New Year’s can be Hazardous for Your Health

The health hazards of too much revelry include drunken walking, fattening holiday drinks and the surprising ways that alcohol is bad for you, according to Loyola University Health System experts.

Drunken walking: Research has shown that New Year’s is the deadliest day of the year for pedestrians. Drinking and walking can be as dangerous as drinking and driving, said trauma surgeon Dr. Thomas Esposito, who has seen the tragic effects of drunken walking among his patients and in his own family.

“Alcohol impairs your physical ability to walk and to drive,” Esposito said. “It impairs your judgment, reflexes and coordination.”

In 2005, the journal Injury Prevention reported that New Year’s Day is more deadly for pedestrians than any other day of the year. From 1986 to 2002, 410 pedestrians were killed on New Year’s Day; 58 percent of those killed had high blood-alcohol concentrations.

Fattening drinks: Popular holiday drinks such as martinis, Bailey’s Irish Cream, eggnog, hot chocolate and rum and Coke are loaded with calories.

With 343 calories, an 8 oz. glass of eggnog is more fattening than a McDonald’s cheeseburger. A 16 oz. cup of peppermint mocha has 400 calories — nearly as much as a McDonald’s double cheeseburger.

Loyola registered dietitian Brooke Schantz offers advice on how to curb the calories. For example, when serving eggnog, buy a reduced-fat version or make your own eggnog using egg whites. And instead of a peppermint mocha coffee, add 1 tablespoon of Coffee-mate peppermint mocha to your cup of joe instead.

Toast in the New Year in moderation, Schantz advises. The more you drink, the higher the calorie count and the more likely you will be to overindulge in food.

“It’s OK to treat yourself to your favorite holiday drink,” Schantz said. “But try to do it in a way that won’t bust your waistline.”

Alcohol’s surprising toll: Alcohol does much more harm to the body than just damaging the liver. Drinking also can weaken the immune system, slow healing, impair bone formation, increase the risk of HIV transmission and hinder recovery from burns, trauma, bleeding and surgery, according to Elizabeth J. Kovacs, PhD, director of Loyola’s Alcohol Research Program.

At Loyola, about 50 faculty members, technicians, postdoctoral fellows and students are conducting alcohol research. Studies at Loyola and other centers could lead to therapies to boost the immune system or otherwise minimize the effects of alcohol, Kovacs said.

“Of course, the best way to prevent the damaging effects of alcohol is to not drink in the first place,” Kovacs said. “But it is very difficult to get people to do this.”

Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, Loyola University Health System is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and 28 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus, Loyola University Hospital, is a 569-licensed-bed facility. It houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children’s Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola’s Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus in Melrose Park includes the 264-bed community hospital, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness and the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Care Center.