There are other harmful effects one can suffer from consuming
alcohol other than those suffered from straight abuse or excessive
consumption. These harmful effects are those due to allergy and
side effects in general, even with exposure to the smallest quantities
The Collins Dictionary defines allergy as a hypersensitivity to
a substance that causes the body to react to any contact with
that substance. As a doctor, I define allergy as an immune system
mediated response by the body to an allergen or allergy causing
foreign matter. Allergies usually manifest themselves as migraine,
headaches, hay fever, itch, rashes, bowel colic, diarrhoea, asthma,
swollen face and watery swollen eyes etc.
An allergic response is a response to protect the body from allergens
- harmful foreign matter that we are exposed to, mainly in the
form of pollen, dust, hairs, fibres, food and drink. Sometimes
an allergic response can be excessive and the resulting body's
'cure' can be worse than the allergic complaint, even life threatening
when sufferers develop an anaphylactic response resulting in the
laryngeal oedema or swelling of the throat. If it is not treated
straight away with adrenaline, corticosteroids or antihistamines
one can choke to death.
Many consumers think that the main cause of allergy in wine for
example, is due to sulphur dioxide (SO2), which has been used
as a preservative since Roman times. Unless you suffer a similar
reaction from eating dried fruit for example, where levels of
SO2 are much higher, it is rarely the case. Sufferers are far
more likely to be allergic to naturally occurring histamines or
tannins present in high doses in red wines, but also in white
wines, many beers and some spirits. Allergy however is idiosyncratic,
hence the old adage one man's food is another mans poison since
one could theoretically allergic to any one of the thousands of
components in wine.
A side effect is defined as any unwanted non-therapeutic effect
caused by a drug.
There are two rare medical conditions caused by alcohol which
would be strictly termed as side effects. The first is where people
become aggressive and emotional after ' a few drinks'. The biochemical
cause is not understood. The second condition is alcohol induces
nymphomania, where consumption of a small amount of alcohol in
a person with a pinealoma ( a rare benign tumour of the pineal
gland) triggers off intense sexual arousal and subsequent sexual
Neither allergy or side effects should be confused with a hangover,
which is where one develops head-ache, nausea, vomiting, lethargy
and a dry mouth etc. due to excessive alcohol consumption. A hangover
is due to dehydration, especially of the brain, which shrinks,
pulling on pain sensitive filaments connecting it to the skull.
Dehydration is due to the osmotic pressure and diuretic effects
of alcohol, frequent urination also results in the loss of sodium
and potassium ions which are essential in nerve and muscle function.
Finally alcohol depletes reserves of glycogen in the liver, breaking
it down into glucose.
To prevent hang-over, drink sensibly and alternate soft and alcoholic
drinks at parties for example, and make a point of drinking plenty
of water before retiring to bed. So called commercially available
hangover remedies such as SOBA , a volcanic zeolite, similar in
its actions to charcoal, are not to be recommended.
Dr. Phil Norrie is a General Practioner, vineyard owner, author
of Wine and Health- a new look at an old medicine and a member
of the AIM Editorial Board.