E-Mail Edition Volume 10 Number 2
Published Spring, 2013
Published by Piccadilly Books, Ltd., www.piccadillybooks.com.
Bruce Fife, N.D., Publisher, www.coconutresearchcenter.org
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What is Liquid Coconut Oil?
I saw a new product at our health food store called "Liquid Coconut Oil." What is this? Is it OK to eat? Does it have the same health benefits as virgin coconut oil?
Liquid coconut oil is a product that has a lower melting point than ordinary coconut oil so that it remains liquid at cold temperatures.
Perhaps the biggest concern or complaint I hear about coconut oil is its character of transforming from a liquid to a solid and vice versa depending on the room temperature. Many first time coconut oil users have expressed alarm after buying a bottle of the liquefied oil at the store only to bring it home and find, after a few days, it has transformed into a hard white substance. What happened? They wonder. Is it contaminated? Did it go bad? Is it really coconut oil? Is it safe to eat? Perhaps it was adulterated with hydrogenated oil or some other fat? These are all questions they may ask. I know, I've been asked them all.
I assure them that there is nothing wrong with the oil. This is a natural characteristic of coconut oil due to its relatively high melting point. At temperatures below 76 degrees F (25 C), coconut oil "freezes" into a hard white solid. At temperatures above this, it melts into a clear liquid. It is no different from when water transforms into ice and then melts back into water. The health properties of the oil do not change.
Hardened coconut oil melts quickly when put in a hot pan for cooking or when put into a warm mouth or rubbed on the skin. Body temperature quickly melts it. However, coconut oil doesn't always go well when combined with cold foods. Try pouring it over a cold salad or mixing it in a cold drink. When it hits the cold food it immediately hardens.
There are times when it would be nice for the oil to remain liquid regardless of the temperature. Now it is possible to do this. The product is called" liquid" or "winterized" coconut oil. Liquid coconut oil remains in a liquid state down to about 38 degrees F (3 C) so you can refrigerate it without it solidifying. It can be used as a base for salad dressings, mayonnaise, and dips; mixed into chilled drinks; or added in smoothies and other cold foods and drinks. It can also be put into a soap dispenser or spray bottle for topical use.
If you are familiar with regular coconut oil, you may be mystified by this peculiar liquid coconut oil. How can coconut oil be winterized so that it does not solidify until it is nearly at freezing temperatures? Is this really coconut oil? Has it been chemically altered or adulterated? Have other oils been added?
Liquid coconut oil is very similar to MCT oil, which also remains liquid at refrigerator temperatures. To help you understand the differences, let's look at the fatty acid content of these oils, see Table 1.
*The C in the parentheses indicates carbon atoms. The number after the C and before the colon indicates the number of carbon atoms in the fatty acid chain. The number after the colon indicates the number of double bonds; a 0 after the colon indicates the fatty acid is saturated, 1 indicates it's monounsaturated, 2 indicates it's polyunsaturated.
Fatty acids can be separated into three distinct groups based on their degree of hydrogen saturation: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Another way to group fatty acids is by the number of carbon atoms in the backbone (chain) of the fat molecules: short chain, medium chain, and long chain. A fatty acid, therefore, can be a saturated medium chain fatty acid or a polyunsaturated long chain fatty acid, and so forth.
The medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil are caproic, caprylic, capric, and lauric acids. All of these medium chain fatty acids are saturated. Myristic, palmitic, stearic, and arachidic acids are long chain saturated fatty acids. Oleic acid is a long chain monounsaturated fatty acid and the primary fatty acid found in olive oil. Linoleic acid is a long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid and the primary fatty acid found in most vegetable oils (corn, soybean, sunflower, etc.)
The physical properties of each fatty acid, including the melting points, are determined by the degree of saturation and the length of the carbon chain. The more saturated the fatty acid is, the higher the melting point. For example, monounsaturated fatty acids have a higher melting point than polyunsaturated fatty acids, and saturated fatty acids have a higher melting point than either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fatty acids. This is why fats rich in saturated fatty acids like coconut oil, palm oil, butter, and beef tallow can be solid at room temperature.
Also, the longer the length of the carbon chain is, the higher the melting point. The 12 carbon chain lauric acid has a lower melting point than the 18 carbon stearic acid.
All fats and oils are composed of a combination of various fatty acids. The melting point of any particular fat is determined by the overall fatty acid composition of the fat. Coconut oil, rich in saturated fatty acids, melts at 76 degrees F (24 C) and soybean oil, rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, melts at 3 degrees F (-16 C), see Table 2.
By changing the types of fatty acids in an oil, engineers can alter the melting point of that oil. MCT oil starts as either coconut oil or palm kernel oil. It is made by a chemical process that separates and distills out the individual fatty acids leaving only caprylic and capric acids.
Liquid coconut oil is derived from coconut oil using a vacuum distillation process. Coconut oil is put into a vacuum chamber at room temperature. Each of the fatty acids has a different boiling point. In the vacuum, atmospheric pressure is reduced, lowering the boiling point. Each fatty acid is then evaporated off at different pressures and collected in a separate container. As the pressure is reduced in the vacuum, the smaller, lighter fatty acids like caprylic and capric acids will boil off before the longer saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, like stearic and oleic acids.
