Monday, August 20, 2007

How Much is Too Much


AlcoholAlcohol in itself is tasteless. It is the chemistry of ‘congeners’ that comes along for the ride in a bottle of booze, giving a drink its colour, flavour and character. It stems from various sources like aging of the liquor, fermentation or other sprit-making processes.

Vodka, for instance, comes closest to being simply alcohol mixed with water and therefore has the least of congeners, followed by gin, which uses herbs and spices to give the liquid its unique flavour.

Scotch has four times as many of these chemicals as gin, brandy, rum and malts have about six times as many. Tiny amounts of alcohol are produced by bacteria in our body all the time. When alcohol enters our gullet, it reacts with an enzyme in the stomach and liver that converts the alcohol to acetaldehyde. While alcohol makes you drunk, the accumulation of acetaldehyde gives you a hangover. Your body can burn off about a half ounce of pure alcohol (about the amount in a single dose) in an hour.

It is simple mathematics that demonstrates that a 12 ounce beer (which is 5% alcohol) contains about a half ounce of alcohol; the same is true for a five ounce glass of wine (which is 12% alcohol) or a one and a half ounce shot of 80 proof whisky (which is 40% alcohol). About 20-30% of the alcohol is absorbed into the blood through the stomach and small intestine.

The alcohol in our bloodstream travels to various parts of the body. When it reaches the brain it replaces water molecules and thus slows down brain efficiency. Overdose of alcohol shuts down the central nervous system to the point where our brain stops sending out signals reminding you to breathe!!

One starts feeling hungry when alcohol breaks down our body’s molecular energy stores and one feels an urge to urinate more frequently because it shuts down production of hormone that helps our body reabsorb water.

Finally, it is quantity, not quality, that results in a hangover. Congeners merely enhance the pain, but the real culprit is alcohol and its chemical reaction. All alcoholic drinks are high in calories and dismally low in protein. Despite centuries of claims to the contrary, there is no cure for the whisky blues. The Germans eat bananas with red meat for breakfast, the Chinese drink tea brewed from spinach. The Swiss suck a can of oxygen while the Russians recommend more of Vodka!!

Remember that there is no such things as a bad drink, just bad drinkers. Studies suggest that a little bit of drinking - one or two pegs a day - might be beneficial to your health. It possibly reduces the incidence of heart disease and further, moderate drinkers rarely catch cold.

¤ Caffine

Coffee, the world’s most popular drink, gets the kick from caffeine that occurs naturally in some 60 types of plants - coffee, tea and cocoa are the best known. Caffeine is blamed for many health problems ranging from addiction and heart disease to low birth weight in babies. A person who drinks five or more cups of coffee daily often faces the risk of getting a heart disease.

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and affects chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters. Consequently, it makes you feel more alert and enhances concentration and performance. It also speeds up your metabolism, making you burn more calories, but the increase is so small it won’t make you lose weight. Excess caffeine (more than 5/6 cups or 12 cans of cola) can cause shakiness and it is best advised to remain within the four cup limit. John Hopkin Medical School in Washington advises limiting coffee to not more than two cups per day.

Caffeine has been held responsible for raising both cholesterol and blood pressure. Other studies hold it responsible for breast cancer and miscarriage. Caffeine is further believed to increase the rate at which our bodies get rid of calcium and it was thought that it could increase the risk of bone shrinkage. However, the Scottish Heart Health Study discounts any link between coffee, caffeine and heart diseases.

Changing to decaffeinated coffee does not automatically solve the problems linked with coffee. It should be ensured that decaffeination has been achieved by the process of water extraction because when chemicals are used in the process of solvent extraction, some residues of chemicals are left behind.

¤ Exercise

There are a number of reasons why healthy exercises cross the line into unhealthy behaviour. often the goal is to lose weight, while others may be inclined to think that if moderate exercise is so obviously good for your body, then heavy exercise must be twice as good!

However, the fact remains that even if you don’t feel it immediately, repeated stress and prolonged repetitive movements without rest are sure to result in injury to your muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints, and this will only worsen with repeated activity.

Moderate, balanced and regular exercise, such as brisk walking, provides numerous benefits including higher energy levels, lower risk of ischemic stroke, toning up of body and improved posture. It can help to lower the risk of heart disease, build a strong immune system and increase bone density. It is also a valuable way of distressing after a hard day’s work.

The problem is that too much exercise will have the opposite effect. A minimum of 20 minutes exercise, three times a week (this is a minimum) is ideal. often people undertake exercise to achieve healthy benefits with the aim of enjoying life more, but an obsessive exercise routine leaves no time for relaxation or rewards.

Long distance runners who log 60 miles a week are more likely to suffer from degenerative hip diseases compared to other fit athletes who just run seven miles a week.

