Health News | Alcohol isn’t just hurting your pocket – see what it’s doing to your body

Whether it’s a social drink at a “tjop ‘n dop” or a couple glasses of red with dinner, many South Africans enjoy their alcohol.

South Africa’s finance minister, Malusi Gigaba today addressed Parliament in his budget speech and announced that for 2018 sin taxes will indeed hurt our pockets – and that the price of alcohol will increase by between 6 and 10%.

It’s been proven that alcohol, while enjoyable, can do much more harm than good. If the price of this commodity isn’t enough to sway your opinion, maybe the toll it takes on your health will.

Read more on alcohol and your health:

How fat can alcohol really make you?

Could your daily tipple lead to obesity? There is growing evidence for a link between alcoholism and obesity, but more research is needed.

Are you drinking too much?

Have you ever wondered whether the amount of alcohol you drink could be affecting your health? Take this simple quiz to find out if you’re drinking more than you should be.

Can exercise offset damaging effects of alcohol?

A study found that just 2.5 hours of physical activity a week could reduce the harmful effects of alcohol in drinkers all over the world.

SEE: The effects of too much alcohol on the body

In what ways can alcohol affect your body? You might be surprised at some of the side-effects of binge drinking…

Alcohol and your nervous system

Have you ever wondered how alcohol affects your memory, or changes your behaviour?

How much alcohol is really OK?

All the good news or bad news studies about alcohol can leave you confused. Some say it’s good for you, but in moderation, while other say you should avoid it. Which should you believe?

What drinking 8 or more beers a week does to your brain

Drinking a couple beers throughout the week may be hurting your health more than you think. Even moderate drinking could damage your brain, claims research from the University of Oxford.

Can you really be allergic to alcohol?

Allergic reactions to alcoholic drinks are often overlooked as many of the symptoms can be mistaken for a nasty hangover.

NEXT ON HEALTH24X | Can crocodile poo and olive oil prevent pregnancy?

In a 2012 Durex Global Sex Survey, the humble condom was voted the most popular form of contraception, with 41% of people choosing it over other methods such as oral pills or implants.

But have you ever wondered what people used to do before the days of the latex condom? Read on – and you’ll be grateful for modern contraceptives. 

DISCLAIMER: Please do not try any of these methods. 

1. Crocodile dung

Around 1800 BC, Egyptian women used crocodile excrement to avoid pregnancy. The reptile’s dung was mixed with fermented dough, and women would sprinkle the mixture on their vulvas or insert it into their vaginas to block sperm. Not only is the practice of using animal faeces inside the body pretty bizarre, but researchers are also unsure how effective this method was. Some researchers believe that the pH level of the crocodile dung might have killed the sperm, but that theory has not been tested.

2. Olive oil

Greek and Roman women would put olive oil in the cervix to prevent conception. The ancient philosopher Aristotle wrote in The History of Animals VII, part 3 (350 BC), that to avoid conception, women should prevent the “womb” from coming in contact with sperm by rubbing it with cedar oil, lead ointment or incense, mixed with olive oil.

It was also believed that the use of oil altered the pH level of the vagina, rendering it an unfavourable environment for the sperm. There is no data available on whether olive oil was effective on its own, but it seems that this method of contraception is in fact being researched today. A recent study found that lupeol, a natural compound found in olives, serves as a molecular “condom”, preventing eggs from being fertilised. Modern contraceptives containing lupeol are currently being explored.

olive oil

3. Mercury

Mercury is extremely toxic to the body and high levels of exposure can lead to organ damage. In ancient China, women (usually prostitutes or concubines) drank mercury, lead or even arsenic to render them infertile.

Although they didn’t drink enough to poison them, prolonged exposure to the poison caused health problems later on. While we are not sure exactly how effective this method was, the effect that mercury has on the internal organs would presumably be enough to prevent pregnancy. 