The result is a product that closely resembles MCT oil in composition and character, yet has gone through less manipulation and alteration. In my opinion, the less processing a food undergoes, the better.
The melting point of MCT oil is 25 degrees F (-4 C) compared to 38 degrees F (3 C) for liquid coconut oil. Both of these oils would remain liquid at refrigerator temperatures. This is the major advantage liquid coconut oil has over regular coconut oil.
Like MCT oil, liquid coconut oil is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. If you don't like the mild coconut flavor and aroma of virgin coconut oil, you may prefer liquid coconut oil. However, the more refined, expeller pressed coconut oil is also odorless and tasteless.
The smoking point for coconut oil is 360 degrees F (180 C) and for MCT oil it is 320 degrees F (160 C). The smoking point for liquid coconut oil is approximately 330 degrees F (165 C). Care must be taken when using liquid coconut oil for cooking. It should only be used for cooking at low to medium-low temperatures, thus limiting its use in cooking. It's better for cooking than MCT oil but nowhere near as good as coconut oil.
The biggest complaint about MCT oil is that eating too much (2 tbs or more) at any one time can cause nausea, cramping, and vomiting. Although eating too much coconut oil can also cause some discomfort, it is much better tolerated and you can get used to it over time. Liquid coconut oil having a similar fatty acid profile as MCT oil is likely to give people a little more trouble than coconut oil.
The thing that distinguishes coconut oil from most all other fats and oils in the human diet is the high percentage of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) it contains. It is these MCFAs that give coconut oil most of its amazing health and nutritional benefits. One of the perceived advantages of MCT oil and liquid coconut oil over regular coconut oil is the higher percentage of medium chain fatty acids. Coconut oil consists of 62.5 percent MCFAs, while liquid coconut oil has 93 percent, and MCT oil 100 percent.
While 100 percent MCFAs may sound impressive, there is a drawback. MCT oil contains only two MCFAs (caprylic and capric acids). It has no lauric acid, the most important of the fatty acids. Lauric acid is the most potent antimicrobial fatty acid and provides the greatest degree of protection against infection and disease. Similarly, liquid coconut oil consists of over 81 percent of the same two MCFAs as MCT oil, with only 11.5 percent lauric acid and very little caproic and myristic acids, which also have antimicrobial properties.
Coconut oil has a full complement of medium chain fatty acids and is composed of nearly 50 percent lauric acid. Coconut oil contains 10 fatty acids in all, which work synergistically to give coconut oil its remarkable healing properties.
When a source of MCFAs is consumed, a portion of them are automatically converted into ketones that supply the body and brain with a form of high-potency energy. MCT oil increases blood ketones levels higher than coconut oil, but only lasts about three hours, whereas when coconut oil is consumed, blood ketone levels remain elevated for about eight hours. Liquid coconut oil would probably raise ketone levels higher than coconut oil and last longer than MCT oil, which may be advantageous in some situations.
Liquid coconut oil has its advantages. It is similar to MCT oil but is less processed and less expensive and a little more like coconut oil because it does contain some lauric acid. It is a good alternative to coconut oil for combinination with cold foods. Coconut oil is superior for cooking and for protection against infections and illness and is still my first choice for daily use in the kitchen and for health care, but liquid coconut oil is definitely a welcome addition. ■
Coconut Oil: A New Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Dry Drunk Syndrome
Roger Hershline, PhD, MD knows the dangers of alcohol abuse firsthand. As a young successful medical professional with a heavy workload, excessive stress drove him to drink as a means of release and relaxation. In time, Roger's chronic drinking habit led to full-blown alcohol addiction.
His personal life suffered. As with many alcoholics whose marriage and family lives are destroyed, Roger's life was in shambles. Intoxication and the resulting behavior often lead to fights, jail, and trips to rehabilitation centers. He tried many times to quit, but couldn't. Feelings of anxiety, depression, and a sense of impending doom when he was sober were relieved only by drinking. His desire to escape led to his use of other drugs.
He finally ended up in federal prison, resulting in a loss of everything dear to him, including his desire to live. Because of his confinement, he was forced into sobriety, but he still suffered from the effects of alcohol addiction. Symptoms of depression, anxiety, irritability, irrational behavior, poor decisions, and cravings for liquor hounded him daily. These symptoms, known as "dry drunk syndrome," are the reason why most alcoholics do not remain sober. Only from alcohol do they gain relief or achieve feelings of normality. These symptoms can persist indefinitely to some degree after alcohol consumption completely ceases. Even if former alcoholics remain sober, they can wind up living miserable lives and usually make everyone else around them miserable too. Dry drunk syndrome is the downfall of many a recovering alcoholic, even years after they quit drinking. Succumbing to just one drink can drive them into an uncontrollable drinking binge and further alcohol abuse.
