The Effects of Alcohol in Chinese Medicine

June 25, 2020 - by enrica - in Diet Therapy, Lifestyle

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Dry July, a challenge for people to stop drinking alcohol for the month, is coming up in a few days. In addition to raising funds to support cancer services, it is also an opportunity for us to review our own alcohol consumption.

Alcohol statistics

The World Health Organisation has found that over 3 million deaths every year are a result from the harmful overuse of alcohol. This accounts for 3% of deaths worldwide as it is a causal factor for over 200 diseases and injury conditions. It is associated with increased risks of anaemia, cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, hypertension, infectious disease, liver disease, nerve damage, pancreatitis and seizures. In Australia, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1 in 6 people consume alcohol at a level placing them at lifetime risk of an alcohol-related disease or injury.

In addition to the health consequences of excessive consumption of alcohol, it causes significant social and economic harm to individuals and society at large. The abuse of alcohol is also related to increased violence, accidents, high risk behaviour, child neglect, child and domestic abuse and work absenteeism.

It can’t be all bad, can it?

Alcohol benefits

The benefits of drinking moderate amounts of alcochol are that it appears to reduce cardiovascular disease. This was originally thought to have been the result of reservatrol in red wine but is now thought to be from the effects of alcohol itself.

Also, moderate consumption appears to prolong life and promote health and well-being in general. However, some people believe this is from the fact that people are drinking in social situations where they are connecting with people, laughing and generally having a great time. Maybe we can just try to have great social times more often?

Either way, it sounds like a small amount is likely good for you – whether it’s from the direct physical effects or the social effects but how much is a moderate amount?

The official moderate amount varies from country to country and it is not possible to put a fixed number to it as everybody is different and reacts differently. The key thing is to observe yourself and the effects that it has on you when you drink alcohol and also its effects afterwards. If you feel unwell, it is worth considering reducing or avoiding it.

Alcohol in Chinese Medicine

Wine is the gift of the gods. The Ruler uses it to nourish all under Heaven, offer sacrifice, pray for prosperity, support the weak, and heal the sick. For the hundred blessings to occur, wine is indispenable.

Qian Hanshu (Book of Han) 2nd century

As can be seen from the quote above, alcohol can be beneficial and is thought of as having useful properties in Chinese Medicine.

In Chinese Medicine, alcohol has the effect of:

  • heating us up
  • opening the blood vessels to increase blood flow
  • stimulating appetite and digestion
  • lifting mood as renowned 16th century herbalist, Li Shizhen says “it strengthens the spirit… disperses worry and dispels moodiness”

It is beneficial for people who experience a lot of coldness and have poor circulation. It can also help people who have none or very little appetite, like it is used in some countries as a digestive.

It is not helpful for people who have signs of internal heat such as feelings of heat, thirst, red face and eyes, red tongue body, yellow tongue coating and irritability and anger because it exacerbates their existing heat. People who find alcohol has affected them negatively may also find they have headaches (not a hangover headache!), reflux or indigestion, inconsistent bowel motions, poor sleep and a feelings of lethargy.

If you are not sure about whether alcohol helps or hinders your health, feel free to pop in to see your local Chinese Medicine practitioner to find out.

Is alcohol a problem for me?

Alcohol is the most used drug in Australia and it is worth everyone considering this question. If you experience health problems – physical, mental or emotional – it is worth thinking about reducing or avoiding it altogether. If you find yourself not able to stop yourself from having a drink, even if it’s a couple of glasses after work or big sessions on weekends with mates, it’s worth thinking about why you need that. Is there something in your life that needs changing because it causes you stress and anxiety? Is there some other pain that you are masking? It is much more complex than those two questions but ask yourself “why”. 

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are often used to assist people to reduce the effects from alcohol as well as for anyone suffering from alcohol addiction.

It is best to drink little. If one drinks too much, it wounds the spirit and shortens life. It changes a person’s basic nature. Its poison is extreme. If one drinks and gets tipsy excessively, this is the origin of destruction of life.

A Soup for the Qan, 12th century

If you are in crisis, please call LifeLine on 13 11 14 or visit their website for online support.

Deadman, P. (2016) Live well live long: teachings from the nourishment of life tradition, The Journal of Chinese Medicine Ltd, United Kingdom.

Photo by Giovanna Gomes on Unsplash

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