31 July 2013

A New Journey -- Part 7: Must John Barleycorn Really Die?

"There were three men came out of the west, their fortunes for to try
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn must die"
-- First stanza of an early English folk tune, "John Barleycorn"
-- Tune reframed by Steve Winwood and Traffic:  Released in 1970 in 
the album, "John Barleycorn Must Die" (click on link above to hear
Steve Winwood sing the song)

The American Temperance Society was founded in the United States in 1826.  It was not the first group to attempt to either curtail or prohibit the use of alcoholic beverages.  Two small movements were underway in the colonies and shortly after the American Revolution. There were many temperance societies in countries around the world -- having various levels of success.  In the United States, there were three major periods of Temperance Society activity -- the third and final being from 1893-1933.  

In 1893, The Rev. Howard Hyde Russell founded the Anti-Saloon League (ASL).  Under various leaders, the ASL gained political traction.  With the motto, "The Church in action against the saloon," the ASL achieved massive support from most all religious groups in the United States.  The success of this effort paid off when, on 18 December 1917, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was passed by Congress.  With ratification by more than 3/4 of the states, Prohibition went into formal law on 16 January 1920.  Prohibition banned "the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States and its possessions." However, Prohibition did not outlaw the purchase or consumption of alcohol products.  The 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933 with the passage of the 21st Amendment.  It is the only instance in United States history that a constitutional amendment was repealed.

[Sidebar here:  It is why I am so wearied by cries of losing 2nd Amendment rights.  An Amendment can only be repealed by an act of Congress with 3/4 of the states approving to be ratified into law.  I think it is time to give that old "protect my constitutional rites" gig a rest]

A lot of complicated things happened during the period of Prohibition.  All kinds of books and movies have been written and made exploring the societal struggles during the 1920s...leading to the Great Depression.  The emergence of organized crime in the scope of the Mafia (as only one example) made its mark by bootlegging alcoholic beverages and laundering both the product and the money.  This posting isn't about exploring all the nuances of Prohibition.  However, the effects of temperance movements and its legitimacy is of value in what follows.

I do not often refer to the "For Dummies" books that are published, but when I do, I refer to one that has some depth and summarizes current science and/or technology.  Such is the case with the website "How Your Body Processes Alcohol...for Dummies."  It is good reading and available at:                                                                                http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-your-body-processes-alcohol.html

This is not to infer, in any way, that anyone is a dummy.  Both history and physiology can get complicated.  It is sometimes good to have the material presented in a way that streamlines the technical language.  It becomes easier to digest the information (sorry, I couldn't resist) and make use of the facts.  
  • Alcohol is not a sugar, nor is it metabolized as a sugar.  Alcohol moves directly through the stomach walls into the circulatory system (blood).  
  • The body considers alcohol a toxin (poison) and sends it directly to the liver.  Here is where something really important happens.   Because it is a toxin, the liver stops enzymatic action on carbohydrates and other sugars in order to deal with the alcohol.  This process is slow.  It takes about an hour for the system to metabolize 1 oz. of alcohol (about 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine, or 1.5 oz. of whiskey).  
  • While you are drinking alcohol, your blood sugar will actually drop for a while.  This is because of the metabolic action by the liver, cited above.
  • Eventually, alcohol is removed as ascetic acid.
  • Because it is free-flowing in our bloodstream before metabolizing, alcohol affects neuro-receptors in the brain, the heart and the lungs.  This is one reason a breathalyzer works so well.  
  • One gains weight with alcohol consumption, because the body "reads" the temporary reduction of glucose (due to suspended action of the liver) as needing more fuel.  We eat more.  In college, remember the beer parties with the Domino's Pizza deliveries following later that evening?   Come on...yes, you do.  
  • The more one drinks, the longer it takes to remove the alcohol.  It takes a long time for the liver enzymes to break it down.  Three beers, three glasses of wine, or 3.0 oz of standard 80 proof whiskey can take up to four hours to fully metabolize.  Food you have already eaten is not being processed (the glucose part).  The body craves more food, and one keeps eating until the body begins to register a new flow of glucose.   By the time that happens, there is an insulin spike that can be as much as five times normal.  If this happens often enough, the genetic disposition for Type II diabetes can be triggered.
  • Remember:  Alcohol is not the only thing in a drink of any kind.  Beer and a number of whiskeys contain barley.  Other major grains, like corn, rye and wheat, are used as a base for distilling alcohol.  So, there are also carbohydrates in what one is drinking.  These are, in fact, processed like all carbohydrates:  into blood sugar -- glucose.   The darker beers, for instance, contain up to four times more carbohydrates that "pale ales."  Blended Scots Whisky (Scotch to this side of the Pond) contains more carbohydrates than single malts.  
  • Also, we rarely drink straight anything -- except for beer and wine.  One must take into account the glycemic load of the mixer one is using.  Unless it is water or club soda, there is a whopping amount of fructose, sucrose and carbohydrate going down with that tequila in a margarita (as one example only).  True story:  I had a large margarita at a Mexican restaurant in Kansas City three years ago...just three days before seeing my endocrinology diabetes nurse.  My blood work showed a significant spike in both fasting blood sugar and triglycerides.  Yep, it was the margarita that did that...still showing up three days after consumption.
  • Alcohol does not make cirrhosis of the liver.  However, alcohol taxes the liver and actually "fatigues" it.  This leads to inflammation and subsequent scaring of the internal liver tissues.  This is cirrhosis.  Other things can cause cirrhosis as well, so be informed.
I will tell only one of three events in my younger years that is the kind of thing that can trigger a lot of problems:  binge drinking.  At the University of Florida, I lived in the Beaty Towers -- a "high rise" dorm for juniors through graduate studies students.  In 1972, a number of us living on the 8th floor of Beaty East (the men's dorm tower) were seniors.  In mid-May 1972, just about 3.5 weeks before graduation, we were entering our last period of final exams.  Us 8th floor guys decided to sponsor a senior party for us and some of our friends (that would ultimately mean about 70 of us).  One of my really good friends down the hall had access to Budweiser and Michelob products through his dad.  For next to nothing, we hauled three full kegs from Tampa to Gainesville -- along with a lot of complimentary 16 oz. plastic mugs.