There is more to alcoholism than simply a lack of self control or the desire for intoxication. Most alcoholics do not like the consequences of getting drunk and the devastating effects it has on their lives, yet they feel miserable without alcohol. These feelings are real. It is a mental sickness, a personality disorder that causes them to abandon rational judgment and even the sincere desire to stay sober.
Although sober, Roger struggled with the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome. He had already lost everything due to his drinking
Dry drunk syndrome is the downfall of many a
problem and didn't want to repeat past mistakes, so he began to search for a solution to ease his symptoms. His background in medicine led him to investigate alcohol's effect on brain metabolism. He learned how chronic alcohol consumption can interfere with brain glucose metabolism, which can have a pronounced effect on brain function. He also investigated the importance of nutrition on brain health. His journey to find the best foods to nourish and heal the alcoholic brain led him to coconut oil and to the book, The Coconut Oil Miracle. He started taking coconut oil daily and within four days experienced the same sense of relief from symptoms that he got from alcohol—without the intoxication or the hangover. He experienced a sense of well-being and the ability to think clearly and rationally while sober. Over the next few weeks, he continued with the coconut oil and achieved a complete resolution of the irritability, melancholy, and mental anguish that had plagued him while sober. His dry drunk symptoms and his cravings for alcohol were gone! Nothing else he had ever experienced in his many years with alcohol treatment had come close to matching the effects of using coconut oil.
He enthusiastically began sharing this knowledge with other recovering alcoholics who were struggling with dry drunk syndrome. They, too, experienced the same feelings of well-being and clear thinking that had eluded them during treatment. Roger is now trying to spread the word about this new drug-free treatment for alcohol addiction. Although critics may claim that this treatment is based solely on antidotal evidence, there is good science to back it up.
Alcohol's Damaging Effects on the Brain
Altered speech, hazy thinking, blurred vision, slowed reaction time, impaired memory: alcohol clearly has a pronounced effect on the brain. Some of these effects are detectable after only one or two drinks then disappear shortly after drinking stops. However, a person who drinks heavily over a long period of time may have brain defects that persist well after he or she becomes sober.
Alcohol is highly soluble in water and when it is consumed, it is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, it circulates throughout the body where it can reach every cell in the body. The simple molecular structure of alcohol allows it to pass easily across the blood-brain barrier where it can come into direct contact with brain cells. Here it triggers oxidative stress and inflammation that can seriously affect brain function.1 If more than one or two drinks are consumed it can lead to the symptoms of intoxication.
If heavy drinking becomes chronic, then oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain become chronic. Chronic inflammation can lead to a disruption in normal glucose metabolism.2 Brain cells become insulin resistant and, therefore, cannot absorb glucose effectively.3 The primary source of fuel for the brain is glucose. However, glucose cannot enter the cells without the aid of the hormone insulin. Insulin unlocks the doorway on the cell membrane that allows glucose to enter. Insulin is absolutely essential. Your brain can be saturated with glucose, but if you don't have insulin, the cells cannot get access to the glucose. If cells cannot get enough glucose to supply their energy needs, the cells degenerate and die. Without glucose, brain cells literally starve to death. This is what happens in the brain of an alcoholic. The damage caused by long term alcoholism can be just as extensive as that caused by Alzheimer's.
The damage caused by long term alcoholism can be just as
extensive as that caused by Alzheimer's.
Brain scans using positron emission tomography (PET) on living subjects have shown that intoxication decreases metabolic activity in certain areas of the brain controlling reason, memory, speech, coordination, balance, and vision.4-6 The decreased metabolism indicates a decrease in glucose uptake and conversion into energy. In detoxified alcoholics this decreased metabolism can persist even when the subject is sober.7 Reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption does not reverse alcohol-induced insulin resistance.8 It is insulin resistance and decreased metabolism in the brain that leads to the symptoms associated with dry drunk syndrome.
When alcohol circulates in the bloodstream it eventually passes through the liver, where it is broken down into acetaldehyde—a highly toxic substance that is the primary cause of alcohol-induced liver damage. Acetaldehyde is further broken down into acetic acid, which is a normal metabolite in humans and is nontoxic. About 90 percent of the alcohol consumed is eventually converted into acetic acid. The remaining 10 percent of the alcohol that is not metabolized is excreted in sweat, urine, and expelled in the person's breath. The latter provides the basis for the breathalyzer test used in law enforcement and the reason you can smell alcohol in a person's breath after they have been drinking. The liver has a limited capacity for detoxification and can only metabolize 0.25 ounce of pure alcohol per hour, leaving the remaining alcohol to continue its circulation throughout the body.
Although alcohol does not contain any nutrients, it does provide calories—7 calories per gram. This is almost twice as much as either carbohydrate or protein, each of which supplies 4 calories per gram, and just a little less than the 9 calories per gram supplied by fat. The calories from alcohol come from the acetic acid that is produced when alcohol is broken down in the liver.9 Acetic acid is a two carbon short chain fatty acid—the smallest of all the fatty acids. It is soluble in both fat and water. In the bloodstream, acetic acid can easily pass through the blood-brain barrier. Like the medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil, acetic acid can diffuse across the cell membrane without the aid of insulin, providing a quick and easy source of energy for cells. In alcoholics, portions of the brain have become insulin resistant and, therefore, cannot effectively absorb glucose. However, the brain cells can absorb acetic acid, which supplies them with an alternative source of energy. Acetic acid partially compensates for the damage caused by alcohol by bypassing the defect in glucose metabolism.
