Dr Xand van Tulleken (left) & Dr Chris van Tulleken (right) holding their own urine, collected as part of their research on binge drinking.Source:Supplied
Dr Xand van Tulleken (left) & Dr Chris van Tulleken (right) holding their own urine, collected as part of their research on binge drinking.Source:Supplied

This TV experiment may change the way you drink alcohol

THESE two charming gents are the Van Tulleken brothers. And as identical twin doctors there's no better double-act for self-experimentation.

Chris and Xand have landed themselves a gig investigating "matters of the modern man" for BBC TV in the UK.

On Monday night's episode, they look at the effects of binge drinking - and the results are surprising.

The commonly held belief is that binge drinking is bad.

There is plenty of research to support this - in 2000 the results of a 10-year study carried out in Scotland suggested that more than 20 per cent more people died from heart attacks on Monday than any other day.

Researchers concluded this is due to heavy drinking on the weekend.

While most people acknowledge that binge drinking is detrimental to your health, it's a commonly held belief that a moderate amount of alcohol each day can actually be good for your health.

To test this, the twins drank the same amount of alcohol per week for a month.

But Chris drank three standard drinks a day over the course of a week, and Xand drank all 21 drinks (the equivalent of 21 vodka shots or two bottles of wine) on the Saturday night.

They had a series of blood tests and ultrasounds to look at the impact on their bodies.

As amusing as the footage is of Xand singing in the taxi on the way home and then inexplicably bursting into tears is, the results of the month-long experiment are suitably sobering.

But it's not quite as you'd expect.

The real cause of your hangover

Many people believe that we feel hung-over because we're severely dehydrated after a night on the booze. But the twins' findings, which involved urinating into flasks and then having blood tests to measure hydration levels, flew in the face of this theory.

The scientists in the doco believe that acetaldehyde - an ingredient our body produces to help break down excess alcohol - may be the root of our hangovers as opposed to dehydration.

Basically, binge drinking causes our body to be poisoned by the high amount of acedaldehyte that it produces

So all that water you're consuming? It may not actually be helping your hangover.

At the end of the month-long experiment they found:

- Both twins had significant inflammation to their livers to almost the same extent (around 25%).
- Blood tests showed they both had increased systemic inflammation which is commonly elevated in patients that are extremely unwell
- Both of their bodies were reacting to the increased alcohol levels as if they were fighting injury or infection
- Endotoxin levels were higher in Xand. At binge drinking levels acetaldehyde damages the gut lining which leads to bacteria leaking into the blood and being circulated around the body. This is cause for concern as it has the potential to permanently alter your body's immune response. The prolonged presence of endotoxins in your bloodstream can also eventually lead to alcohol hepatitis (liver inflammation).
- While bingeing is significantly worse, moderate drinking of 21 units a week was not safe either as the twins' liver tests showed inflammation levels similar to those seen in cirrhosis patients.

The upshot? Even if you're drinking "moderate" levels of alcohol, you are doing enormous damage to your body.
The main professor involved in the program was stunned at how bad moderate drinking can be for you (and has since announced that he is conducting further research off the back of the documentary's findings).

"I'm completely flabbergasted - this is completely beyond my expectations," said Professor Jalan.

"We were so surprised by what we out that we rechecked the results.

"Whether 14 units is safe for an individual [over the course of a week], or 10 units, we can't tell ... but I think in the future we will reset the "sensible" drinking level to perhaps a little bit lower," he said.

While this is all a little confronting, the good news is that Australia's attitude towards alcohol consumption seems to be improving.

The findings of the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which were released just this week, show that compared to 2013, fewer people in Australia drank alcohol in quantities that exceeded the lifetime risk guidelines.*

So maybe there's hope for us yet.

'Is Binge Drinking Really That Bad' airs on BBC Knowledge June 5th at 8.30pm.

* According to the Australian Department of Health, for healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces your risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime.

News Corp Australia

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