Alternatively Speaking: A fresh start

Alternative medicine expert Natalie Marx answers your questions: Are there any benefits of drinking alcohol?

Herbal remedies 370 (photo credit:  REUTERS/Simon Newman)
Herbal remedies 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Simon Newman)
After having received an abundance of letters from readers regarding their New Year health resolutions or anxieties related to the coming of the new year, I came to the conclusion that people just want to be happy and healthy and feel good about themselves.
Why is it that of the majority of people who make New Year's resolutions, only a tiny minority succeed? Rather than setting ourselves up for failure, try giving goals that are actually obtainable.
The three questions I have selected to publish were perhaps among the most common questions asked. Follow these simple steps and begin the year by introducing yourselves on the wonders of simple, non-evasive, natural medicine.
Begin with the basic commitment to yourselves to take a step in the right direction towards a path to a healthier new you.
Q. Dear Natalie, with December being such a festive month, I think I may have overdone it on the alcohol consumption. Are there any benefits of drinking alcohol?
A. You will be delighted to hear that some of the most consistent findings in nutrition research is that moderate alcohol consumption can actually improve health. However, before you down an entire bottle of celebratory champagne, keep in mind that the key to enjoying the benefits of alcohol is in moderation.
For a long time now, red wine has been considered wonderful for heart health. The Harvard School of Public Health reviewed over 100 studies that show that a moderate intake of any alcoholic beverages can cut your risk of heart disease by up to 40 percent. The way that alcohol benefits the heart is via its ability to raise good cholesterol in the body and to lower bad cholesterol. Therefore, in moderation it can reduce blood problems that could lead to heart attacks from blocked arteries.
The Journal Diabetes Care (2005) reports that moderate amounts of alcohol - up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men - can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 30 percent. This theory is explained since a moderate level of alcohol makes it easier for your body to process glucose and use it as energy.
Research shows that a little alcohol consumption can help prevent cognitive decline. Researchers from Loyola University discovered that moderate drinkers were 23 percent less likely to develop cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia when compared to non-drinkers.
Finally you will be excited to learn that when consumed in moderation, alcohol can help fight fat. Although we have images of the ill-fated beer belly, research published in The Archives of Internal Medicine in 2010 discovered that women who had one drink a day were less likely to gain weight. This theory is based upon the fact that the bodies of long term moderate drinkers are able to metabolize alcohol differently than those who binge drink occasionally.
Q. Dear Natalie, my New Year's resolution is to start working out at the gym and building my muscles. Can you recommend any vitamins I should be eating to help build my muscles alongside the exercise?
A. Despite many New Year's resolutions beginning with the desire to start a new workout regime, many of us neglect the proper vitamins and nutrition our bodies need while muscle building.
The right nutrition is essential when trying to build muscle. Aside from making sure to get enough protein, weightlifters need to consume a higher dosage of vitamins and minerals. As we increase to high density workouts, we increase in body mass, and Vitamin A is integral.
Vitamin A helps individual amino acids form new muscle tissue, which helps muscles get bigger. I advise taking a multi-vitamin with Vitamin A and/or including foods rich in Vitamin A such as eggs, cod liver oil and beef. Vitamin C is probably one of the most important vitamins for those who want to build muscle fast.
A wonderful antioxidant, Vitamin C helps protect muscles from free radicals which enhance muscle growth and recovery. Vitamin C also helps form collagen in the body that holds tissue together. This will help to prevent injuries when using heavier weights.
Vitamin C also helps ensure proper circulation of oxygen around the body since it supports the absorption of iron in the body. Good circulation is essential so that muscles get enough oxygen to be able to work. I suggest taking a Vitamin C daily, and including more Vitamin C packed foods such as kiwi fruit, papayas, oranges, broccoli and strawberries.
In addition, I highly recommend including a Vitamin B complex into your diet regime. B1 is important in the process of protein metabolism, while B2 is essential in assisting our body's fat burning process and B3 increases vasodilation which gives our muscles a 'bigger' look. B6 also works to metabolize protein whilst boosting energy levels, which can be excellent during a workout. B12 ensures that muscle tissue is growing sufficiently.
The B complex vitamin is water soluble so any unwanted vitamins are easily excreted from the body.
Lastly, the body needs Vitamin D to absorb calcium and phosphorus. As well as the amazing benefit calcium has for bones, it is also important for bodybuilders because muscles cannot move as well without phosphorus. Vitamin D can be taken in a capsule form or found in many kinds of fish, liver and eggs.
Q. Dear Natalie, I am hoping to steal a kiss as the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve. My problem is that I am self conscious that I suffer from bad breath. Are there any good teas that you can recommend me to drink before I go out?
A. Clove tea is excellent for fighting bad breath. It contains a substance called eugenol, which kills the bacteria responsible for bad breath. To make clove tea, steep 2 tsp. of dried cloves in a cup boiling water for 10 minutes. Strain and drink the liquid once a day after breakfast.
Polyphenols are found in tea and have an antimicrobial effect. Green tea in particular reduces the sulfur compounds that are found in bad breath and can be even more effective than using mints, chewing gum or toothpaste (University of British Columbia).
The Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine suggests that a strong tea made of a combination of the herbs echinacea, myrrh and bloodroot can be used as a daily mouthwash. You can find  these herbs in most natural foods retailers.