Dr. Roger Hershline believes that the disruption in normal brain metabolism is what leads to the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome. The alcoholic brain, crippled by chronic insulin resistance, is literally starving for energy, causing depression, anxiety, fuzzy thinking, and other symptoms of dry drunk syndrome. Alcohol, although toxic to the brain, increases blood levels of acetic acid, thus providing the brain with a fuel it can use despite being insulin resistant. Repeated drinking has conditioned the brain to know that alcohol consumption increases acetic acid levels, which in turn provides the brain with the energy it desperately needs for survival. The desire for alcohol is a survival mechanism in an attempt to keep brain cells alive. Once this pattern has been set, the alcoholic will have strong desires to drink despite any intellectual or emotional desire to stop.10
In alcoholics, blood levels of acetic acid remain elevated for up to 24 hours after the last drink.11 As acetic acid levels decline, the symptoms and cravings for alcohol gradually return and intensify.
Dr. Hershline's reasoning in many ways coincides with research coming out of Yale University School of Medicine. Dr. Lihong Jiang and his colleagues at Yale are investigating the use of acetic acid during alcohol detoxification.12 Their approach is to administer acetic acid to the patients as an aid in recovery. Dr. Hershline's approach, however, appears to be easier and potentially much more effective.
Coconut Ketones and Brain Cell Regeneration
While acetic acid can supply the brain with much needed fuel, consuming alcohol is not a very good way to go about getting it. Acetic acid can be found in various foods. Vinegar is the richest natural source, containing 4-8 percent by volume. Fermented or picked vegetables and many condiments such as ketchup, prepared mustard, and some salad dressings contain acetic acid. But the amount in most condiments is so small that it would have little effect on brain health.
There is a much better option—coconut ketones. Coconut oil is composed primarily of a special group of fats known as medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs). When consumed, a portion of these MCFAs are automatically converted into a highly dense form of energy known as ketones. Like acetic acid, ketones do not require insulin to pass though cell membranes, so they can provide an easy source of energy. Ketones are known as "superfuel" for the brain because they provide more energy than either glucose or acetic acid and are readily absorbed by nerve and brain tissue. Coconut ketones can provide brain cells with a quick and easy source of high potentancy fuel that is superior to acetic acid. By supplying ketones on a regular basis, through the consumption of coconut oil, the brain's conditioned dependence on acetic acid and desires for alcohol can be broken.
In addition to supplying a superior source of energy, ketones improve blood flow to the brain, improving circulation and oxygen delivery. Ketones also activate certain proteins in the brain called brain derived neurotrophic factors (BDNFs) that regulate brain cell repair, growth, and maintenance. BDNFs stimulate repair of damaged tissues, promote the growth of new brain cells, remove toxins, stop oxidative stress, calm inflammation, and improve insulin sensitivity, all of which allows the brain to heal and recover from injury—including alcohol induced injury.
At one time, it was believed that we could not regenerate new brain cells. The brain cells we were born with, scientists thought, had to last an entire lifetime. When brain cells died, they were gone forever. Research over the past several years has shown that this is not true. The brain can and does generate new cells, even in old age.13 This process is called neurogenesis. These new cells originate from stem cells in the brain. Stem cells are special cells that can divide indefinitely, renew themselves, and give rise to a variety of cells types. The discovery of adult neurogenesis and brain stem cell activation by coconut ketones provides a new way of approaching the problem of alcohol-related changes in the brain and overcoming alcohol addiction.
Dr. Hershline consumed up to 8 tablespoons (109 g) of coconut oil daily in his own treatment. However, blood ketone levels can be raised to therapeutic levels with 5 to 6 tablespoons (68-82 g) daily. The oil should be divided into three 1½ -2 tablespoon doses and should be consumed with foods.■
1. Haorah, J., et al. Alcohol-induced oxidative stress in brain endothelial cells causes blood-brain barrier dysfunction. J Leukoc Biol 2005;78:1223-1232.
2. Haiyan, X., et al. Chronic inflammation in fat plays a crucial role in the development of obesity-related insulin resistance. J Clin Invest 2003;112:1821-1830.
3. Ting, J.W. and Lautt, W.W. The effect of acute, chronic, and prenatal ethanol exposure on insulin sensitivity. Pharmacol Ther. 2006;111(2):346—373.
4. Gene-Jack, W., et al. Regional brain metabolism during alcohol intoxication. Alcohol Clin Exp res 2000;24:822-829.
5. Volkow ND, et al. Low doses of alcohol substantially decrease glucose metabolism in the human brain. Neuroimage. 2006;29(1):295—301.
6. Volkow, N.D., et al. Acute alcohol intoxication decreases glucose metabolism but increases acetate uptake in the human brain. Neuroimage. 2013;64:277—283.
