- Alcohol consumption in Ghana has reached astronomical heights and too much intake of it can lead to harmful effects on the brain, liver, stomach, heart and kidneys.
Written By Dr Elliot Koranteng Tannor, Senior Specialist Physician/Nephrologist KATH - Alcohol is a very common beverage consumed worldwide and in Ghana. It is estimated that 23.3% of Ghanaians take alcohol, and of these a projected 2.1% were found to be engaging in heavy drinking. It is served at most social events and as a away to de-stress after a long day at work. Alcohol is also used in most industries as a solvent for some medications and for spiritual exercises by traditionalists and communion by some Christians. It's however frown upon in the Islamic faith.
The alcoholic beverage sector in Ghana is booming as 30 million litres of alcohol is consumed yearly. In 2013, Ghanaians and their counterparts across the globe consumed over 2.62 billion bottles of beer.
According to the World Health Organization’s [WHO] global status report on alcohol and health 2014, worldwide per capita consumption was 6.2 litres of pure alcohol every year.
This means we each take about 6.2L of alcohol every year globally. In Canada it was 10.2 litres per person per year. Ghana records between 2.5-4.9 liters of pure alcohol consumption per person every year. The per capita consumption of alcohol among heavy drinkers stood at 20 litres in a year. Alcohol consumption accounted for about 3.3 million (5.9%) deaths globally in 2012, most of them being males.
It has been suggested and proven that moderate alcohol intake has no serious effect and may have healthy benefits. This is very true but has led to abuse of the social beverage by most individuals.
Alcohol consumption in Ghana has reached astronomical heights and too much intake of it can lead to harmful effects on the brain, liver, stomach, heart and kidneys.
The kidneys have the role to filter harmful substances from blood. These substances include medications, toxins as well as alcohol. When alcohol is consumed in high doses, the function of the kidney reduces and becomes less able to filter other toxins as well.
Excess alcohol also causes the kidneys to lose the ability to concentrate urine and leads to dehydration if one does not eventually take increased amounts of water.
Too much intake of alcohol has the tendency to increase ones blood pressure as well as increase the cardiovascular risk. This may lead to heart attack, strokes and further deterioration of kidney functions. It's common knowledge that increased intake of alcohol causes liver disease and this can also lead to decreased blood flow to the kidneys and destroy the kidneys in the short term as well as chronically in the long run.
If alcohol is safe in moderate quantities, then one may ask what is moderate? One unit of alcohol refers to a bottle of beer, a glass of wine or a ‘tot’ of hard liquor. More than 7 units per week in females or 14 units per week for males is considered heavy. Heavy alcohol binging on regular basis increases your risk of kidney disease. Heavy binging of alcohol can also increase your risk of falls, convulsions and sudden kidney injury which when not managed adequately can lead to chronic kidney disease.
Chronic alcoholism can also lead to heart failure. The heart is responsible for providing blood to all parts of the body including the kidney. Heart failure can cause kidney disease in the short run or chronic kidney disease in the long run when it’s not able to pump enough blood to the kidneys.
Alcoholic intake can also affect the stomach and cause ulcers which may lead to bleeding. Excess bleeding can lead to low blood levels and low blood pressure which can cause a decrease in the perfusion to the kidneys and therefore kidney damage. Chronic alcoholism also leads to malnutrition from poor dietary intake. This leads to deficiency in essential nutrients for normal body functions as well that of the kidneys.
With all the devastating effects of alcohol on the body as well as its effect to family and the nation as a whole, there needs to be a national discussion to help cut down alcohol consumption. Fortunately, Ghana has a national alcohol policy which was launched in March 2019. This policy sets out a clear direction aimed at regulating the production, distribution, sale, advertisement and consumption of alcohol, with the aim of minimizing the negative impact of its consumption on the individual, family and society as a whole. It also encourages and promotes abstinence, reduce harmful alcohol consumption, follow global best practice and encourages governments to ensure total compliance.
In summary, excessive alcohol consumption can affect the kidneys directly or indirectly. Abstinence or moderate intake is recommended to help decrease morbidity and mortality related to cardiovascular diseases and kidney diseases in Ghana.