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1. Dear Michael: How does alcohol affect your performance in sports,if you drink about once a month? I love sports and I play basketball, run track, and I rodeo. Is drinking hurting my performance?

Could be. How much alcohol affects your sport depends on how regularly it is done and how much alcohol is consumed. Certainly drinking heavily on the day prior to an event will negatively affect your performance.

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2. Dear Michael: Does the red wine "heart benefit" affect my athletic performance if I have a little wine with dinner most nights? Is it a positive or negative effect?

If by "a little wine" you mean one or two glasses, there should be no negative effect on your performance.

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3. Dear Michael: Does alcohol affect your body during sexual inter course?

Yes. A small amount seems to have a positive effect in that it can relax you and lower inhibitions. However, in large amounts, since it is a central nervous system depressant, alcohol’s effect is decidedly negative.

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4. Dear MichaelWhat are the effects of alcohol on the body if one parties pretty hard once or twice a week, but the person also regularly lifts weights of does some other form of work out at least four times a week?

Exercise does not alleviate the negative effects of alcohol. As stated earlier, heavy drinking the day before negatively affects performance.

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5. Dear Michael: Does alcohol contain protein?

No, alcohol does not contain protein. However, some forms of alcoholic beverages such as wine or beer do contain some minerals. Wine, for instance, has high potassium content.

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6. Dear Michael: Does alcohol affect you while you're trying to get "buffed?"

Sure - The buff appearance is a result of attaining a low body fat percentage. Alcohol slows down some of the metabolic functions, making you accumulate more fat.

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7. Dear Michael: Does alcohol permanently damage the brain?

Although today’s abstinence can reverse last night’s bingeing, central nervous system (brain) damage is one of the long-term effects of heavy drinking.

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8. Dear Michael: Does muscle or other tissue decay when you drink?

Again, this is a question of short term vs. long term. In the short term, no, long term, definitely yes. You can have everything from tissue damage in the liver, pancreas and bladder to the destruction of the prostate and adrenal glands. A form of slow decay in certain systems is due to malnutrition in long term drinkers.

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9. Dear Michael: Can I get liver disease from just a few episodes of binge drinking? Is that cirrhosis of the liver?

Yes and no, respectively. Fatty accumulations, a very early sign of liver disease can be seen even after one night of heavy drinking. Cirrhosis is advanced liver disease in which liver cells have actually died, hardened and permanently lost function. It is irreversible.

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10. Dear Michael: What about the health benefits of drinking I heard about?

It's true that in moderation alcohol does seem to offer some health benefits. However, it appears that it gives benefits with one hand and takes them back with the other. It protects from heart disease but increases a tendency toward certain strokes. It increases absorption of calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorous and potassium but its diuretic effect causes the elimination of the same nutrients.

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11. Dear Michael: I've been sick a lot lately, one virus after another. Is it the booze?

There is a good possibility. The immune system is largely protein-driven. Alcohol consumption inhibits the synthesis of certain proteins vital to the immune system. Thus, the bodies defenses are weakened, making you more susceptible to infection.

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12. Dear Michael: How can I sober up fast after I've been drinking? Will drinking coffee help sober me up if I've been drinking?

You can't. The rate at which alcohol is processed is fixed and dependent on the amount of alcohol-fighting enzymes in the liver. The average person can only process one drink per hour – that’s one 12 oz. beer OR one 5 oz. glass of wine OR a mixed drink containing 1 ounce of hard liquor.

As for coffee, no dice. You'll change from a sleepy, groggy drunk to a wide awake one. Remember, alcohol is processed through the metabolic pathways in the liver at a fixed rate.

Coffee does not speed up the process.

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13. Dear Michael: Since beer makes me go to the bathroom, don't I get rid of the alcohol faster? Can how often I go affect how drunk I am, or am not?

Alcohol is a diuretic (makes you go to the bathroom). However, only about 5% of ingested alcohol is lost this way. The majority of the rest is absorbed by the tissues. So if you drink more than your body can absorb, you'll still remain drunk, no matter how often you go to the bathroom.

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14.  Dear Michael: I have heard that even moderate drinking, over the long term, causes some "brain damage." If this is true, is there any way to reverse the damage to the brain caused by alcohol?

Yes, depending on the extent of the damage and years spent in excessive consumption. Abstinance, combined with excellent nutrition can reverse most is not all the damage caused by heavy drinking as long as the drinking lasted no more than a few years.

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15.  Dear Michael: Is alcohol really a drug? If so, is it fair to consider it a "hard drug?"

Yes. Pharmacologically ethyl alcohol is described as a general depressant of the nervous system.

And yes, alcohol is a hard drug, just more socially acceptable. If you exclude nicotine addiction, it is the most serious drug problem in the U.S. and most other countries.

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16.  Dear Michael: Alcohol seems to give me an immediate "head rush". How come? And won't a full stomach keep me from getting drunk?

Signed, Anne, Chicago

Dear Anne: Alcohol molecules are very small, so small that they don't require digestion. They are absorbed directly into the blood stream. From there it is a short trip to the brain. For this reason some people appear to become affected by drinking almost immediately. Also, carbohydrates (rice, pasta, breads) dilute alcohol in the stomach, by coating the wall of the stomach, slowing absorption. Fatty foods also slow digestion but are surprisingly not as effective as a high carb meal. If you drink more alcohol than your body can metabolize (about 1 beer an hour), you will get drunk, with or without a full stomach.

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17.  Dear Michael: I've been putting on weight lately, but haven't been eating more. I have been drinking more beer lately. Should I switch to light beer?

Signed, Gettin' a Gut

Dear Gettin': Yes. There is a relationship. Alcohol has the second highest concentration of calorie (7) after fat (9). It also slows the metabolism making you store more fat. Light beer, while slightly lower in calories, is still alcohol and that's the problem, not the calories. If you're developing a "beer belly," here's why: Alcohol interferes with metabolism in several ways, which slow it. A slow metabolic rate makes for an increase in stored fat. Also, medium term excessive drinking causes a certain amount of bloating, which could be what you're noticing.

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18.  Dear Michael: After a night of drinking, I'm wiped out when I'm in the gym, even if I get a lot of sleep. What's up with that?

Signed, Gym Rat

Dear Rat: Sleep does not replace water and essential nutrients, which is just what alcohol forces your body to get rid of. You need these not only to get a good workout, but also to remain healthy.

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19.  Dear Michael: Why do my joints sometimes hurt after a drinking binge?

Signed, Sore in Cincinnati

Dear Sore: Well, if you have ruled out falls, the culprit may very well be alcohol. Drinking interferes with the body's ability to process uric acid. Breakdown in this mechanism is the same as in an inflammatory joint condition called gout.

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