7. Volkow, N.D., et al. recovery of brain glucose metabolism in detoxified alcoholics. Am J Psychiatry 1994;151:178-183.
8. Zilkens, R.R., et al. The effect of alcohol lintake on insulin sensitivity in men. Diabetes Care 2003;26:608-612.
9. Patel, A.B., et al. Evaluation of cerebral acetate transport and metabolic rates in the rat brain in vivo using 1H-[13C]-NMR. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2010;30(6):1200—1213.
10. Hershline, R. Why Do I Drink?: The Role of Brain Metabolism. Published by Roger Hersline, Hilton Head Island, SC, 2013.
11. Pronko, P.S., et al. Low-molecular-weight metabolites relevant to ethanol metabolism: correlation with alcohol withdrawal severity and utility for identification of alcoholics. Alcohol Alcohol. 1997;32(6):761—768.
12. Lihong, J, et al. Increased brain uptake and oxidation of acetate in heavy drinkers. J Clin Invest 2013; 123:1605-1614.
13. Eriksson, P.S., et al. Neurogenesis in the adult human hippocampus. Nat Med 1998;4:1313-1317.
The Alcohol Paradox
In recent years the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption have been widely celebrated in the media. A number of studies have suggested that moderate drinking can lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and dementia. Risk for these conditions is even lower in moderate drinkers than it is for occasional drinkers and non-drinkers. Judging from the reports coming out of the media, it looks like drinking, to some degree, promotes better health. It's like a health tonic. To drinkers this news must seem like a dream come true.
Yet alcohol consumption has a well established reputation for causing a multitude of health problems. Here lies the paradox. On one hand, drinking appears to promote better health, yet on the other hand, it can lead to devastating health problems. The explanation we commonly hear is that moderate drinking is good, even better than light drinking or complete abstinence, but heavy drinking leads to all the problems. That may sound good in theory, but is it true?
Even small amounts of alcohol can have devastating consequences on certain members of the population. Just one drink can drive an alcoholic into binge drinking and addiction, leading to all the health problems we see with alcoholism. The effects of drinking on an unborn child can be devastating. Drinking during pregnancy, even if only occasionally, can lead to severe birth defects known as fetal alcohol syndrome. For this reason, women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant are cautioned not to consume any amount of alcohol. It makes you wonder, if moderate drinking can cause birth defects in unborn children, how could it also promote better health in the mother? This is just another part of the paradox.
With the exception of high risk individuals such as those mentioned above, could moderate alcohol consumption be beneficial? Let's look at the evidence. Moderate drinking is defined as one or less drink per day for women and two or fewer drinks per day for men. In addition, The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse recommends that people aged 65 and older limit their consumption of alcohol to no more than one drink per day.
The strongest evidence in support for moderate drinking is the link with reduced risk of heart disease. A number of studies have shown a lower incidence of coronary heart disease in both men and women who consume moderate amounts of alcohol in comparison to occasional drinkers and non-drinkers. The mechanism behind this protective effect is thought to be due to an increase in HDL cholesterol—the so-called good cholesterol that is believed to protect against coronary heart disease. Moderate alcohol consumption is also believed to have a blood thinning effect that helps keep arteries free from clots.1
Because it is believed that alcohol consumption improves blood cholesterol profile (leading to reduced cholesterol deposits in the arteries) and reduces risk of clotting, it stands to reason it may also help prevent strokes. Indeed, some studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption may reduce the risk of stroke.2
One of the immediate consequences of drinking alcohol is its adverse effect on the brain, disrupting speech, vision, hearing, coordination, memory, and judgment. These effects can be evident even with light to moderate drinking. It is ironic that alcohol, which can interfere with normal mental processes, is also thought to improve cognitive function and protect against dementia. Some studies suggest that as moderate drinkers age, they maintain their cognitive skills better than non-drinkers and have a reduced incidence of dementia.
Moderate alcohol consumption is also believed to help protect against diabetes. Several small clinical trials have shown that moderate alcohol consumption improves insulin sensitivity, meaning your cells absorb glucose for energy more efficiently and require less insulin. This by definition, lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes.
For these reasons, some people who never or rarely drink are picking up the habit and those who are light drinkers are increasing their consumption in hopes of fending off heart disease and improving their overall health. However, while moderate alcohol consumption may help reduce the risk of some diseases, it increases the risk of many others.
None of the benefits of drinking can be attributed to the alcohol itself. Alcohol by its very nature is a poison and is toxic to all human tissue. It is a potent antiseptic capable of killing bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, plants, insects, and us. It is used as a topical treatment to kill germs and as an all-purpose disinfect. Animal and human tissues are preserved in alcohol because no microbe or any other living thing can survive in it. Its detrimental effects can be seen with just a single drink, which can immediately interfere with normal brain function and adversely affect many other organs and tissues in the body. Drinking too much at one time can lead to alcohol poisoning, coma, and death. There are approximately 80,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States, making alcohol use the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the country.
