Johnny Walker vs. Java Joe

Our beverage vices duke it out over which one is healthier

Most studies agree alcohol is okay in moderation, but booze can hardly be considered a healthy substance. Some of the serious health problems caused by excessive drinking include liver damage, short-term hypertension, decreased testosterone production, increased estrogen production and vitamin deficiencies.

Although these problems arise after years of alcoholism, even a few drinks can put a strain on your body. According to howstuffworks.com, alcohol causes the pituitary gland to stop excreting vasopressin, a hormone that prompts your kidneys to reabsorb water for recirculation. The reason why the line for the bathroom is so long at keggers is because without vasopressin, your kidneys don’t reabsorb the water from the liquids you drink. Studies show you lose four times the amount of liquid consumed when you drink.

A night of drinking can also disrupt your sleep. Alcohol inhibits the natural stimulant glutamine making you feel slightly drowsy, or relaxed if you’re at the buzzed stage. After you stop drinking, though, your body tries to catch up on glutamine and produces more of it than normal. This means you sleep worse from being overly alert.

Alcohol also increases the production of hydrochloric acid in your stomach. Too much hydrochloric acid makes your brain think damage is being done and you throw up.

Let’s not forget the stuff that typically goes along with a booze fest, like sugar-packed syrups and pop. Then there’s the poutine, burgers and pizza you crave once you get out of the bar. Your body needs essential fatty acids (EFAs) to keep your cells healthy. As you drink alcohol, cell walls begin to break down and your body interprets that as a need to eat more fat. This is why you crave fatty foods after a night of drinking.

Some evidence suggests a little alcohol can be good for you. Alcohol is linked to increased insulin sensitivity, which lowers your risk of developing Type II diabetes. It also relaxes arterial walls and is a blood thinner, meaning blood pumps more freely and your heart’s job is a lot easier. Red wine is good for your heart because its antioxidants help lower cholesterol.

Beer guzzlers can also rest assured there are some benefits to their drink of choice. The hops in beer contribute to the production of polyphenols, which are shown to lower cholesterol, fight cancer and kill viruses. Darker brews also have a high level of antioxidants.

Stick to one or two drinks a night and you might even say it’s healthy. But make it only one or two drinks, with at least two alcohol-free days a week. One drink is classified as 12 ounces of beer, 1.5 ounces of spirits or five ounces of wine.

Most of us drink coffee for the caffeine kick, so when you’re talking about whether coffee is healthy or not, you’re really debating the benefits of caffeine. Like alcohol, most health guides say a little caffeine, even every day, is fine, but there are some concerns.

Caffeine is a stimulant, so it increases the adrenals cortisol, adrenaline and noreprinphrine. These stress hormones are responsible for the energy boost that caffeine gives you, but the feeling is artificial. Adrenals trigger a flight or fight response in your body, causing increased blood pressure and decreased blood flow to your digestive tract.

Caffeine makes you feel awake by binding to adenosine receptors in your brain, which prevents drowsiness from stopping the adenosine reaction. Too much coffee can make you jittery because caffeine also decreases the release of Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid (GABA). GABA inhibits nerve transmission, which explains why your nerves go into overdrive after five cups of joe.

Try not to drink coffee in the evening or it may disrupt your sleep for the night. Coffee may not directly harm your health, but lack of sleep does. Aim for eight hours of sleep every night rather than loading up on coffee to stay awake. You’ll feel naturally energized.

Caffeine also acts as a diarrhetic because it stimulates the secretion of stomach acid. This can exacerbate acid reflux. Excessive coffee consumption has also been linked to osteoporosis because it increases urinary calcium and magnesium loss, two minerals crucial for healthy bones.

Pregnant women shouldn’t drink much coffee because the fetus can’t process the caffeine yet. The amount of time it takes to process half the caffeine consumed—called a substance’s half-life—is 10 times longer for a newborn baby than for a healthy adult.

Coffee hasn’t been directly linked to any serious illnesses, though, unlike alcohol. The Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in California even found that coffee can act as a buffer from alcohol. Their study showed a cup of coffee cut the chance of cirrhosis—a liver disease—by 20 per cent and four cups correlated with an 80 per cent risk reduction. Liver enzyme levels were also healthier in those who drank coffee and alcohol.

Gets us through exams and protects us while we party after? Sounds like coffee takes the title of healthier drink.

—Ashleigh Ryan

Sources: howstuffworks.com, fitnessworks.com, bbc.co.uk, prnewswire.co,uk and msnbc.com

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