When you drink absinthe every day, this is what happens to your body06/10/2020
Do you drink absinthe? The green fairy. The green muse. The green torment. Whatever you call it, few spirits have sparked as much controversy as emerald-colored absinthe. After being banned in the United States for almost a century, absinthe came back in a big way.
Whether you enjoy making it the traditional way or mixed into a modern cocktail, absinthe packs a punch of flavor. The alcohol is distilled from a variety of botanicals, including anise and fennel, and it’s the chlorophyll from these plants that gives absinthe its distinctive green color. But it’s the wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) that gives the licorice-tasting spirit its name and its bad reputation for reportedly causing hallucinations, convulsions, and other disturbances. During the 1800s, physicians like Dr. R. Amory argued that “absinthism” was a real and debilitating medical condition. Absinthe has even been blamed for the mental deterioration of Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh in 1890.
But does absinthe really deserve all the bad press? Is it unhealthy — or even dangerous — to drink absinthe every day?
If you drink absinthe every day, you won't hallucinate
First things first, if you drink absinthe every day, will it make you see and hear things that aren’t there?
Despite what Moulin Rouge may have led you to believe, absinthe doesn’t have any special power to make you hallucinate. For many years, scientists believed that thujone, a chemical found in wormwood, was the root cause of absinthe’s notorious effects. But a study conducted by a team of German researchers that was published in 2006 in the journal Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy found no historical evidence to support the idea that “absinthism” was a real condition caused by the harmful effects of thujone in absinthe. While it’s true that thujone can have psychoactive and toxic effects at very high doses, the researchers concluded that absinthe never contained thujone in large enough concentrations to cause hallucinations or any other noticeable effects.
So why is absinthe so notorious for causing hallucinations? The authors of the 2006 study believe that was due to absinthe’s high alcohol content. Something that boozy could definitely have you seeing double if you drank too much, but there’s nothing innately hallucinogenic about absinthe.
If you drink absinthe every day, you won't actually be consuming the chemical that got it banned
Still a little concerned about the thujone content of your absinthe? There’s no need to be because this chemical is now tightly regulated. Thujone restrictions vary by country, but, in the United States, any product containing wormwood must be “thujone free,” defined as ten parts per million (10ppm) or less.
But what if you happen to get your hands on a vintage bottle of absinthe? If thujone was the reason absinthe was banned in the United States in 1915, is pre-ban absinthe dangerous? According to Dr. Dirk W. Lachenmeier, a food chemist and toxicologist, the answer is no. While research conducted in the 1800s suggested thujone content in absinthe was as high as 260ppm, Lachenmeier believes this number was wildly inaccurate. Based on his own examinations of 19th century absinthe using modern scientific methods, he concluded that the mean thujone concentration of the average pre-ban Absinthe Suisse de Pontarlier was only about 23 mg/l. That’s higher than the current U.S. limit, but within the limits set by some other countries.
So if you manage to find the old stuff, don’t be afraid to give it a try. But, as with any other alcohol, drink absinthe in moderation.
When you drink absinthe every day, you may feel more creative
Nothing feels more Bohemian than a glass of absinthe. The spirit has a reputation for being the drink of choice for artists, writers, and other creative types. In addition to van Gogh, famous absinthe connoisseurs included Ernest Hemingway, Charles Baudelaire, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, and Oscar Wilde.
But evidence suggests that alcohol doesn’t actually boost creativity. In a 1984 study conducted by Dr. Alan R. Lang and colleagues at Florida State University and published in Addictive Behaviors, subjects completed several tasks to measure creative problem solving. Some of them were given alcohol before completing the tests, while others received a placebo drink. The results showed no objective difference in creativity between the two groups, but those who believed they’d consumed alcohol rated their performance higher than those who did not believe they’d consumed alcohol. We expect alcohol will make us more creative, but it doesn’t.
Although the study didn’t focus on absinthe specifically, it looks like the alcohol in this green spirit won’t actually turn you into the next Shakespeare or Picasso. So, if you drink absinthe every day, don’t expect to become a literary genius or master painter.
If you drink absinthe every day, it might shorten your attention span
If you drink absinthe every day, it might have a negative effect on your concentration and your ability to pay attention and react to what’s going on around you.
A 2004 study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs concluded that thujone has a detrimental impact on attention and reaction time. Subjects were given three drinks containing identical amounts of alcohol but differing thujone concentrations and were then given an attention test. After consuming the alcoholic drink with the highest concentration of thujone, subjects had slower reaction times, made more errors, and paid less attention to signals researchers gave them. These problems weren’t observed when subjects drank the beverages containing very little or no thujone. The researchers believe this is because thujone lowers levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical in the brain associated with “processing of visual stimuli,” as noted by Scientific Nordic.