In most of the exercise programmes ‘rocovery’ is the missing element where people train and train but overlook the idea that resting and recovering is what makes people fitter. What is considered to be "too much" exercise will vary from person to person. If you are not sure you may contact a professional trainer to help devise a fitness programme to suit your fitness level.

¤ Fibre

Fibre rich foods are welcome for our digestive system but unfortunately some people follow the maxim that if little is good, a lot will be much better. It is hard to overdose on dietary fibre, since you’d tend to start feeling very full before you achieve the danger zone. Possibly six bowls of fibre rich cereal in one sitting will be enough to demonstrate the bad stomach ache from all those fermented carbohydrates in your gut.

Even fibre rich medications used in weight loss have been reported to swell up before they reach the stomach, causing a blockage. Dietary fibre is essential to ward off constipation but all precaution is required while prescribing concentrated fibre.

¤ Noise

Loud noise including music wears down the delicate hair cells in the inner ear that translate sound into nerve impulses. The amount of damage and whether it is permanent or temporary depends on the loudness and duration of exposure.

Sitting in front of a wall of amplifiers at a rock concert for two hours is enough to do some permanent damage to your hearing. One warning sign that you’re being exposed to noise that is too loud is a ringing tone in your ear. Your ears are trying to tell you that they’ve been bruised. The longer or more intense the exposure , the longer the ear rings after the noise concludes. Another indication is the fullness in the ears after excessive noise exposure.

¤ Salt

Millions of lives could be saved it we ate less salt because there would be fewer heart attacks and strokes. This was the finding of specialists at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London after they analysed data from 78 studies involving 47,000 people around the world.

Salt in our daily life comes from various sources. It comes naturally in a good number of foods like meat, fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Food manufacturers add salt to most canned and bottled products.

The specialists say that if people over 50 were to cut their intake of salt by three grams a day - that’s about half a teaspoon - heart disease would be reduced by a sixth and strokes by a fifth. Our body requires 500 milligrams of salt (one sixth of a teaspoon). Although some people may swear they can’t enjoy a meal unless they’ve reached for the salt first, it doesn’t take long to get used to food without it. You won’t find many simpler ways of improving your chances of staying healthy so it makes sense to cut back.

¤ Sleep

SleepThe most common beliefs, the sort of things we encounter in medical books, are that we need to sleep for eight, that it is harmful to our health to go without sleep and that we need sleep to restore our bodies. Not so, suggests Dr Jim Horne from Loughborough University.

The body needs only six hours’ sleep and it doesn’t become ill if we have even less. Food and rest are far more important to it than sleep. However, sleeping for more than ten hours every night may shorten your life. Mortality rates for long sleepers were around two times greater than the rate for people who slept 7 to 8 hours.

¤ Sex

Cases of death during sex have been reported but they are very few and far between. Something not to worry about. The ’sex wrecks you’ attitude existed in the ancient folklores of India, China etc and even Victorian physicians subscribed to this hypothesis. Players and athletes believe that sex drains them and their output in the field is greatly diminished.

During the 1982 World Cup Peru lost to Poland and the reason attributed was sex before the game. However, sex is treated differently by individuals. For some it enhances their performance and they climb to snatch the top prize while for others it lets them down to the drains of defeat. A number of world class runners, sportsmen and other players have walked off successfully in their respective sports after sexual indulgence.

There are even legends attached to sportsmen performing sex between the game. A male marathon runner at the New York Road Runners Club is said to have quit halfway through the race, entered a motel with his girlfriend, had sex and then finished the marathon.

Sex is possibly the ideal anti-anxiety drug and the benefits are tremendous. A study at the University of Rome claims that around 100 calories per hour go up in an average sexual intercourse. Ejaculation in itself is more demanding and can be ticked at 400 calories per hour, but since the largest ejaculation on record is 15 seconds, you can count on losing not more than a calorie or two there.

¤ Sugar

There isn’t the only reason we adore sweets. When experiencing sweetness, the body releases endorphins, which are natural ‘feel good’ chemicals. But it is easy to confuse a craving for sugar with a yen for fat. If you’re in the mood for jelly, you probably want sugar. If you’re dying for chocolate, you may want fat too. According to one report, a sugar-fat combination increases the level of several brain chemicals, including serotonin, which is associated with relaxation.

Many people report that high sugar intake causes children to ‘climb the wall’. A few pediatricians do agree but they are not supported by well-controlled studies. The American Food and Drug Administration believes that sugar does not cause high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer or malnutrition. New studies have even cleared sugar as the culprit behind hyperactivity in children.

