A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.


The chemical formula or molecular structure of alcohol is C2H5OH. Hence, this denotes that five hydrogen atoms as well as one hydroxyl (hydrogen-oxygen) group are secured to one spine of two carbon atoms. This makes up a rather uncomplicated structure carrying quite small information. Therefore, at times, biochemists disapprovingly denote alcohol as a 'dull' molecule. Actually, the molecular structure of alcohol is comparatively very small and not very interesting compared to other multifaceted mind-acting chemicals like nicotine, heroin or the cannabinol, which is actually the fundamental drug element of cannabis.

When stored in room temperature, alcohol is a transparent liquid and is astringent as well as unpleasant to taste when it is in its pure form. However, when you water down alcohol it becomes fit for consumption as well as it does not taste so disagreeing. What is important is that water and alcohol mix without any difficulty. Spirits available on the market contain about 40 per cent pure or absolute alcohol; while other beverages like port, sherry as well fortified wines contain 15 to 20 per cent pure alcohol and the alcohol content in wine is the least among such beverages - about 12 per cent. A normal beer will contain approximately 4 per cent of alcohol by its volume, while strong beers may contain as much as 10 per cent alcohol. It is important to note that the distinct as well as flavours of different beverages is not owing to their alcohol content, pure or diluted, but owing to the chemicals that have been added to them during the manufacturing process.

In fact, it is actually feasible to produce a beer by extracting the entire alcohol content from it, but it would still practically taste like any beer. However, if you remove any of the intricate flavoring that is provided by hops, sugar, barely and other things even slightly, what will remain of the drink will be a dull reproduction or rather a distortion of the original beverage. If you say it in other words, it means that the dirt/ pollutants or other substances that are blended to pure alcohol are actually the things that make the beverages pleasant to smell as well as delicious. In effect, these are the things that turn a mixture of plain water and pure alcohol into an excellent beer, a renowned malt whiskey or a superior wine. On the other hand, vodka comparatively does not contain as much impurities and, therefore, it also has a comparatively less aroma and flavour.

It is important to note that the alcohol that is used to make beverages is known as ethanol. In fact, ethanol is one of the various dissimilar types of alcohol. The alcohol that is rubbed on your skin by a nurse as a disinfectant prior to administering an injection or drawing blood samples from your body is a different type of alcohol, which is called isopropyl alcohol. The chemical arrangement or structures of majority types of alcohols make them somewhat toxic for the humans. For instance, methanol, which is obtained by home-distilling processes, may even result in loss of eyesight. Any individual subject to poisoning by methanol needs to be provided medical attention instantly. Hence, one should always keep away from drinking the home-made liquor, also known as 'moonshine'.


The eventual basis of the entire alcoholic beverages is the breaking down of carbohydrates, including starch or glucose, to ethyl alcohol, water, and carbon dioxide by means of the exploits of enzymes. Majority of the beer available commercially is derived from the action of the brewers' yeast on barley or any other cereal, along with the addition of hops onto a number of beers for extra flavour. On the other hand, commercial wine draws from the breakdown of the sugar enclosed in the grape juice by means of the action of the yeasts that are contained in the flowers on the surface of the fruit. However, you may also use yeasts bred in laboratories to produce commercial wines. It may be noted here that cider is prepared from apples, while perry is produced from pears.

While these are the substances that form the foundation for the distilled alcoholic beverages used by most of the societies, there are also innumerable additional plant products that have been at some time or the other been used in producing alcohol, particularly in the developing nations. For instance, In North America, people have produced birch beer from the juice or sap of the tree which offers covering for canoes. In addition, a drink based on birch is also drunk by people inhabiting Siberia. On the other hand, Chicha is a distilled drink prepared from maize and it has been drunk by people inhabiting vast areas of the Central and South America since the days prior to the era of Christopher Columbus. On the other hand, in several regions of Africa, for several centuries, home made beer has been a traditional drink, especially in the rural culture. People in these areas fermented maize, sorghum or millet to produce beer.

In the northern regions of Africa, people mostly brew beers based on barley, while those inhabiting the West Africa drink palm wine, which is a hot favourite in this part of the continent. In addition to barley and palm, people belonging to other cultures have been traditionally using bananas as well as other fruits to prepare alcohol. In the Far East, rice wine is extremely popular. Besides the Arctic regions, possibly there is no other area in the world where people do no make use of the profusion of nature assisted by benevolent enzymes to prepare some or other type of alcoholic beverage. The essence of these alcoholic beverages may not all the time follow the method of preparing genuine ale or chateau-bottled claret of their flavour - an original African beer may perhaps taste to the Western palate something like a watered down porridge and may even contain a few dead flies drifting in the container, but you must always bear in mind that alcohol is always alcohol and is a common thing across the globe.