While they suspected that mercury would kill off sperm, people in those days had no idea how dangerous mercury actually is. 

mercury drops

4. Condoms from animal intestines

The oldest existing condom in the form we know today was found in the early 1640s in Lund, Sweden, and was made from pig intestine. But it seems that condoms were used even further back in history – as far back as 3000 BC. The first documented use of a condom was by King Minos of Crete, who was said to have “serpents and scorpions” in his semen, according to the Iliad by Homer. This metaphor possibly referred to a sexually transmitted disease, since his mistresses reportedly died after having intercourse with him. To prevent this from happening, the bladder of a goat was inserted into their vaginas to protect them.

This story might, however, not be entirely true, as Minos’s wife Pasiphae gave birth to eight children.

5. Honey

In ancient Egypt, coating the cervix with honey was used as a method of contraception. While the honey didn’t serve as a spermicide, it was meant to form a barrier over the cervix to prevent sperm from entering. While it was regarded as an effective method, we have no way of knowing if it was indeed foolproof


6. Lysol

This disinfectant was used as recently as the early 1920s to prevent unwanted pregnancies. It was claimed that dousing the vagina after intercourse would serve as a spermicide, preventing pregnancy. It was even subtly advertised that Lysol could be used for this purpose. Needless to say, the harsh chemicals interfered with the natural pH balance of the vagina and would often cause poisoning and burns. 

7. Silphium

This fennel-like plant was used prolifically by the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks. It was used as a perfume, to soothe bloated stomachs, add fragrance to food – and even prevent pregnancy.

Women had to drink a small amount of silphium juice mixed with water once a month. Not only was this plant deemed effective as birth control but also as a menstrual regulator. The plant was thought to work as an abortifacient (causing abortion) and to “promote menstrual discharge”. Seeing that many relatives of this plant, such as wild carrots, actually have the ability to regulate hormones, silphium might in fact have been effective in preventing pregnancies. 

Image credits: iStock | 5 myths about antioxidants that will blow your mind

It’s billed as an epic story of good versus evil – biology in comic-book form. The villains: free radicals, those nefarious DNA-attacking poisons of modern life. Our fearless defenders: antioxidants, poised to protect us from – well, everything, right?

You’ve heard the claims. But while we think we know what antioxidants do, few of us know what antioxidants actually are. And food manufacturers are fine with that; the less you know, the more likely you are to swallow the hype.

“Antioxidants have a health aura around them,” says Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.

“They are supposed to fight something bad in your body. Who wouldn’t want to consume more of a helper like that?”

Read more: Coffee might be a more powerful antioxidant than we thought

There’s no doubt that antioxidants can be good for you. But to maximise their benefit, we first have to strip away some assumptions.

1. Free radicals must be destroyed

Not so fast.

The basics: Antioxidants fight free radicals, which are unstable molecules in the body that can cause DNA mutation. Even though free radicals have been linked to serious conditions like heart disease, Parkinson’s and cancer, they aren’t necessarily villains – they’re by-products of a basic metabolic process called oxidation.

“They’re absolutely essential to life,” says Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, director of the antioxidants lab at Tufts University. “For example, immune cells will shoot free radicals onto invading bacteria in order to kill them. They’re an important part of the body’s defences.”

Too many free radicals, on the other hand, are harmful. Pollutants, cigarette smoke and sun overexposure can generate so many free radicals that your normal antioxidant defences become overwhelmed, leaving you vulnerable to cell damage and disease. Some researchers also link free-radical oxidation with aging.

cigarette, smoke, woman, table, outside, free radi

That’s where antioxidants come in. “We need to make sure we have adequate antioxidant defences to combat all the excess free radicals,” says Blumberg.

Read more: 3 supplements that you really need in your diet, and 3 that are just wasting your money

Do this: Assuming you’ve curbed bad habits such as smoking and excessive tanning, turn to your diet. If you eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, your diet is naturally rich in thousands of antioxidants.

