Day 57: Monday
I started my week by having coffee with my cousin, David. Dave is a doctor, which is useful when you need to find out stuff about your body. It’s also useful that he’s related to me, rather than me being his patient, so he can give me an honest, judgement free view of the world.
By “the world”, I mean what alcohol does to your body. And by “your body”, I mean mine.
We started off by talking about my elevated liver readings. This set the tone for the remainder of our conversation. Essentially, the elevated readings I’ve been getting are a sign of a fatty liver. But alcohol is only one cause of a fatty liver, not necessarily THE cause.
The reason you stop drinking for a while when you have such problematic blood results is that this helps to eliminate alcohol from the consideration set. You can then establish whether alcohol, excess weight, or any of a multitude of other factors is causing the damage.
Oh, and he made me feel much better about my 150 GGT reading. Apparently people with cirrhosis or hepatitis have readings in the thousands. So mine is positively moderate by comparison! But still not normal.
He also debunked another preconception I had about the relationship between alcohol tolerance and gender. I had always thought (and been led to believe) that men have a greater tolerance to alcohol than women because they are generally larger units. Not so.
When we drink, our liver produces an enzyme to break down the toxins we’ve ingested. How much enzyme is produced depends on how often and how much we drink. Therefore, size doesn’t come into it. It’s all about how your liver performs.
Essentially at the heart of all of this is that everyone’s different. Alcohol affects every one differently, and the longer term impacts are different for everyone. Which is not to say we should be complacent, but that a one size fits all approach doesn’t necessarily work.
When he’s talking to his patients about drinking guidelines he doesn’t discriminate by gender. He recommends:
- No more than 3 standard drinks per day, with 2 alcohol free days per week for good health.
- To prevent physical or psychological danger to yourself, no more than 6 standard drinks in one session
Probably the most telling was when I asked him how much he drinks. He doesn’t drink at all during the week, and when he does, it’s usually no more than 1-2 drinks.
He’s the third doctor I’ve spoken to who says much the same thing.
You have to wonder, if doctors aren’t drinking, doesn’t that tell us that it’s not especially good for us?
Day 58: Tuesday
Another day, another story on social media touting the benefits of drinking.
Recent bylines include:
“BEST NEWS EVER: Drinking champagne keeps your mind sharp: Science”
“Is alcohol good for you? An industry backed study seeks answers”
(New York Times)
And those are just the ones I managed to find again in 10 minutes while writing this post.
How on earth are you supposed to stay off the booze when every other story tells you that the stuff is good for you?!
Day 60: Thursday
Holy heck, 60 days. That’s a big milestone! If I were drinking that would be cause for a glass of champagne! Except I’m not, so I can’t. So I looked longingly at the bottle of champagne in the fridge, and opened a bottle of Kombucha instead.
Day 61: Friday
So this is weird.
I’ve started having dreams about going out and not drinking. Being at parties and not drinking. Being at bars and not drinking. Having people feeling sorry for me because I’m not drinking. Full scale anxiety dreams about not drinking.
I don’t feel anxious at all otherwise.
Usually my anxiety dreams stretch to walking into my old boss (complete bully) who I’ve mentally merged with Donald Trump, or your whole scale natural disaster scenarios. Generally tsunamis or tornadoes (something about things beginning with T?)
But drinking? Clearly my sub conscious knows something I don’t.
Day 62: Saturday
We had dinner with some friends tonight. Aside from the All Blacks losing their first game in I don’t even know how long, it was a really nice night.
And interesting, as these evenings so often are. We got talking about what I’m doing to congratulations all round (yay me!). Then the conversation turned to the drinking habits (or lack thereof) of others in the room….
Me: “it’s been nearly 10 weeks”
Friend 1: “I didn’t drink for 21 years”
Friend 2: “I haven’t had anything to drink for the last month, this is the first drink I’ve had”
Friend 3: “I took 6 months off last year”
Friend 4: “I’m taking 2 months off twice a year. Oh, and fasting 2 days a week”
As my 10 week effort withers like a joke without a punchline.
What I’ve learned this week: What does our liver do?
It’s probably worth going back to basics here. I know it’s taken nine posts, but I figure that the liver is a pretty important part of the overall alcohol equation. And I’ve never really taken the time to understand exactly what role it plays in my body.
So, I consulted the US National Library of Medicine. And these are the things you need to know (and that I needed to know):
- The liver is one of the largest organs in our bodies, weighing around 1.4kg
- It’s located in the right upper abdomen, under the diaphragm
- It converts nutrients into substances our bodies need, stores said substances, then supplies it to cells when required.
- It takes up toxic substances and neutralises them or expels them from the body. This enables it to remove alcohol from the blood stream.
- Along with vitamin K, it produces proteins that are important in blood clotting.
- The liver is important in metabolic functions. It breaks down fat and converts it to energy.
- It maintains the level of glucose in our blood stream, storing excess sugar as glycogen then releasing it as needed.
Seems like it might be kind of important.