The process of preparing alcohol by means of fermentation is so easy that the prehistoric humans would also get into the process immediately when it was possible for them to collect fruit, add water and kill time for a small number of days for the beneficial enzymes to accomplish their work. Most possibly, these conditions involve the commencement of the established as well as farming way of life instead of a nomadic survival. Now that the extreme effortlessness of the fundamental process has been underlined, it ought to be admitted that the process involved in beer production in contemporary times includes superior technology. At the same time, it needs to be mentioned that in the modern times, brewing has build up a powerful scientific foundation. Similarly, production of wine too has its individual science, but till this day in some manners wine production remains close to its antique origins that were followed prior to the industrial production of wine.

No matter how ancient or superior the technology, there is always a restriction on the concentration of alcohol that may be obtained by any type of fermentation. In effect, this has been established by the fact that when the concentration of alcohol goes up to a specific degree, the yeast will be held back or even killed by the alcohol that it has produced itself, and at this juncture the fermentation procedure would collapse. It may be noted that sake, Japan's national alcoholic beverage, is manufactured by means of Aspergillus' (non-yeast microorganism) action on rice, and a concentration of approximately 17 per cent may be obtained prior to the fermentation process being shut down. Here, it may be noted that for all realistic reasons, this is possibly the maximum concentration of alcohol that can be achieved for any alcoholic beverage by means of natural fermentation.

Distilling as amazing innovation

For millennia, the straightforward fact regarding the alcohol-encouraged self-restraint on fermentation denotes that there were upper limits on the potency or concentration of the product/ alcoholic beverage. Becoming inebriated following consumption of any wine having an alcohol concentration of 12 per cent or a beer with 4 per cent alcohol concentration is not very difficult, while some of the conventional alcoholic beverages prevalent in the developing nations usually have a very low alcohol content that it would be necessary to have farming and brewing further than the resources possessed by any rural community to make extensive alcoholism at all possible.

In the 16th century, it was possible to overcome the age-old obstruction in producing beverages having higher alcoholic concentration by means of spreading the distillation technology throughout Europe. As a common element of the great drinks gamut, today we may well see the bottles of spirits piled on the rather more protected shelves at the off-license shops. However, in the 16th century distillation/ fermentation would certainly have appeared like a world-shattering as well as frightening technology. As a result of the new distillation technology, all of a sudden, people availed alcohol whose concentration was thrice more than what people had seen or tasted earlier. All types of ancient balances between peoples and their drinking were soon knocked off balance. Henceforth, the word 'spirits' itself conveyed a perilously delightful significance.

Looking back, you will find that the basics of distillation are more than 2,000 years old. The Greeks were familiar with the process of distillation since the first century AD. In fact, as early as the third century AD, Alexander of Aphrodisias provided an account of the process by which the saline sea water could be distilled to convert it into drinking water. While making a passing reference, he also pointed out the prospect of undertaking distillation on wine. As it has occurred so frequently in the history of science, especially medicine, this particular Greek knowledge was passed on to the Arab world and much afterwards taken to Spain from where it was disseminated to the remaining parts of Europe.

By the time it was mid-16th century, making use of the distillation process to supply concentrated alcoholic beverages had turned out to be an extensively applied technology throughout Europe. In the initial stages, the ensuing preparation was seen basically in the form of a medicine, but quite soon, concentrated alcohol formed the source for a variety of new drinks. In fact, dissemination of the new distillation technology later provided Europe with brandy as well as a variety of analogous alcoholic beverages. The alcoholic beverage gin was produced by fermenting grain and adding a small amount of juniper for flavouring. In fact, gin was produced in Holland for the first time followed by London gin, which was unsweetened and a viable selection.

On the other hand, whisky has its origin in a variety of diverse cereals. And according to accounts available from the country of whisky's origin Scotland - Scotch whisky is derived from malt and grain with some caramel for coloring, the smoke of kilns fuelled by peat was added for essence and valued spring water is used as a carrier. Rum originated in the form of a distilled alcoholic beverage that has its basis on molasses. Compared to all these drinks, Kentucky bourbon arrived late in the market, sometime around the close of the 18th century. Kentucky bourbon is mostly produced from a fermented maize mash, which following distillation is matured in burnt oak barrels.

Blood alcohol concentration

When alcoholic beverages are gulped, the alcohol present in the drink is soaked up by the stomach as well as the small intestines. It has been found that the presence of food in the stomach or the intestine inhibits the absorption rate of alcohol. However, the absorption process may be accelerated provided the alcoholic beverage has been refrigerated or has been freshened with carbon dioxide bubbles. Compared to the stronger alcoholic beverages, alcohol in the less concentrated drinks is likely to be absorbed faster and, hence, drinking champagne on an empty stomach may result in its alcohol content getting to the brain more effectively. Following an initial passage through the liver, a part of the alcohol will reach the brain in just a few minutes. The alcohol level in the bloodstream or the brain will subsequently increase gradually for the ensuing 30 to 60 minutes, while the absorption of a solitary drink is over. If an individual is taking several drinks or spacing out drinks in a series, it may cause the alcohol level in the bloodstream and the brain to go higher as well as remain there for a longer period.