Studies suggest eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day to reap the most health benefits.

2. All antioxidants are created equal

Not even close.

Any molecule that protects your cells against oxidation is technically an antioxidant, says Joe Vinson, PhD, a professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania. “They’re anti-oxidation.”

This includes familiar nutrients, like vitamins, as well as more unfamiliar types of antioxidants, like flavonoids and polyphenols – about 8 000 varieties in all.

But don’t assume that all antioxidants operate the same way, Blumberg warns.

“You can’t say, ‘Well, I’m not going to worry about taking in enough vitamin E, because I take lots of vitamin C.’ All the vitamin C in the world won’t substitute for vitamin E,” says Blumberg.

vitamins, hand, glass, water, bottles

Some antioxidants excel at fighting certain types of free radicals (yep, there are different varieties of those, too) while others are effective only in specific parts of a cell. Still others can battle free radicals only under the right conditions.

“Think of antioxidants as an army,” he says. “You need generals, lieutenants, corporals, privates and others with specific duties. You can’t fight an enemy with only generals.”

So how do you create an effective defence system in the battle for your life? By building a multipronged counteroffensive – er, diet.

Read more: This diet is ranked #1 in the world – but is it right for you?

Do this: Branch out and try something new in the produce aisle. In a 2006 study, researchers at Colorado State University found that people who ate the widest variety of fruits and vegetables had the most DNA protection.

3. All antioxidants come from fruits and vegetables

Wait a minute.

The entire plant kingdom – including beans, nuts, seeds and grains – is awash in antioxidants, according to a recent study from the University of Scranton. That’s because all plants produce antioxidants to fight against predators and UV rays, says Vinson.

fruit, vegetables, healthy, food, bowl, table

It’s important to steer clear of refined grains, though; they’ve been stripped of most of their antioxidant benefits.

Even meat, dairy products and eggs contain some antioxidants, which mainly come from the nutrient-rich plants the animals fed on.

Read more: You probably don’t need to eat as many fruits and vegetables as you think

Do this: Eat whole-grain foods, beans, nuts and seeds regularly. When animals are on the menu, make sure they’ve been grass-fed; meat and dairy products from these better-fed beasts have been shown to contain higher levels of antioxidants. Eggs from pastured hens also rank higher in antioxidants – look for them at farmers’ markets.

4. Antioxidant-fortified foods are healthier

Not really.

The ink was barely dry on early antioxidant studies when food companies started slapping the A-word on their packaging. You can even chug an antioxidant-fortified version of Cherry 7UP.

The FDA requires food manufacturers to list the variety of antioxidant in a product; that part is often in fine print. Look closely and the label reveals that you’re receiving a tiny helping of vitamin E. Perhaps “Cherry 7UP Vitamin E” didn’t sound as impressive.

If you’re relying on processed foods to supplement your antioxidant intake, you may be surprised to find that many processed foods have relatively small amounts of just one or two kinds. Since variety is critical, you probably aren’t making up for lost ground.

Read more: Are fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables better for you?

Do this: Ignore the hype – there’s no research to prove that packaged products provide the same health benefits that whole foods do. Instead, focus on the ingredient list. If a food product contains mostly plant foods, it’s likely to be rich in antioxidants.

food, shopping, food label, trolley, woman

5. If I exercise and take supplements, I’ll be superfit

Maybe not.

Working out leads to more oxidation and an increase in free radicals. That’s not a bad thing.

“Since free-radical production is a normal response to exercise, taking a large dose of antioxidants right after a workout could interfere with the natural, beneficial response to exercise,” says nutritionist Alan Aragon, MS, a Men’s Health weight-loss expert.

The logic is unexpected but clear: Scientists speculate that the oxidative stress triggered by exercise promotes insulin sensitivity and weight loss, and possibly reduces your risk of diabetes.

exercise, running, man, health, fitness

Case in point: A 2009 German study found that when exercisers took antioxidant supplements (vitamins C and E), they weren’t rewarded with the typical post-exercise boost in insulin sensitivity. So much for that well-intentioned antioxidant-fortified recovery drink.