On that fateful Saturday night in May, the grand party commenced.  Early on, one of my other good friends on the 8th floor got into a bantering conversation with me regarding our next chapter of life.  He was going into the Marine Corps, and I was going into the Navy.  Can you see where this is going?  

A bet was made.  Whichever of us could consume the most 16 oz. mugs of beer and remain standing would be declared the winner -- to the exaltation of his branch of service.  Being of Scots lineage, I could not let "my team" look bad.  I waded in.

One of the guys not drinking was the coordinator.  He filled each of our mugs and kept a record of what each of us consumed...on a board tacked onto the central hallway bulletin board.  I will not bother with the details of that evening.  It was, in many ways a great party.  I kept drinking.  Tim kept drinking.

At 12:35am -- four hours later, I consumed the last of my 22nd beer......seriously.  I did not realize that Tim had collapsed in a heap as he was just beginning his 22nd mug.  I had won.  I am telling this via what was told me.  I don't remember.  It is told that I threw my empty mug against the bulletin board and starting singing "Anchors Aweigh" in a loud baritone.  I fell down, and a group of my friends carried me to my room...and my bed.  During the remaining hours of that night, I got pretty sick.  My three roommates swear to this day that I was in the bathroom, moaning in my toxic stew and beseeching, "God, if you love me, kill me!"  I swear I do not remember this.

I was 21 years old.  Yet, I was a fairly new Postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church (the first official stage leading to seminary and ordination as a Priest).  As was my custom, I crawled out of bed at 9am, somehow got cleaned up and dressed.  I made it downtown to Trinity Episcopal Church in time for the 10am Eucharist.  The music and liturgical sounds caused my head to pound so that I thought my ears would explode.  I got to the rail to receive Communion and caught a scent of the consecrated wine.  I left immediately to find the restroom.  My intentions were good, but my body was in a terrible toxic mess.

I had a major paper to finish.  I had written it, but it needed to be typed.  I got back to my room and settled down at my desk and typewriter.  Every tap of the key was like a giant bass drum beating right beside me.  That Sunday was the worst day of my life.

Honestly, I am not at all proud of this.  It took nearly four days to start feeling like my old self again.  I have not, to this day, gotten drunk again.  

The English folk song, "John Barleycorn Must Die" personifies the the cereal crop, barley, that was essential in most alcoholic beverage production in early England and European continent.  It got picked up by temperance societies in many cultures and used as a rallying cry for "killing the evil spirits of alcohol."  All cultures seem to have a love-hate relationship with distilled and brewed beverages.  

Like most things, alcohol in itself is not evil.  In fact, there is strong medical evidence for benefits from moderate amounts ... especially wine (and red wine to be most specific).  It is how we use alcohol -- or any consumable -- and knowing our limitations.

It was a damned foolish thing I did at age 21.  It could have very easily become deadly with alcohol poisoning.  I was fortunate -- both to not get sicker than I was, and to recognize that danger for the future.  

For all of my adult life, an occasional beer, glass of wine or a good Scots Whisky on the rocks is a nice treat.  It simply does not interest me to have more than two or three of those events in a week...and not more than one drink.  There are weeks that go by where I consume nothing alcoholic.  I have done Fifth Step work for persons in Alcoholics Anonymous and know the addictive process.

However, that same addictive process (it is both genetic and in the neural receptor centers of the brain) holds us captive to sugar, modern wheat products and simple carbohydrates.  Those are also the things that trigger Type II Diabetes and other metabolic disorders.

St. Paul counseled his young faith communities to exercise moderation in all things.  Part of who we are and why we are here is to be stewards and to hold all things in balance -- most especially ourselves.  What we put in our mouths affects every part of our organic being.  How do we acknowledge and celebrate the gift we call life?

During the detox phase of this journey, no alcohol is allowed.  As I move into the next stages of lifestyle and food choice adjustments, it may be an option to have an occasional beverage.  My rule for this will be to reduce that day's intake of foods that could be processed as glucose.  By what amount, I don't yet know.  It is a conversation with my body that will yield the answer.  It will sound like, "if you want to enjoy that, leave out this..."

Today's numbers:

Fasting Blood Glucose:  88.  This is the fifth day of below 100
Weight: 233.  I lost the pound that came back yesterday.  Net loss, 7 lbs in seven days.
Blood Pressure:  134/72.  This is some indication of a lowering, though it is not much

This is beyond my expectations.  It may be that my detox time is ending, and I am ready to move to the next phase.  I have submitted my log to my mentor.  

Love and Blessings!


No comments:

Post a Comment