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."
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!:)