Michael Ristow, MD, an author of the study and chairman of the department of human nutrition at the University of Jena, Germany, speculates that other antioxidant supplements might have similar negative effects, though more study is needed.

Read more: You might be taking the wrong form of this common supplement

Supplements can even sap your power: A 2006 British study found that runners who took 1 000mg of vitamin C daily for a week lost muscle strength.

Do this: If you’re exercising to lose weight, your antioxidants should come from whole foods, not from supplements or antioxidant-enhanced food products.

When it comes to antioxidants, more isn’t always better.

How antioxidants work

Normal cellular processes – as well as stressors like cigarette smoke and sunburn – trigger your body to produce excessive amounts of cell-damaging molecules called free radicals.

Here’s how antioxidants can come to the defense.

1. When a molecule loses an electron, it becomes a reactive free radical with an extra, unpaired electron.

2. The free radical tries to steal an electron from a nearby molecule to regain balance.

3. This can create another free radical, causing a chain reaction that can damage cell components, including DNA. This can lead to possible health problems ranging from a weakened immune system to cancer.

4. An antioxidant molecule can neutralise a free radical by giving up one of its own electrons. Unlike a free radical, it’s able to maintain stability by redistributing its electrons.

This article was originally published on

Image credits: iStock

NEXT ON HEALTH24X | SEE: How much liquid can a condom hold?

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content. | 7 reasons why too much salt is bad for you

We need salt to survive as our bodies rely on sodium for muscle contractions, nerve transmissions and the control systems for balancing body fluids, together with other electrolytes like potassium.

South Africans use too much salt

However, our bodies react negatively when we consume too much salt, and this can affect our brain, kidneys, arteries and heart.

The overuse of salt can cause chemical imbalances that can lead to death.

Salt is the major factor contributing to stroke and heart attacks in South Africa, claiming more lives each year than all forms of cancer combined. The World Health Organization recommends 5g per day; however, it is estimated that South Africans use 8.5g.

Here is a list of reasons why too much salt is bad for your health:

1. Cardiovascular disease 

Exceeding the recommended daily sodium intake contributes to a high risk of cardiovascular disease in adults. According to an article published in the BMJ, high salt intake is associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.

cardiovascular disease,heart

2. Brain

According to the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, high dietary sodium intake has been linked to hypertension and cardiovascular disease (CVD). The study also reveals that a high dietary sodium intake may impair cognitive function in older people.


3. Oedema

Swelling of the knees or feet and even your hands can be caused by oedema. An article published in claims that a high sodium diet causes your body to retain water. Depending on the severity, it may be treated with either a change in diet or prescription medication.


4. Craving more salt/unhealthy foods

Consuming too much salt over a long period of time can make your taste buds accustomed to the taste, no longer registering how much salt you’re consuming.   


5. Stomach cancer

Overconsumption of processed foods is harmful to your stomach. Reducing your bacon, sausages, high in salt and hidden fats can reduce your risk of stomach cancer, according to Consensus Action on Salt & HealthMen are more vulnerable than women. 

bacteria,salt,stomach cancer

6. Kidneys

Your kidneys help to remove waste products, balance fluid levels and control the production of red blood cells in your body. But with a high salt intake and high blood pressure combined, this can be lethal to your kidneys.  According to an article published in Blood Pressure UKthis reduces your kidneys’ ability to filter out unwanted toxins. 


7. Bloating

Eating out can leave you feeling bloated and the foods high in salt tend to be the culprit. Health24 previously reported that high sodium foods, usually processed foods, can cause the body to retain water. It is highly recommended that you read your food labels and refrain from adding salt, rather adding herbs or spices for flavour. 


  Image credit: iStock