Eating too much sugar may lead to obesity. Excess sugar is also reported to stiffen collagen and therefore less sugar might help slow aging in people of normal weight. Although each gram of sugar contains only 4 calories (compared to 9 for fat), people are consuming huge amounts of sweeteners in the form of cakes and cookies. Sugars and starches, known scientifically as simple and complex carbohydrates, may trigger weight gain in people with a condition called insulin resistance. All obese individuals and as many as 25 per cent of the rest of the population would be affected. Certain people produce too much insulin after eating sugar or starch. Insulin breaks down carbohydrates and stores them as fat; overproducing insulin may lead to obesity.

If you think honey, maple or corn syrup are healthy alternatives to sugar, think again. These stand-ins contain only trace amounts of vitamins and minerals. Molasses deliver slightly more calcium, iron, and B vitamins.

If you are healthy, eating well, exercising and don’t have any weight problem, it’s okay to enjoy sugar and starches. But it you are overweight, you need to watch your calorie intake, stay active and take it easy on fat free cake.

¤ Sun

Until yesterday we were supposed to keep out of the sun but as more and more scientific data are pouring in we need to befriend the sun. After all, nothing will grow without the sun, even people are reported to become depressed and moody and many get vitaminosis (lack of vitamins essential to health). The sun is needed to stimulate vitamin D production in the skin, which in turn influences calcium metabolism and so on.

Most present day cosmetics make us look younger and are set to erase our wrinkles. Most wrinkles are a result of damage caused by free radicals, unstable chemicals that form when the skin is exposed to sun or pollution. They are sensitizing our skin to the point where we are supposed to keep out of the sun. However, the sun turns on our metabolism as well. Establish your relationship with the sun but simply don’t over do it.

Prefer the early morning hours when the air still possesses the touch of freshness and is sprinkled with negative ions. Avoid the hot noon sun when the rays are shorter and hotter. A minimum of 20 minutes direct exposure to the sun daily is recommended by doctors.

Applying suntan lotion is no protection from sun exposure. One can get sun burned through clothing. Loosely woven fabrics offer minimal protection while tight denims and canvas are ideal defence. Sunburn can be further aggravated by certain drugs and medications like tetracycline, antibiotics, tranquilizers and diuretics. Sun damage is responsible for most of what we think of as aging. Skin damage builds up invisibly for years before you actually see it.

The eyes are most vulnerable to sun damage. The skin on your eyelids is subject to skin cancer. Unprotected eyes lose up to 50 per cent of their night vision after a day spent in the sun. This is especially true if you’ve been on the water or snow. Studies have shown that long-term exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun can harm the nose cartilage and in some cases make the tip droop.

¤ Vitamins

VitaminsTrade in vitamins, food supplements and minerals is recording an all time high. People are taking mega doses of vitamins. It all started when Nobel Laureate Dr Lingus Pauling established that vitamin C prevented cold. It is believed that water soluble vitamins are not stored in your body and they may do some good. We have been told that the only two reasons for taking vitamins are if you are not eating well and you know you need supplements, and pregnancy. But how a third reason has surfaced; vitamins are claiming to produce better job performance, better sex lives, less hair loss, glowing skin and weight loss. and who would not like to get them all in a pill?

The late Lingus Pauling advised taking 3,200 milligrams of VitaminC a day or more to ward off everything from cancer to heart disease. Yet the experts recommend that a daily intake of just 60 mg a day (the amount in four ounces of orange juice) will keep one healthy. However, biochemists from the National Institute of Health suggest the intake of 200 mg a day. Higher doses are simply excreted through the urine.

Excess vitamin A or their concentration (50,000 international units) can certainly kill humans. When the Arctic explorers killed polar bears and consumed their livers they developed the same symptoms as these animals that live on fish and have a concentrate of vitamin A.

¤ Water

Water is one of those things that we’ve come to take for granted. It is only when we find a dry tap that we realise just how precious it is. We all know that water is not only safe but essential, yet pure water kills if 10 litres are consumed in one go. A normal man needs six to eight glasses a day. If we drink ten times the required average in a day, it could potentially overwhelm the kidney’s ability to excrete the liquid, resulting in intoxication. Symptoms include nausea, light-headedness and even seizures. It can also prove fatal in extreme cases.

Thanks to the poor quality of water supplied by the municipalities of most towns and cities, the demand for bottled mineral water has gone up quite considerably in recent years. But how safe is this water ? What is the guarantee that after paying so much, the consumer is really getting potable mineral water?

Food sold in the market is duly monitored by the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, but water is not considered a food and therefore does not come under the ambit of the PFAA. In fact the very name "mineral water" was originally given to water obtained from a natural spring, as the water had a high mineral content.

Today, it is municipal water which is bottled after blending it with minerals. It is important to set the maximum limits for minerals because even though these minerals are essential for the human body, they can have an adverse effect if consumed beyond a certain limit.

So stay within limits with even the good things in life.

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