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February 9, 2010

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Remember your liver

CHINA is getting ready for the Spring Festival bash, and that means lots of drinking, day after day, night after night, toast after toast. Not to drink is considered very impolite.

Men are the big drinkers. You rarely see women drink seriously. It's still considered very unladylike to drink too much and lose one's inhibitions.

Still, drinking is a big deal. It is said that all the wine Chinese consume throughout the year could fill five West Lakes in Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang Province. Traditionally Chinese like wine, but distilled spirits are also popular.

Doctors warn, yet again, that too much drinking over a long period is bad for the liver, the heart, stomach, intestines, the brain and for overall health.

People seek intoxication but that euphoria is actually a light toxic reaction, according to Dr Zhou Ronggen, associate chief physician of the Traditional Chinese Medicine section of the Internal Medicine Department of Yueyang Hospital.

"Though alcohol may help warm us up in winter, the negative effects usually far outweigh the benefits," Dr Zhou says.

The liver is the chief organ for metabolizing alcohol, producing the enzyme alcohol oxidase, but excessive alcohol cannot be processed and will damage other organs.

Since the liver is the only organ producing alcohol oxidase, excessive drinking over time will burden the liver and impair its function.

The damage to organs is in direct proportion to the amount of pure alcohol intake. In other words, the higher the alcohol concentration, the more damage.

"If a person drinks about 50g alcohol every day, it is very likely that pathological changes will occur in their liver in 10 years," says Dr Zhou.

Excessive drinking impairs many essential liver functions (including blood clotting) and leads to fatty liver, hepatitis and eventually cirrhosis. Cancer can develop.

Reducing alcohol intake reduces liver damage. Stopping may allow the liver to regenerate. The "safe" amount of alcohol depends on how much alcohol oxidase his or her liver can produce.

Usually, women are more vulnerable to alcohol than men.

The Chinese Society of Hepatology suggests that men should not ingest more than 20g of alcohol per day while women should limit intake to under 10g.

Ten grams usually amounts to 284ml beer, 118ml wine, 78ml yellow wine and 25ml distilled spirit (50 proof).

It's said there are benefits to drinking a small amount of red wine every day. Dr Zhou suggests drinking less than 50ml.

Flavonoids in grapes are help decrease blood pressure and relieve vascular problems. But alcohol plays the opposite role. The key is not to drink too much.

People with liver problems, high blood pressure and cardiac problems should avoid alcohol.

Having some food before drinking can help protect the digestive, but this cannot diminish damage to the live.

"There's no substitute for alcohol oxidase that is only produced in liver," says Dr Zhou. "Remember to protect your only antidote producer."


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