Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Health Benefits Of Alcohol

Well, we all know that heavy alcohol consumption can lead to addiction and countless health problems, but are there health benefits to drinking as well? Some time ago I read a blog post which seemed to suggest it and so I decided to research the topic for myself. This is what I found:

It seems that nearly everyone agrees there are at least some health benefits to drinking moderate amounts of alcohol (heavy drinking is never good for anyone), mainly in preventing heart disease, while, on the other hand, the experts suggest that even moderate alcohol consumption can lead to incresed risk of some cancers. The article above mentions breast cancer and colorectal cancer, but Medical News Today  site only mentioned breast cancer-alcohol link. On the positive side, they wrote that moderate alcohol consumption reduced the risk of diabetes type II, stroke and dementia (and, according to this site, gallstones).

Do alcohol benefits outweigh the risks? I found this article which suggests that those who consume moderate amounts of alcohol have better health, increased longevity, are less likely to suffer from heart diseases, have a better chance to survive a heart attack, have reduced risk of stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer's, dementia, arthritis, enlarged prostate, osteoporosis, gallbladder disease , some cancers and even common colds.

According to the article, exercising can't substitute health benefits of moderate drinking:  "Researchers at the National Institute of Public Health in Denmark studied about 12,000 men and women over a period of 20 years. The investigators found:
  • The lowest risk of fatal heart disease occurred among those who both drank moderately and exercised. They had a 50% reduced risk compared to non-drinkers who didn't exercise. (Moderate drinking was defined as consuming an average of up to two drinks per day for both men and women. This is twice as high as the US federal recommendation for women.)
  • A higher risk was found among (a) those who abstained from alcohol but exercised and (b) those who drank in moderation but didn't exercise. In both cases the risk of heart disease dropped about 30% compared to abstaining non-exercisers.
  • The highest risk was found among those who neither drank nor exercised. Their risk of dying from heart disease was twice as high as those who drank moderately and exercised."
I must admit I was intrigued and turned to Wikipedia. Since only one source mentioned that moderate drinking can increase the risc of colorectal cancer (heave drinking does, as is widely known), I thought I'd try to learn more about the connection of alcohol consumption to breast cancer. Wiki starts with talking about the connection as a pretty much established fact, but in the end it mentions a Danish study according to which "moderate drinking had virtually no effect on breast cancer risk".

According to another study which is still being conducted, there is no connection between moderate drinking and increased breast cancer risk. Heavy drinking, on the other hand, is associated with increased breast cancer risk, as the Danish study also demonstrated (heavy drinking defined as consuming more than 27 alcoholic drinks per week.)

This article goes into great detail describing various types of breast cancer, the effects of alcohol consumption and gives some dietary advice. It also describes what is a standard alcoholic drink.

So who are we to believe in the end? One thing is clear, heavy drinking is never good for anyone. As for moderate drinking, it appears to have at least some health benefits, so there is definitely something to be said in defence of the cocktail hour. It's not clear whether the risks of moderate comsumption are significant (experts seem to disagree), so it's up to you to decide whether they outweigh the benefits or vice versa. If you don't drink at all, you probably shouldn't start, but there seems to be no reason to avoid alcohol altogether.

However, it's nice to know that a glass of sherry before dinner is not only good for digestion, but may help one to reach 100!:)


  1. We have been witnessing something odd. One schnapps every evening has made some of the Varicose veins (?? thank you, Google translator!) disappear.

    So, even though this blogpost is full of medical vocabulary unknown to me, I'm all for moderate alcohol consumption :-)

  2. Yes, me too! There seems to be some paranoia about even moderate alcohol consumption going on, but by some reason it's more typical for English-speaking countries. Here, in continental Europe, people are pretty much relaxed about it. We all enjoy our glass of wine by dinner:)

  3. Any health benefit could be gotten from some other food or drink. Alcoholic drinks today are fortified with an alcohol that is not the same as naturally fermented. I think drinking can dry out the skin and cause wrinkles and also weight gain, as it adds a lot of extra carbs and calories. I wonder could not the health benefits be gained from pure grape juice and other juices?

  4. That's an interesting observation, about modern alcoholic drinks being not naturally fermented. I'm not sure how it is done over here, but I do know that we have stricter rules about the food and beverage quality in general.

    Drinking surely can help gain weight, but it's true for excessive drinking. Heavy drinking, binge drinking etc is all very bad for you and should be avoided. However, the researchers were talking about moderate alcohol consumption which was defined as 1-2 glasses of wine a day for a woman, and 2 to 4 for men (or their equivalent in other forms of alcohol).

  5. The nations here (Finns, Estonians and Russians) have a very problematic reputation as alcohol consumers, so the term 'moderate consumpiton' varies a lot from person to person. So maybe I should be more careful and say I'm all for very, very moderate alcohol consumption :-)

    Pure juices of fruit and berries have their own health benefits (antioxidants, vitamins and so on), I think. It was our doctor who suggested the daily schnapps. It's good for the blood vessels some how, but just one per day... The alcoholics have excellent blood vessels though their liver is ruined...

  6. As I understand it, the idea of moderate consumption is not getting drunk, but rather enjoying alcohol in social settings, e.g. when people go to a restaurant over here they will usually drink wine with their dinner. Some nations seem to have the history of alcohol abuse due to engaging in binge drinking.

    True that, about alcoholics having excellent blood vessels, I have heard it, too. Anyway, I'm not trying to persuade people to start drinking, however, this scaremongering about alcohol does no good to anyone. Just as many other things, it can be enjoyed in moderation.