Is alcohol good for you, really? Really?! There have been studies that suggest it’s possible. How many of us have heard a glass of red wine is good for your heart? But is that true or is it just a myth that makes us feel better? Seeing as it’s Liver Disease Awareness Month, it’s worth taking a closer look to see.
Is Alcohol Good For You?
The Good News
Let’s take red wine first. The reason why some think it helps with heart health is because red wine contains resveratrol, which is an antioxidant that can possibly help prevent coronary artery disease. The theory is that such antioxidants might raise HDL cholesterol, also known as the “good” cholesterol. This, in turn, would help lower the build-up in the arteries with cholesterol.
While some studies have touted the properties of resveratrol, including preventing blood clots and lowering risk of inflammation, other studies found no benefits at all in preventing heart disease.
However, what is of a consensus is that whatever the benefits, they only come when drinking in moderation. What does moderation mean? For women, it means one drink a day and for men, it means two. That one drink is either 5 ounces of wine, a 12-ounce beer or one shot (1.5 ounces) of 80-proof liquor. So, no, a double does not count as “one” drink.
What you may not know is that a recent Danish study came to the conclusion that drinking in general and drinking wine in specific helped both men and women from developing type 2 diabetes. In this study, people who drank moderately 3 to 4 days a week were associated with slightly lower diabetes rates compared to teetotalers. Beer helped men, but not women. Hard alcohol had no beneficial effects in this study at all.
The Bad News
When you cross over from moderate drinking to heavy drinking, you put yourself at risk for disease and not just alcoholism. Here are a handful of health problems that you can get with heavy drinking:
Cancer – Specifically breast cancer. Women increase their chances of getting breast cancer by 15% when compared to those who don’t drink at all. Guys, you aren’t safe though. About 70% of people diagnosed with oral cancer (mouth, throat, etc.) are heavy drinkers. That’s for men and women.
Pancreatitis – For those who don’t know, the pancreas helps with digestion of food and also releases hormones (like insulin) that help the body control the energy from food. Pancreatitis is when the digestive enzymes it releases begin attacking the pancreas instead of breaking down food. Most cases of this disease is a direct result of alcohol abuse.
Heart failure – Specifically heart muscle damage called alcoholic cardiomyopathy. So, the red wine you’re consuming to prevent a heart, when used in excess can lead to heart failure by damaging the muscles in and around the heart.
Liver disease – This is a broad term that covers three main types of alcohol-related liver disease.
- Fatty Liver, which is the accumulation of fat inside your liver cells. This makes it harder for your liver to function properly. If you drink heavily now, you probably already have this.
- Alcoholic hepatitis, which is the inflammation of the liver due to consuming liquor. Up to 35% of heavy drinkers develop this. It’s potentially life threatening.
- Cirrhosis, which is the replacement of healthy liver tissue with nonliving scar tissue. 10-20% of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis, but it usually has to be over an extended period of time, like 10 years.
What Should You Do?
It’s not really our place to tell you. Our job is to give you the facts, so that when you make a decision, it’s an informed one. However, we are comfortable saying that if you don’t currently drink, don’t feel pressured to drink because of the potential health benefits. These self-same benefits can be achieved through eating a better diet and exercising more. There is far more research bearing those out than there on the health benefits of alcohol.
And if you do already drink, remember to only drink moderately. Every study that puts forward the hypothesis that alcohol can be beneficial to your health stresses the importance of limiting that drinking.
Those of you who regularly cross the threshold of moderate drinking might want to consider getting tested for breast cancer and liver disease, especially if you’re showing other symptoms of those diseases.
Going back to our original question, is alcohol good for you? Having read this, what do YOU think?