Why alcohol could be making you age faster

Just two alcoholic drinks a day could speed up the brain’s ageing process, but how concerned should you really be about your booze consumption?

It can happen all too quickly: one minute you’re on the dancefloor perfecting the art of “the whipper snipper” (courtesy of one too many drinks) and the next, you’re waking up feeling like you’re 100 years old.

Although it is expected your bones would creak in all the wrong places after a big night out, new research from the University of Pennsylvania shows you don’t need to be in whipper-snipper territory to feel the effects of old age.

Going from drinking just one to two alcoholic beverages a day is linked to changes in the brain researchers say is the equivalent of ageing two whole years.

Of course, it isn’t just our brains that age.

Health impacts of drinking alcohol

Studies have found long-term alcohol use can affect bone density, leading to an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures (which will also heal a lot slower).

Regular alcohol use also negatively impacts the liver, which can lead to a host of health issues, from fatty liver and cirrhosis to alcoholic hepatitis, and we know drinking heavily can damage the heart, leading to potential issues such as high blood pressure and cardiomyopathy.

More factors affect ageing than alcohol

Alcohol and Drug Foundation spokeswoman Laura Bajurny says that at this stage, such research is merely an association.

“I wouldn’t say alcohol has directly caused the ageing process; there are a number of factors at play here such as a person’s level of fitness, nutrition, genetics and lifestyle,” Laura explains.

“If you have a few drinks, you’ll wake up dehydrated and you’re obviously less likely to make good choices before you go to bed.

“You’re less likely to take your make-up off and moisturise, you’re less likely to eat nutritious food and you’re less likely to drink a couple of glasses of water.”

Laura also points out that when it comes to skin, alcohol inhibits the production of vitamins A, E and D.

National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre director Professor Michael Farrell agrees studies such as that from the University of Pennsylvania should be interpreted with caution.

“There’s a lot of controversy in this area but as we get into heavier drinking, that’s where we could see health issues such as cardiovascular complications, but also an ill effect on cognition as well as trips and falls,” Prof Farrell explains.

“But interestingly, if we look at the patterns of consumption in older adults, the majority reduce their consumption, so the theory is that physiologically you feel the ill effects of drinking more and you’re more inclined to look after your body better by refraining.”

Take a balanced approach to booze

Just what is the perfect compromise between having a few drinks and keeping your body healthy?

Laura recommends taking a look at the drinking guidelines, updated last year to state drinkers should have no more than 10 standard drinks across a week and no more than four standard drinks in a single day.

“The best way to stay on top of your drinking is by literally counting the standard drinks you’ve had and deciding how many drinks you’re going to have,” she advises.

“Drink a glass or water – or two – between glasses of wine and if you’re the kind of person who tends to overindulge because you love the ritual of drinking, consider trying some of the alcohol-free products that are now available on the market.”

And of course, remember that it doesn’t matter how much you cut back on your drinking if you don’t back it up with a healthy lifestyle filled with plenty of exercise, nutritious food and plenty of water. Common sense, as always, applies.

Written by Dilvin Yasa.