Monday, November 19, 2007

Young People Beware: Alcohol and Lupus Don't Mix

There's no way to soften the bad news about drinking alcohol. While anyone is at risk from alcohol's negative side-effects, people who take prescription medications (and also some over-the-counter-ones) put themselves at an even greater risk of suffering health troubles.

The problems occur because alcohol can change the way the body uses, or metabolizes, certain medications. Alcohol is absorbed through the intestinal tract and shuttled to the liver, where chemical "knives" called enzymes break it into smaller molecules. Trouble is, alcohol causes the body to make more of these enzymes, especially when someone drinks regularly (even so-called "social" amounts of alcohol). Some of these enzymes are the same "knives" that break down medications so the body can use them. In producing more enzymes, the liver metabolizes medications faster. The bottom line: medications are sent into the bloodstream much faster and to a larger extent than when you don't drink. This can be dangerous, intensifying both the positive and negative side-effects of medications.

It is a myth that you can avoid these alcohol medication side-effects by taking medications while you are not drinking: the liver is still in "over-drive," producing more of these enzymes for some time after you drink. Another myth: "You have to drink hard liquor to suffer dangerous consequences." Beer and wine are just as likely to cause problems.

Of the 50 most frequently proscribed drugs, more than half contain ingredients that react adversely with alcohol. Among the negative effects are seizures, headaches, nausea, vomiting, mental confusion and coma. Don't forget that medications that are available without a prescription can also react adversely with alcohol. People with lupus, for example, often take Tylenol to alleviate pain. Drinking any amount of alcohol can cause Tylenol to be toxic to the liver at much smaller doses. Alcohol mixed with aspirin can lead to bleeding in the stomach. If you are taking methotrexate or other immunosuppressive medications, drinking greatly increases the chance that you will suffer liver damage.

Young bodies demand good nutrition. Teenagers and young adults need relatively more protein and nutrients to support growth and development. In addition, anyone with a chronic disease like lupus needs even better nutrition to also fight the chronic disease. Alcohol interferes with good nutrition in a couple of ways. Alcohol causes the body to waste some nutrients, basically by burning them up at a faster rate. In addition, the body's first priority is to metabolize or use alcohol, rather than the type of calories a person (especially teenagers) needs to grow. Anyone with lupus should avoid alcohol, particularly when taking medications, or restrict their alcohol intake as much as possible.

By Kristine M. Napier, N.P.H., R.D., L.D.

Reprinted, with permission, from Lupus World, Patient Empowerment Through Information, a publication of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA 01655. Vol.1, No.2. With special thanks to Henrietta Aldjem, Editor.

=========================================================== This information is for"informational purposes" and is not meant to be used for medical diagnosis. Always consult your physician on matters such as this.

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