changes will help you break the drinking cycle as an old routine can contain triggers that make you automatically reach for a drink.
Change Your Conversation: Make a point of saying to yourself ‘I go to bed sober every night’, ‘I prefer not to drink’ and ‘I am happy with a soft drink’ instead of speaking and thinking negatively. 
Change Your Mindset: Visualise your life as a non-drinker and see yourself living a sober life. In your mind, visualise your week going well with you relaxed and in control without alcohol. You are more likely to achieve this in reality by seeing it in your mind. 
Have A Plan: If you are at home, make a plan for every evening that doesn’t involve alcohol – it could be a face mask on a Monday, cooking a new recipe on a Tuesday or watching a new film on a Wednesday. Plan to be the driver when you go out with friends and consider meeting friends for a breakfast or walk to avoid a drinking setting. If you do really want a drink, start with a soft drink and stick to one alcoholic drink and leave early by making an excuse to get home. You may have spent many years creating your drinking habits so you now need to invest time into new plans to re-programme your habits.
Shrink The Alcohol Down: Visualise a red triangle in your mind and imagine putting all the drinks you’ve ever had into this triangle. Then, shrink the triangle down in your mind until it’s so small it’s the size of a speck of dust. Repeat this exercise until you feel better. By taking control of your thoughts, you’ll break the habit of craving alcohol and will be more in control of your thoughts.
DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.

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