Animal and human tissues are preserved in alcohol because no microbe or any other living thing can survive in it.
From the moment alcohol passes the lips it irritates the lining of the mouth, throat, stomach, and digestive tract, causing inflammation along the way. The link between alcohol use and chronic gastroenteritis (inflammation in the stomach and intestines) is clear. Inflammation affects nutrient absorption, which can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Vitamin B-1 (thiamine) deficiency is common in heavy drinkers. A serious deficiency in vitamin B-1 can lead to beriberi, a potentially fatal disease. A less severe deficiency can lead to Wernicke's Encephalopathy. This condition is characterized by impaired memory, confusion, and lack of coordination. Further deficiencies of thiamine can lead to Korsakoff's psychosis and permanent brain damage. This disorder is characterized by amnesia, apathy, and disorientation.
Alcohol is linked to a number of cancers, including cancers of the head and neck (mouth, tongue, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus), digestive tract (stomach, colon, and rectum), and breast. The link between alcohol and breast cancer indicates that the carcinogenic effects of alcohol are not limited to the digestive tract where alcohol is most concentrated, but can affect any area of the body. Women who are at high risk for breast cancer should not be drinking alcohol in any amount.
Liver disease has long been recognized as a consequence of excessive alcohol consumption. In fact, the most common cause of illness and death resulting from liver disease is from long-term alcohol consumption. Since the liver is the primary site of alcohol metabolism, it is not surprising that it is particularly susceptible to alcohol-related injury. Damage to the liver comes not only from the alcohol itself but from acetaldehyde, a highly toxic byproduct of alcohol metabolism. Acetaldehyde generates free radicals, creating a high degree of oxidative stress and inflammation. The effects of alcohol on the liver include fatty liver disease, inflammation (hepatitis), and cirrhosis (progressive liver scarring). The risk for liver disease increases with the amount consumed.
Alcohol can have a major influence on kidney function. Kidneys regulate the volume and composition of fluids and electrolytes in the body, remove cellular waste, and provide stable conditions for the cells to function. The substances regulated by the kidneys include water, sodium, potassium, calcium, and phosphate in the fluids (extracellular fluids) surrounding the various cells. In addition, the kidneys regulate the acid-base balance, which is important in maintaining cell structure, permeability, and metabolic activity. Further, the kidneys produce hormones that influence numerous physiological processes. Alcohol can disturb all these controls. The precise effects depend upon the amount of alcohol taken and the time over which it is consumed. Alcohol has been shown to change the structure and function of the kidneys and impair their ability to regulate the volume and composition of fluid and electrolytes in the body.
No amount of alcohol has been shown to be of any benefit in the above conditions. All levels of drinking increase risks. It makes no sense to consume alcohol in the hope of reducing your risk of experiencing a heart attack only to increase your risks of getting cancer or experiencing brain damage.
In all the studies that show health benefits for moderate alcohol consumption, the benefits quickly disappear as drinking increases. Researchers refer to this as a U or a J-shaped relationship. When alcohol consumption is limited to an average of no more than 1 to 2 drinks a day, health benefits are at their peak. If frequency of drinking declines, so do the benefits. Likewise, as consumption increases, benefits decline. In fact, heavy drinking is known to enhance the risk of heart attacks, stroke, diabetes (insulin resistance), dementia, and all the conditions believed to benefit from moderate drinking. Binge drinking, even if overall alcohol consumption is light, also increases risk.
A meta-analysis study, which combined all previous studies on alcohol consumption and mortality and analyzed them together, was conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.3 In this overview, researchers found the relationship between alcohol intake and mortality for both men and women to be J-shaped curves (see line A in graph below): the lowest observed risk for overall mortality was associated with an average of 10 grams of alcohol or less than one drink per day for men and less for women. One drink contains 14 grams of alcohol. An average intake of 20 grams (between one and two drinks) per day for women and 40 grams (two to three drinks) per day for men was associated with a significantly increased risk of death compared with abstainers, and the risk continues to rise with increased consumption.
According to an extensive review of the published data by investigators at Harvard University, the J or U-shaped relationship between alcohol intake and mortality does not apply to everyone everywhere. For example, most of the benefit of moderate drinking is confined to coronary heart disease and related conditions and to older individuals living in industrialized countries that have high rates of cardiovascular disease. In areas of the world where heart disease is not a major health issue, and in people under the age of 45 regardless of their location, alcohol provides little or no benefit. Instead, the relationship between alcohol intake and mortality assumes more of a direct, logarithmic relationship with increased consumption associated with higher overall mortality 4 (see line B in graph below). What this means is that people who are at low risk for heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes because of their age or lifestyle, obtain no benefit from any level of alcohol consumption. A person who eats healthily and exercises regularly gains nothing from drinking, in which case even light to moderate drinking becomes detrimental. The benefit of moderate alcohol consumption applies only to middle-aged and older people who are already at high risk of cardiovascular disease.
A drink is considered 0.6 ounces (14 grams) of alcohol, which is equivalent to 12 oz (355 ml) of beer, 5 oz (148 ml) of wine, or 1.5 oz (44 ml) of 80-proof distilled liquor.
