Are you a smart drinker or a stupid drinker? Or do you just avoid alcohol altogether? Sure drinking in moderation -- one or two drinks a day max -- seems to confer heart benefits, though it may also raise a woman's risk of breast cancer.
But what about if you have four or five beers, and then drive home from a football game? Not a good idea, but a significant percentage of us do it, according to a recent study. Here are five stupid mistakes many folks make drinking that could harm your health ... or land you in jail.
1. Taking a pill to prevent liver damage caused by excess alcohol. Yes, such a thing exists. It's called the smart drinking pill, and you may have heard it advertised on the radio. The pill contains milk thistle (containing the chemical silymarin) and artichoke, which purportedly have liver protective effects.
But "there's no evidence that taking silymarin or artichoke before a drinking binge will protect the liver," says Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, an expert in herbal medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center. "It's theoretically possible, but that study, to my knowledge, hasn't been done. And there's certainly no evidence for this proprietary mixture having a protective effect.
While the liver does have some ability to repair itself after injury from a toxic substance, it certainly can't be protected from repeated binge drinking onslaughts typical of alcoholics or those pledging fraternities.
2. Thinking you can't get drunk at a sporting event. Sure, you might get a designated driver when you head out to a bar but how about a football or baseball game? Some 8 percent of sports fans are legally drunk when they leave games, according to a University of Minnesota study published last month.
The results were based on breathalyzer exams given to 362 adults after 13 baseball games and three football games. Tailgaters who imbibe, to no surprise, were 14 times more likely to get sloshed than those who skipped the tailgate.
3. Popping a Tylenol to relieve that alcohol-induced headache. Mixing Tylenol with alcohol can be toxic for your liver. "I've seen liver enzymes, a marker of acute liver injury, shoot up into the hepatitis range after someone has ingested alcohol and then taken Tylenol," says Fugh-Berman. Take an aspirin or ibuprofen instead.
Give yourself about eight hours after your last drink before taking Tylenol to allow your body to fully metabolize the alcohol and clear it from your system.
4. Mixing alcohol with Red Bull. Sure, that caffeine jolt from Red Bull can make you feel less drowsy when you drink and keep you partying longer. The downside? You feel less impaired and may be more likely to get behind the wheel, not realizing how drunk you really are.
Trouble is, the breathalyzer doesn't care if you've had caffeine. That means if you get pulled over by a cop, you can still be found legally drunk even if you don't feel woozy.
In terms of health drawbacks, both caffeine and alcohol have dehydrating effects. Being dehydrated slows down your body's ability to metabolize the alcohol, which can increase the toxicity and put you at higher risk of alcohol poisoning.
5. Not counting drinks as calories. While your body does metabolize alcohol sugars slightly differently than table sugar, you can still gain a lot of weight from drinking if you add it on top of the rest of the calories you're consuming. Unfortunately, calorie counts aren't usually listed on the bottle unless you're going for a "light" version.
The typical 5-ounce glass of wine contains about 130 calories; a regular 8-ounce beer about 100 calories, and a shot of spirits about 75 calories. But where you really head into trouble is with mixed cocktails. A 6-ounce margarita, pina colada, or cosmopolitan weighs in at about 300 calories.
Check out CalorieKing to get all the info on your favorite drinks. And, yes, do count those calories as part of your overall eating plan. Treat that glass of wine like an appetizer and that pina colada as a dessert.
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