When enjoyed in moderation, alcohol can form part of a healthy lifestyle that includes good diet and exercise. On the other hand, excessive drinking can have harmful effects on your health. Many Australians enjoy having a drink, but not a lot of people realise how alcohol can affect their physical health.
Alcohol and your bowel
Alcohol may cause bowel irritation and may trigger symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Excessive drinking can increase the risk of colon cancer.
Alcohol and your brain
Alcohol slows down the central nervous system which, in turn, impacts almost all of the body’s cells and systems. Alcohol misuse may cause alcohol-related brain impairment or brain injury.
Alcohol and your breasts
Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer among women. Studies indicate a relationship between alcohol consumption and the risk of developing breast cancer.
Of course, drinking alcohol does not mean you will automatically get breast cancer, but it does mean your risk of developing it will be increased. How much you drink over your lifetime is what increases the risk, therefore, you should stick to the Australian Government’s national drinking guidelines.
The guidelines also advise that for women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby.
Alcohol and your heart
Long-term and excessive drinking can increase your risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, weakening of the heart muscle and heart failure.
Alcohol and your immune system
Alcohol can suppress the immune system, particularly in long-term or excessive drinkers, making you susceptible to illness.
Alcohol and your kidneys
Alcohol has a diuretic effect which means it tends to make you pass more urine. Drinking to excess can cause a substantial increase in urine flow and lead to excessive losses of body fluid and marked dehydration.
Alcohol and your liver
Regularly drinking to excess may result in a fatty liver which can affect this organ’s important function.
Continued excessive drinking may result in the liver becoming inflamed, causing alcoholic hepatitis or permanent liver scarring (cirrhosis) and subsequent liver cancer.
Alcohol and your pancreas
Continuous and excessive drinking can lead to pancreatitis. This can lead to permanent pancreatic damage and increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Alcohol and your reproductive system (males)
Drinking alcohol can decrease sex drive and performance. Alcohol can also reduce the amount of testosterone in the blood with heavy consumption of alcohol increasing risk of male fertility problems.
Alcohol and your reproductive system (females)
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle and ovulation. This may make it difficult to conceive a healthy baby.
To prevent harm from alcohol to their unborn child, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol. For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby.
Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This is a term used to describe a range of conditions that result from brain damage caused by alcohol exposure before birth. Other effects of alcohol exposure during pregnancy can include miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth rate.
Alcohol and your skin
Alcohol dehydrates your body including skin – our largest organ. Over time, drinking heavily can have other, more permanent and detrimental effects on your skin.
Alcohol and your stomach
Alcohol may irritate the stomach lining which can bring on nausea, vomiting and sometimes diarrhoea. Long-term, excessive drinking has been associated with increased risk of upper gastrointestinal cancer including stomach cancer.
Through the evidence-based Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) provide Australians with evidence-based advice on the health effects of drinking alcohol, helping people to make informed decisions about how much alcohol they drink, if they choose to drink. Read about the guidelines here.