Alcoholic Beverages as Foods...the Chemistry of Toxic Brews
Alcoholic Beverages (ABs) are yeast fermentation products of staple foods, mostly grains and fruits. ABs are grape-yeast, grain-yeast, potato-yeast brews. The basic process of manufacturing an AB is mashing carbohydrate-rich fruit, grain, and vegetable material and then fermenting the mash in a container for a regulated time. The problems in ABs extend beyond ethanol itself.
In the analysis of the adverse effects of alcoholic beverages, we have been too quick to blame ethanol for all the problems and have ignored other toxic and allergenic ingredients in the beverages. The fermented mash tends to be toxic with a complex chemistry. Ethanol is the dominant chemical/drug and usually considered the addictive "drug" in ABs.
Good AB makers know how to reduce the toxicity of their products so that people are less likely to get immediately and unmistakably ill after drinking the brew. They start with sterile containers; use cultivated yeasts; control the length of fermentation carefully; clarify and filter their products and let aging mellow the chemical mix. Amateur wine and beer makers sometimes make themselves and their friends conspicuously ill because they lack the professional's finesse for reducing the toxicity of the fermentation products..
The sediments of wine, beer, and any alcoholic base for distillation contain the yeast corpses and substrate residues. Sediments are removed to improve the taste and clarity of the AB and to reduce its toxicity. Wine clarification removes the rest of the particulate matter before consumption. Red wines are made from the whole grape mash and tend to be more chemically complex than good white wines. The best white wines are supposed to be made from the juice of gently squeezed grapes and should be free of chemicals and contaminants associated with grape skins.
Distillation of raw alcoholic brews concentrates the alcohol and leaves behind many chemicals that are not volatile at distillation temperatures. Whiskeys, therefore, are concentrates of ethanol and other volatile aromatic chemicals, which are chemical stressors. The chemical stressor value of whiskeys is increased by aging in devices such as charred oak caskets that give Scotch whiskeys their color and flavor. AB manufacturers spend a lot of money advertising their own charming version of the whiskey-aging process. These ads are supposed to appeal to the sophistication of the whiskey-connoisseur, but, rather, should alarm the reader as to the stressor and toxic properties added to the already harmful brew. Wine connoisseurs use the chemical sensors in their nose to select from among various aromatic chemicals present in the wines. The pretense of wine sampling in restaurants should allow you to screen for corks contaminated by obvious mold growths or wines that have turned to vinegar.
Beer and Ale
Ales and beers are raw filtered products of fermented grain mashes with hops, often chemically treated to manipulate color, foaming characteristics, and stability. These food liquors are somewhat nourishing, but they are also diuretic and may be toxic. Many male beer-drinkers get characteristic belly fat, breasts, and skinny limbs. It is hard to imagine how their deteriorating body shapes and soggy brains could be associated with manliness. Beer vendors tend to spend a lot of money advertising their imaginary link between beer drinking and healthy, athletic, fun-loving adults. There is no credible link between beer drinking and healthy athletes, or beer drinking and happy consumers at any age.
Beer can degrade athletic performance and any other skilled, energetic activity. Beer drinkers who over-indulge may get muscle disease, both in skeletal muscle and heart muscle. Cobalt salts, added to improve foaming, accelerate and intensify the process. Muscle wasting in the alcoholic increases with the amount of AB ingested. Muscle biopsy shows there is reduction of fast twitch Type 2B fibers, known to be susceptible to fatigue and metabolic derangement. The severity of the wasting correlated best with total ethanol consumption during the previous year. Research evidence points to direct toxicity of the AB, rather than vitamin deficiency, hormonal disturbance, peripheral nerve damage, or reduced physical activity. The effect of alcohol on the fast twitch anaerobic fibers of muscle is due to a reduction in the enzyme phosphofructokinase, a key catalyst in the breakdown of glycogen. Ethanol also impairs muscle activity by selective reduction of protein synthesis. Type 2B muscle fibers usually recover after abstention from drink, with significant improvement after three months and full recovery after a year
More realistic scenarios of beer-drinking, and all other AB ingestion would show the consequences of drinking too much, too often: noxious, smoked-filled rooms, demented discussions, arguments, illness, smashed cars, beaten wives, abused children, and wrecked careers. Our attention should focus on AB-caused illness; to the diarrhea, dermatitis, and dementia of the alcoholic pellagran; or to the staggering and absurd mutterings of the brain-damaged alcoholic with Wernicke's psychosis.
Red wines are rich in chemicals. Non-nutrient amino acids such as tyramine are abundant in red wines and cheddar cheese. This favorite party combination can leave you with headache, confusion, and odd, inappropriate behavior. Tyramine acts something like a fight-and-flight hormone, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, all with a sense of anxiety or panic. Drugs that inhibit MAO are prescribed as antidepressants and increase the toxic effect of ingested tyramine. The drug is prescribed along with a low tyramine diet which admonishes you to avoid red wine, beer, cheese, chocolate, bananas, yeasts, vanilla, and other neuroactive amine-containing foods.
Chemical additives used to control the fermentation process further complicate AB's. Allergenic sulfites are commonly used as disinfectants and bleaching agents in wine making. Sulfites such as Cambden tablets are used to stop fermentation. Methyl glycol has been deliberately added to some wines to sweeten the taste; Other wines have been recalled because of high pesticide content. Distilling of fermentation brews reduces the chemical load, but volatile products pass through the distiller along with alcohol. Only the water-clear AB's, like vodka, are relatively free of the chemical mix.