Today is Christmas day, so we’re having a break from the Think Like a Medical Student series. I just wanted to wish everyone who reads this blog a Merry Christmas period. Christmas is a time for caring, it’s a time for spending with our families and loved ones, it’s a time for festivity. It’s also a time for excessive intake of alcohol, food, and even recreational drugs. After all, it is known as the silly season.
I’ll keep this post reasonably short, but in view of my normal posts and topics, just remember to have everything in moderation. The excesses of this time of year can be dangerous, but still, have fun and enjoy yourself.
That said, you don’t need to binge on alcohol and get smashed in order to have a good time. Bingeing on alcohol is a risk factor for numerous conditions, most specifically acute pancreatitis (where your pancreas literally digests itself and the surrounding tissue), and recurrent bingeing is a major risk factor for hepatitis (unrelated to the virus, hepatitis means inflammation of the liver) and chronic liver damage. Other risks also occur with large amounts of alcohol, even if only on isolated occasions, which is why the recommended limit on alcohol is no more than four standard drinks on any one occasion (and an average of under two standard drinks a day, although even these guidelines are soon being revised). For reference, a standard drink (Australian guidelines) of alcohol is 14 grams of pure alcohol, which more commonly is 30ml of spirits, 100ml of wine (at 13%), and varies for beer depending on strength but for mid-strength beer is one can (375ml).
Excessive eating or feasting on a single occasion is generally less of an issue, with potential situations such as dumping syndrome normally requiring a predisposing condition. However, excess over the longer term is associated with obesity, diabetes mellitus, cholelithiasis (gallstones), kidney failure, hepatic (liver) damage, and hyperlipidaemia or hypercholesterolaemia (too much fat in the blood). These latter conditions lead to atherosclerosis (blood vessel thickening and damage) which causes hypertension, and atherosclerosis is a major risk factor for cardiac arrest (heart attacks), stroke (via embolism of a carotid artery thrombus), kidney damage, etc.
Finally, the Christmas period, and particularly new years eve/day, are generally the busiest periods in the emergency departments of hospitals. This is primarily due to two factors: excess consumption and increased suicide attempts. Excess consumption, particularly alcohol, plays a major part in the hospital load at this time of year. However, suicide attempts are a mental health issue and can run rampant at this time of year, seemingly due to the heavy focus of family and loved ones, and those that feel like they are lacking in people who love and care about them can feel overwhelmed. So, please reach out to your loved ones and remind them you care about them. Who knows, it may just save their life. Even if it doesn’t, it might just make their day that little bit brighter.
However, don’t get stressed about any of this. As said, enjoy your Christmas. Be glad that you don’t know how much damage can be done easily from what is seen as fairly normal. After all, almost everything is labeled as carcinogenic (i.e., cancer-causing) these days, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid everything because of it (although, tobacco at least should definitely be avoided). Just remember to keep everything in moderation and not go too far. I hope that you all enjoy this week and feel loved. Until next time, be healthy and continue learning (although take a break for Christmas!).