So if you need to buckle down and get things done, you might want to skip the absinthe.
If you drink absinthe the traditional way, it may worsen the quality of your sleep
There’s a lot of ritual surrounding absinthe. The traditional way to drink absinthe involves placing a special kind of spoon with a sugar cube on top of a glass containing a small amount of absinthe. Cold water is then poured slowly over the sugar cube, dissolving it into the absinthe and diluting the drink.
It’s a fun way to drink absinthe, but the sugar isn’t exactly good for your health. Most sugar cubes contain about a teaspoon of sugar, and the American Heart Association suggests that women get no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day, and men should get no more than nine. Sugar can have all sorts of negative effects on the body, including increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes. And sugar, especially right before bed, can take a toll on your sleep.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that subjects who consumed high-sugar diets spent less time in deep sleep. This stage of the sleep cycle is when the body does most of its healing and regeneration, and too little deep sleep can wreak havoc on your immune system and on your metabolism.
Even without the sugar cube, you may not get a good night's sleep if you drink absinthe every night
Adding sugar to absinthe is a matter of taste, and some connoisseurs enjoy the spirit unsweetened. But the alcohol in absinthe may still be enough to keep you up at night.
In an interview with WebMD, Dr. Irshaad Ebrahim, medical director at the London Sleep Centre, noted that “alcohol may seem to be helping you to sleep, as it helps induce sleep, but overall it is more disruptive to sleep, particularly in the second half of the night.” Alcohol can have a negative impact on sleep in a variety of ways, including reducing the amount of time you spend in REM sleep and aggravating sleep apnea. Poor sleep can have a negative impact on your physical and psychological health.
If you find that drinking absinthe late at night is making your sleep less than stellar, try imbibing a little earlier in the evening. And if you’re self-medicating your insomnia by choosing to drink absinthe every day, it’s probably time to see a doctor about your sleep troubles.
If you drink absinthe every day, you could lower your risk of heart disease
A glass of absinthe a day may keep the cardiologist away.
In a paper published in the British Medical Journal, Dr. Eric B Rimm and colleagues reviewed a number of studies examining the connection between alcohol consumption and heart disease. These studies found that moderate alcohol consumption (defined as no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women) lowered individuals’ risk of heart disease. And that’s important because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States, claiming almost 650,000 lives a year.
Although red wine often gets praised as being heart-healthy, Dr. Rimm and his team found that beer and spirits appeared to be just as beneficial, though absinthe wasn’t discussed specifically. Still, it would seem that there’s no need to ditch your absinthe for a glass of pinot noir if you want to protect your heart. Just be sure to drink in moderation.
You may be less likely to have a stroke if you drink absinthe every day
Want another reason to drink absinthe to safeguard your cardiovascular health? Research suggests that the alcohol could lower your risk of stroke.
In a 2005 study published in the journal Stroke, researchers followed subjects for eight years to see how alcohol consumption affected the likelihood of a stroke. The research team concluded that moderate drinking had a protective effect against various types of ischemic stroke. According to the American Stroke Association, an ischemic stroke occurs when a vessel supplying blood to the brain is blocked. Ischemic strokes account for about 87 percent of all strokes. Each year, more than 795,000 Americans suffer a stroke and approximately 140,000 die.
The researchers didn’t differentiate between types of alcohol or specific spirits in the study. Still, the results suggest that the alcohol in absinthe may have stroke-fighting benefits. But it’s important to note that the authors of the 2005 study cautioned that the reduction in risk wasn’t great enough to suggest that non-drinkers should start drinking, since alcohol can have other negative effects on the body.
If you drink absinthe every day, it could increase your HDL cholesterol
Absinthe may help you raise your “good” cholesterol, which could have a big impact on your health.
In a study published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, a team of researchers headed by Henk F. J. Hendriks found that drinking alcohol with dinner raised subjects’ high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Higher levels of this “good” form of cholesterol have been linked to decreased risk for heart attack and stroke. HDL cholesterol helps protect the cardiovascular system by picking up excess amounts of more harmful forms of cholesterol circulating in the blood and bringing them back to the liver to be broken down. According to the Mayo Clinic, men and women should aim to get their HDL cholesterol above 60mg/dL, and those with an HDL of 50mg/dL or less are at increased risk.