Why does moderate alcohol consumption appear to help individuals who are at high risk of cardiovascular diseases but not others? The problem is likely related to insulin sensitivity. Heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and dementia are all interrelated. Having one of these conditions greatly increases the risk of getting the others. For example, recent medical research has identified Alzheimer's disease as a form of diabetes—brain diabetes. It occurs as a result of insulin resistance in the brain. People with type 2 diabetes already have insulin problems and are at high risk of developing Alzheimer's. Diabetes is also a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. In fact, heart attacks and strokes are the primary cause of death for diabetics. Strokes, including silent or mini-strokes, can lead to Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. These conditions are all related, and insulin resistance seems to be a common underlying problem in all of these conditions.
Our cells use glucose or blood sugar as fuel to power metabolism. The cells need a continual supply of glucose to maintain proper function. However, in order to absorb glucose from the bloodstream, insulin is required. Insulin unlocks the doorway on the cell wall that allows glucose to enter. If the cells cannot get enough glucose, they can literally starve to death. In diabetes the cells are unable to get the amount of glucose they need to function properly and to maintain life. Without glucose, the cells degenerate and die. This is what leads to many of the complications associated with diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, the cells do not respond properly to insulin. They become unresponsive or resistant to the action of insulin, and glucose absorption slows down. This is called insulin resistance. As a consequence, blood glucose levels rise and remain elevated for extended periods of time.
Ideal fasting blood glucose levels in healthy individuals ranges from 75 to 90 mg/dL. A reading of 91 to 99 is high-normal—slightly elevated but still considered an acceptable range. At 100 to 125 mg/dL, fasting glucose is definitely impaired and indicates the beginning stages of diabetes, often referred to as prediabetes. A level of 126 mg/dL and higher is defined as full-blown diabetes.
A major problem with elevated blood glucose is that the longer glucose remains in the blood, the more likely it will fuse with proteins, becoming "glycated," thus transforming into toxic molecules known as advanced glycation end products or AGES. These molecules damage tissues, cause inflammation, and as the acronym (AGES) implies, promotes premature aging. AGES can damage artery walls, promoting atherosclerosis and clotting, which chokes off arteries feeding the heart leading to heart attacks, or to the brain leading to strokes and dementia.
The poisonous effects of alcohol are often minimized by the claim that alcohol is just a form of sugar and is processed by the body like sugar. This is not true. Alcohol is not sugar, nor is it a form of sugar, nor is it broken down into sugar. Alcohol is alcohol. It is not broken down or digested in the digestive tract at all but is absorbed directly from the stomach and intestines into the bloodstream. In the bloodstream, alcohol circulates throughout the body. Eventually, it makes its way to the liver where enzymes break it down into acetaldehyde. Approximately 90 percent of the alcohol that is consumed is oxidized by the liver while the other 10 percent is excreted through the lungs and in the urine. Only the liver possesses the enzyme required to metabolize alcohol. The liver can oxidize only a given amount of alcohol at a time. Generally, the liver has the ability to completely metabolize one standard drink in 2 hours. If more than one drink is consumed during this period of time, the excess alcohol continues to circulate in the bloodstream. After being converted to acetaldehyde, it is gradually oxidized into acetic acid—a non-toxic source of energy used by our cells.5 Blood levels of acetic acid can remain elevated for up to 24 hours after the last drink.6
Moderate drinking appears to improve insulin sensitivity, thus reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and dementia. Since alcohol and acetaldehyde, its major metabolite, are toxic to human tissues, they themselves do not produce this beneficial effect. A more likely candidate is acetic acid.
Some of the benefits of drinking wine come from antioxidant bioflavonoids found in the grapes used to make the wine. Bioflavoinoids are known to help support healthy cardiovascular function, but you can get the same benefits from drinking grape juice. These substances are only found in significant number in wine, not other forms of liquor, so they cannot account for the benefits associated with moderate alcohol consumption. Acetic acid, however, is associated with all forms of liquor.
Acetic acid exerts some very positive effects, particularly on those who are at high risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It can diffuse through cell membranes without the aid of insulin, supplying cells with a quick and easy source of energy. This is of great importance to individuals with insulin resistance (i.e., diabetics and prediabetics) who have difficulty metabolizing glucose. It helps slow down the conversion of carbohydrate into glucose, moderating blood glucose levels. It helps improve insulin sensitivity in individuals with insulin resistance.7 All of the positive effects of moderate alcohol consumption can be attributed to acetic acid. As the alcohol studies show, those people who are older and at high risk for heart disease and related problems are the ones who seem to benefit the most from moderate drinking. Acetic acid would be most beneficial to these individuals.
