Here’s why you can’t drink 5 glasses of wine — even if your parents did
By Dr. Mary James, ND
If you meet up with friends for a drink, it can often turn into two or three — or
more. What’s the big deal, right?
It’s time to start paying attention, though. A recent study shows that cirrhosis-related
deaths in the United States have increased by 65% from 1999 to 2016. And the group
most affected? Those between the ages of 25 to 34. Yes, that’s Millennials — those
healthy young people with powerful young livers. How can that be? The answers have
lessons for all of us, whatever our age, and however much — or little — we drink.
What caused this spike in liver disease?
The study — from the eminent British Medical Journal — reveals that the jump in
liver disease between ages 25 and 34 is connected to increased alcohol consumption.
But why would young adults — with their supposedly super-healthy livers — be more
susceptible to disease? Here are some potential reasons:
1. Higher alcohol content. Cocktails and craft beers
are now all the rage. And some of these drinks contain higher alcohol content than
in their parents’ generation. For example, the average alcohol content for craft
beer is 5.9%, but some specialty beers go up to 12% or higher. Commercial brands
(light and regular) typically only have an alcohol content between 4% and 5%, which
means having two potent craft beers is sometimes like having three or four.
2. Higher obesity rates. Since the 1980s, the rates
of obesity have been on the rise, partly due to increases in blood sugar. With obesity,
the liver has to break down more fat, and inflammation and scar tissue can result.
This type of liver disease can form without any alcohol involved whatsoever (“non-alcoholic
fatty liver disease”) and is also on the rise among young people. A vicious cycle
can ensue: with more pre-existing scar tissue, there is less capacity for the liver
to detoxify alcohol.
3. More toxins. We live in an increasingly toxic
world. With pesticides on our produce, prescription drugs in our pockets and endocrine
disruptors from plastics, our livers have to filter damaging toxins out of our blood
on an hourly basis. When alcohol is layered on top of this already heavy load, more
damage is done to the liver more quickly.
4. The economic downturn. The 2008 recession left
many Millennials without jobs and added stress to their lives. This economic hardship
may have led to more frequent binge drinking and could explain why the number of
cases of liver disease jumped significantly in 2009.
These factors may affect Millennials disproportionately, but they can affect anyone.
So the Millennials may be leading the way to an outcome none of us wants. But there
is good news, at least as far as our livers are concerned.
Regeneration: your liver’s superpower
More than any other organ in the body, your liver has great capacity to regenerate.
In fact, even if more than half of the liver is damaged due to alcohol, it can completely
This means if you stop overwhelming it, it can regrow healthy tissue. But liver
damage can happen silently — with no symptoms at all — until cirrhosis develops
and treatment is necessary. And the more scar tissue that’s formed, the more difficult
it is to reestablish a healthy liver. So it’s a good idea to start supporting your
liver right now.
There are many ways to lower the stress on your liver, including:
- Save alcohol for special occasions; and drink alcohol-free beer or wine, or even
tea or fizzy water instead
- Get help for alcohol abuse if you can’t reduce your drinking on your own
- Cut down on unhealthy fat, refined carbohydrates, sugars and toxins in your diet
- Include liver-supporting herbs and foods like artichokes, avocados,
milk thistle extract, dandelion root, turmeric and peppermint in your diet.
Doing a healthy detox
or cleanse a couple times per year is also a great way to support your liver.