Although the study doesn’t specify which spirits were used, the alcohol in absinthe is chemically the same as the alcohol in any other liquor. One important caveat: Dr. Hendriks’ study only tracked participants’ cholesterol levels for 13 hours, so alcohol’s HDL-boosting effects may be relatively short-lived.
Could drinking absinthe every day help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes?
According to the CDC, diabetes is now the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. More than 34 million Americans have diabetes, and another 88 million are pre-diabetic. Diabetes can contribute to other serious health conditions, such as heart disease, kidney disease, and blindness. There are lots of things you can do to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, but one surprising option is moderate alcohol consumption.
In 2005, a team of researchers headed by Dr. Lando L.J. Koppes reviewed 15 previous studies that followed more than 369,000 people for an average of 12 years. The long-term data from these studies showed that those who consumed a moderate amount of alcohol had about a 30 percent reduced risk of getting type 2 diabetes.While these studies didn’t necessarily differentiate between types of alcoholic beverages, if the root cause of this reduction in risk is the alcohol itself, as the researchers believe, then absinthe could be just as effective as other spirits.
So a daily glass of absinthe may help keep diabetes at bay. But don’t overdo it — the study found that higher levels of alcohol consumption didn’t offer the same protective benefits.
If you're worried about breast cancer, you may want to avoid drinking absinthe every day
If you have a family history of breast cancer or have other factors that put you at higher risk, you may not want to drink absinthe every day.
Roughly one in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in her life, and doctors believe the disease is caused by a mix of biological and lifestyle factors. Some of these you can’t control, like having certain genetic mutations or getting older, but others you can do something about. In addition to getting plenty of exercise, managing your weight, and not smoking, avoiding alcohol can have a big impact.
A 2015 review of medical literature conducted by researchers at Washington University and published in the journal Women’s Health confirmed that even moderate drinking can substantially increase a woman’s breast cancer risk. The paper also found that alcohol consumed during the early adult years could be particularly influential on a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer later in life.
Although the literature review didn’t draw any conclusions about absinthe specifically, the findings suggest that even just one glass of absinthe a day may increase your chances of getting breast cancer, especially if you’re young.
You may lower your long-term risk of dementia when you drink absinthe every day
If you want to stay sharp into old age, it may help to drink absinthe every day.
In a 2011 paper published in the journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, researchers Edward J. Neafsey and Michael A. Collins examined medical research going back more than 30 years to try to determine if alcohol consumption had any impact on cognitive decline and the appearance of dementia among older adults. Everyone gets a bit more forgetful as they age, but, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is “not a normal part” of the aging process. It’s the result of permanent damage to brain cells and results in severe mental decline that interferes with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is a common cause of dementia and affects more than 5 million Americans.
The researchers found that light to moderate drinking reduced individuals’ risk of cognitive decline and dementia. While wine was found to be especially helpful in reducing risk, any alcohol, including absinthe, could likely be beneficial.
But it’s unclear how exactly moderate alcohol consumption could reduce dementia risk, and not all studies have come to the same conclusion.
If you drink absinthe every day, will it help with pain?
A paper published in the Journal of Applied Biomedicine took a close look at the chemical composition of absinthe and found that thujone — the active ingredient in wormwood that’s been at the heart of the absinthe controversy for over a century — has analgesic (pain-killing) properties on par with codeine.
In fact, wormwood has been used for hundreds of years as a medicinal herb to treat pain and “control gastrointestinal worms.” Wormwood oil is still used today as an alternative remedy for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gallbladder inflammation, heartburn, and other complaints.
If you drink absinthe every day, it might not cure all your aches and pains, but it could help soothe your stomach and improve digestion. There’s so little thujone in modern absinthe, however, that you’d be better off buying wormwood in essential oil or supplement form if you’re interested in exploring its therapeutic properties. However, before you start taking any supplements, speak with your doctor to make sure it’s right for you.
Just as with any alcohol, you could cause liver damage if you drink absinthe every day
If you drink absinthe every day, you may experience some surprising health benefits, but the bottom line is that it’s still alcohol. And there’s plenty of research that indicates that even a small amount of alcohol can wreak havoc on your liver.
According to experts at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, drinking alcohol can lead to a number of liver issues. Alcoholic hepatitis results in inflammation of the liver, which, over time, can lead to cirrhosis (permanent damage to the liver cells). Women also appear to be more susceptible than men to alcohol-induced liver damage. And, because everyone’s sensitivity to alcohol is different, there’s no “one size fits all” recommendation when it comes to how much alcohol is safe to drink on a daily or weekly basis.
So, while you may love its flashy emerald color and complex licorice flavor, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of absinthe for your health before making a daily drink date with the green fairy.
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