While the conversion of alcohol to acetic acid can have beneficial effects on some members of the population (people over 45 years of age who have fasting blood glucose levels of 100 mg/dL), these benefits are completely erased when drinking exceeds 2 drinks per day. Too much alcohol in the body cancels out any benefit from the acetic acid. Since alcohol is an irritant and promotes inflammation even in small doses, it cannot be considered in any way a health food. The only ones who benefit are older people who are at high risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes—those who are already insulin resistant to some degree. But then, they can get the benefits of acetic acid from fermented foods (e.g., sauerkraut, pickles), vinegar, and vinegar-based salad dressings without the destructive effects of alcohol. You can even buy dehydrated vinegar in capsule form and get the benefits of acetic acid that way. If you are a relatively healthy adult and have normal fasting blood glucose levels (under 100 mg/dL), moderate alcohol consumption provides no benefit other than its effect as a mood enhancer and stress reducer.
If you are a light drinker or non-drinker, there is no sensible reason to increase your alcohol intake. If you are a moderate to high drinker, there are many reasons for you to consider cutting back. Maintaining a drinking habit for health reasons is not valid. Given that alcohol is an intoxicating and potentially addictive substance with a high abuse potential, and given the high morbidity and mortality associated with heavier drinking, it is best to limit your consumption despite the glowing reports trumpeted by the media.
Relatively healthy individuals
with normal fasting blood glucose levels (below 100 mg/dL) do not benefit from drinking any amount of alcohol. Their risk of heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, cancer, digestive disorders, and other degenerative diseases increases with each drink.
Alcohol Use and Health
The Standard Measure of Alcohol
In the United States a standard drink is defined as any drink that contains 0.6 ounces (14.0 grams or 1.2 tablespoons) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in
Definitions of Patterns of Drinking Alcohol
Excessive drinking includes heavy drinking, binge drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or underage youth.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, if you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, which is defined as no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men. However, there are some persons who should not drink any alcohol, including those who are
Immediate Health Risks
Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions. These immediate effects are most often the result of binge drinking and include the following:
Long-Term Health Risks
Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases, neurological impairments and social problems. These include but are not limited to:
Source: Alcohol and Public Health. Center for Disease Control and Prevention
1. Zakhari, S. alcohol and the cardiovascular system: molecular mechanisms for beneficial and harmful action. Alcohol Health Res World 1997;21:21-29.
2. Berger, K., et al. Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption and the risk of stroke among US male physicians. New England Journal of Medicine 1999;341:1557-1564.
3. English, D.R., et al. The Quantification of Drug Caused Morbidity and Mortality in Australia, 1992. Canberra, Australia: Canberra Commonwealth Department of Human Services and Health, 1995.
4. Murry, C.J.L. and Lopez, A.D. The Global Burden of Disease: A Comprehensive Assessment of Mortality and Disability from Disease, Injuries, and Risk Factors in 1990 and Projected to 2020. Cambridge, MA: Harvard School of Public Health, 1996.
5. Patel, A.B., et al. Evaluation of cerebral acetate transport and metabolic rates in the rat brain in vivo using 1H-[13C]-NMR. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2010;30(6):1200—1213.
6. Pronko, P.S., et al. Low-molecular-weight metabolites relevant to ethanol metabolism: correlation with alcohol withdrawal severity and utility for identification of alcoholics. Alcohol Alcohol. 1997;32(6):761—768.
7. Johnson, C.S., et al. Vinegar improves insulin sensitivity to a high-carbohydrate meal in subjects with insulin resistance of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 2004;27:281-282.
by Dr. Bruce Fife
by Dr. Mary Newport, M.D.
Available from Amazon.com
New Study to Test Coconut Oil As a Treatment for Alzheimer's
The positive effect of coconut oil in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease has been carefully documented by Mary Newport, MD who helped her Alzheimer's affected husband reverse many of the effects of the disease. Her story is told in detail in Dr. Fife's book Stop Alzheimer's Now as well as Dr. Newport's own book Alzheimer's Disease: What If There Was a Cure? Since the publication of these books many Alzheimer's patients and their families have reported remarkable success using coconut oil.
There have been several animal studies and a few human studies on the effects of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) on Alzheimer's disease. MCTs are the primary fats found in coconut oil. One company is currently marketing a dietary supplement containing MCTs specifically for the treatment of Alzheimer's and has been granted FDA approval. Despite all of this, some medical professionals caution Alzheimer's patients about using coconut oil. They are hesitant about adding saturated fat into a person's diet and point out that there has not yet been a clinical study proving that ordinary coconut oil can successfully treat Alzheimer's. Despite the successful use of coconut oil by Dr. Newport and others all of the studies to date have used MCTs.
Because of the publicity surrounding the use of coconut oil to treat Alzheimer's disease, some medical researchers are beginning to take notice. Researchers at Byrd Alzheimer's Institute at the University of South Florida have examined the evidence and have decided it is worth studying. A private foundation granted $250,000 to the institute for what is thought to be the first clinical trial of coconut oil on humans with Alzheimer's. And it's about to get underway. The clinical trial is beginning now. Researchers are currently enrolling participants, if you'd like more information go to health.usf.edu/byrd/index.htm, or call Jill Smith at 813-974-4355. This study will add to the growing body of evidence backing the use of use of coconut oil for treatment of Alzheimer's disease. ■
USF Studies Coconut Oil and Alzheimer's.
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