By Dr Kizito Lubano
It’s no secret that alcohol consumption causes major health problems such as liver cirrhosis and is responsible for many road accidents in Kenya. But that is not all as researchers have linked alcohol to more than 60 diseases.
Here are 12 conditions linked to chronic heavy drinking.
Anaemia: Heavy drinking can cause the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells to be abnormally low leading to anaemia. Its symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, and light-headedness.
Cancer: Habitual alcohol drinking increases the risk of cancer. Scientists believe that the heightened cancer risk occurs when the body converts alcohol into acetaldehyde — a potent carcinogen. Examples of cancers linked to alcohol abuse include mouth, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), oesophagus, liver, breast, and colorectal region. The risk of cancer is higher among heavy drinkers who also use tobacco.
Cardiovascular disease: Heavy drinking, especially bingeing makes the platelets more likely to clump together into blood clots, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. In a landmark study published in 2005, Harvard University researchers found that binge drinking doubled the risk of death among people who initially survived a heart attack.
Heavy drinking can also cause cardiomyopathy — a potentially deadly condition where the heart muscles weaken and eventually fail. It may also trigger abnormal heart rhythm like atrial and ventricular fibrillation.
Cirrhosis: Many heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis — a sometimes lethal condition that causes the liver to dysfunction because of heavy scarring.
However, it’s hard to predict drinkers who will develop cirrhosis. Some heavy drinkers don’t develop liver cirrhosis while some passive consumers get it. For some unknown reason, women are more vulnerable.
Dementia: As people age, their brains shrink at an average rate of about 1.9 per cent per decade, which is normal. However, heavy drinking speeds up the shrinkage of certain key regions in the brain, resulting in memory loss and other symptoms of dementia.
Heavy drinking also interferes with our ability to plan, make judgements, solve problems and perform important functions.
Depression: Heavy drinking is often accompanied by depression. But there has been debate regarding which comes first —drinking or depression. One theory argues that depressed people turn to alcohol in a bid to ease their emotional pain. However, a large study in New Zealand showed that it was probably the other way around — that heavy drinking leads to depression.