This common indulgence poison for many seniors

By: Karen Hawthorne, M.A. | General Health | Saturday, September 13, 2014 - 05:00 AM

liver, alcohol, healthNo one likes to think they can be swayed by advertizing. I’m just as smart and skeptical about product claims as the next girl, but sometimes those subliminal messages that are everywhere have us sold before we know it – hook, line and sinker.

An expensive pair of shoes or face cream is one thing, but when something is going to put your health in danger, that’s another thing altogether. It’s one I’m certainly not happy about.

So when I read about a new study on alcohol consumption and how alcohol ads in magazines are encouraging us to drink more when we should be drinking “responsibly,” it’s cause for concern. Not only because alcohol impairs your judgment and motor skills, and it can alienate friends and family when you’ve had a few too many, but because alcohol is so much a part of our social culture.

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Having a party? Bring on the booze and have a few before you arrive, just to loosen up. Out for dinner? Wine is a must, of course. Celebrating a special occasion? Let’s get the Champagne flowing! For seniors, years and years of social drinking is slow poison.

It’s just part of what we do – and most of us are inclined to drink it down. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that just over half of Americans 18 and older, 51.3 percent, are regular drinkers. Of note, the legal drinking age is 21, so that’s not a good sign. The 51.3 percent had at least 12 drinks in the past year.

One drink won’t kill you, that’s for sure, or my parents wouldn’t have let me have a taste of wine at the dinner table before I was even 10-years-old. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans define moderate alcohol consumption as having up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Before you start thinking you’re in the clear if you like to have a drink daily after 5, this definition is referring to the amount consumed on any single day and is not intended as an average over several days. Drinking seven days a week is overdoing it.

Yes, red wine has its advantages when it comes to your heart, but drinking is not something you want to make a regular habit much like a daily walk or flossing your teeth. There are just too many risks.

The truth is alcohol can be a danger to your health.

You wouldn’t know it, judging by the glossy magazine ads, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. They found that the “drink responsibly” messages in alcohol ads promote the products, not public health.

Federal regulations don’t require responsibility statements in the ads. The alcohol industry, though, has voluntary codes to emphasize responsibility in marketing promotion, but offers no clear definition for responsible drinking.

In their analysis, Johns Hopkins’s researchers found that 88 percent of the responsibility statements only served to reinforce the promotion of the alcohol product, and many contradicted the scenes shown in the ads.

One example they noted was a vodka ad that displayed a photo of an open pour of alcohol with a line that implied the drinker had been up partying all hours of the night. In smaller lettering, the same ad advised the reader to enjoy the product responsibly.

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“Enjoy in moderation,” doesn’t seem to fit, now does it?

David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, calls these messages “deceptive and misleading.” They are. For the most part, when you see people in the ads holding fancy cocktails or fine crystal tumblers with amber liquid, they’re attractive, young things who appear to be living the good life, working hard and playing even harder.

Can we blame the ad men who’ve designed the ad or the product executives who’ve approved them? We could, but we need to take it all with a grain of salt (and I don’t mean a salted rim for that margarita, either).

The alcohol industry is big business, much like Big Tobacco lobbying and lining the pockets of politicians. Regulators tread carefully when it comes to the sale of our most popular poisons.

The researchers suggested a better option for promoting responsible drinking in advertising would be to replace or augment unregulated messages with prominently placed, tested warning messages. Yes, we need to see that black and dying human liver close up with something like “Alcohol kills. Excessive drinking can put you at risk of liver disease.”

Warning messages on tobacco product containers and in advertising do affect consumption of potentially dangerous products, researchers say, so we should apply that knowledge to alcohol ads and provide real warnings about the negative effects of excessive alcohol use.

I agree. High-risk drinking is linked to motor vehicle accidents, family problems, crime and violence, and serious health concerns like liver disease.

Other concerns aside, our liver gets enough abuse these days! It’s the organ that changes food and drink into energy and nutrients for your body to use. It’s also the dumping ground for all the bad stuff your body takes in, like pollutants, chemicals and alcohol. It’s the liver’s job to break down these harmful substances so they can be removed from your body.

If you drink more alcohol than your liver can process, you’re setting yourself up for liver damage. Over time, you could end up with liver disease and find yourself on a waiting list for a liver transplant.

\Complications from liver disease after years of heavy drinking can be serious, including the build-up of fluid in the abdomen, bleeding from veins in the esophagus or stomach, enlarged spleen, high blood pressure in the liver, brain disorders and coma, kidney failure and liver cancer.

How does that tall, cold beer look to you now? Just as appealing?

When it comes to your own alcohol consumption, take is seriously – and don’t be swayed by those glossy print magazine ads.

Karen Hawthorne is managing editor at Health eTalk and Karen has worked for the National Post, Postmedia News, CBC Radio Vancouver, the Edmonton Journal, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record and the Cobourg Daily Star, reporting on health news and lifestyle trends for over 15 years.

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