It may be noted that the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that is obtained following consumption of any alcoholic beverage or a drinking session will reveal a balance. Then again, the amount of alcohol that is soaked up by the body and over the period of time and also how rapidly the body is disposing of the alcohol will also be shown in the blood alcohol concentration. A big part of getting rid of alcohol (about 80 per cent) is realized by means of the metabolic breakdown or digestion in the liver and an individual who is a heavy drinker may possibly be capable of breaking down two times as rapidly as any person who only drinks occasionally or lightly. Some part of the consumed alcohol is not absorbed by the body and expelled untouched by means of urination, while a small amount is exhaled through the lungs or got rid of by means of perspiration. However, it is important to note that the self-conning idea of the old times, especially during the colonial days, that consumption of alcohol is comparatively not dangerous in hot climatic conditions, since it may be mostly sweated out, does not have any scientific support.

When alcohol meets the brain

It would be interesting to know what actually occurs when alcohol reaches the brain. In so far as majority of the people are involved, when alcohol gets to the brain, the occurrence is accepted in the form of good news. In fact, when alcohol reaches the brain something starts happening ingeniously. It is very unlikely that a person who usually drinks alcoholic beverage will sit down and try to explain what he or she is starting to feel, but when they have consumed one or two glasses, they begin to experience something that is desirable and recognizable. In fact, what they sense psychologically is actually altered by their personality - their earlier experiences while drinking alcoholic beverages, their company as well as the surroundings, what alcohol is able to do for the individual concerned and cultural convictions. However, behind all such significant influence remains the basic fact that while alcohol gets to the brain, a mind-acting drug will start having an impact on the brain cells as well as the brain systems in a manner that is able to generate or make enjoyable modifications in the disposition possible.

While an alteration in the individual's mood is noticeable first, which is a desirable effect caused by consuming alcoholic beverages, simultaneously the person will also experience physiological consequences, for instance a rapid pulse rate, increased blood pressure as well as augmented urination - after effects that are more often than not of much instantaneous significance to the individual consuming alcoholic drinks.

The dose in which an individual has consumed alcohol is directly related to several of the consequences mentioned above and generally, the drinkers believe that their pleasure will be enhanced when they take more drinks. However, ultimately horrible consequences occur and, as a result of this, drinking usually turns out to be an aversion. In fact, the level of alcohol consumption that changes the feelings from pleasure to dislike actually varies from one individual to another, but the desirable ecstasy or elation may be changed into over-sentimental misery and depression. In addition, the other undesirable physical effects of drinking in excess may include vomiting and queasiness.

The manner in which alcohol works on the brain as well as its interaction with emotional expectations to generate its consequences is a question that has in recent times led scientists to undertake numerous studies. A concise conclusion is that alcohol has an effect on the functioning of the brain owing to its capacity to get in the way of the chemical messengers that are controlling the balance between action and idleness in the brain cells as well as the brain circuitry all the time. It may be noted that alcohol does not always straight away key in the receptor sites within the brain, unlike several other mind-acting drugs, but it causes its effects by means of groping legitimate messengers something similar to cat's pawing. By such means, alcohol triggers structures in the brain, wherein the firing of the nerve cells results in a sense of bliss, while by other methods it will diminish firing as well as cause sedation and harm the adroitness.

Alcohol as a poison

Hypothetically, alcohol is a poison in many dissimilar manners. The extreme commonplace effect of drinking alcohol is that it has the ability to cause a hangover - a condition wherein people experience mild weakness to anything like headaches, queasiness, repulsiveness, room spinning round as well as a temporary resolution of never to drink alcoholic beverages in future. To a certain extent this condition is a consequence of poisoning by non-alcoholic impurities present in the beverages, but dehydration owing to diuretic consequence of alcohol also has a role to play.

If we place the hazards of drinking in another way, we may say that consumption of alcohol, especially in excessive amounts, may even result in death. Fortunately enough, this is not a very common happening. Nonetheless, on many occasions it has been found that drunken people lodged in police cells were dead on the following morning owing to respiratory depression resulted due to consumption of alcohol. In such cases, the matters may have been complicated further by the victims inhaling their vomit and, occasionally, also owing to the aptitude of alcohol to bring down the blood sugar levels abnormally. Death due to excessive consumption of alcohol happens somewhat easily when this substance is taken mixed with tranquilizers, sedatives and opioids, including heroin or methadone. Although sad, the fact is that fatalities have occurred in this manner.

Alcohol is considered to be poisonous because it can either cause physical damage to the body tissues as well as harm the body systems either directly or owing to the related undernourishment that has an inclination to accompany excessive use of alcohol. In fact, if any individual is habituated to heavy drinking for a prolonged period there is barely any type of tissue which is not susceptible to it - including the heart, brain nerve, liver and muscles.

In addition, continued or repeated exposure to alcohol also increases the risks of developing particular types of cancer. Last, but not of least significance, by means of its aptitude to harm coordination as well as opinion, alcohol may possibly result in several types of accidents. Occasionally, it may also result in violent behaviour or encourage one's impulse to commit suicide.

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