Alcohol: Pros and Cons
To finish off my drinks theme, I thought that I should take a look at alcohol. Most of us indulge from time to time, some of us more than others, but the bottom line is it is nice to relax with a glass of wine (or beer or whiskey - insert your drink of choice here). So, apart from helping us to relax, does drinking alcohol have any other health benefits?
At this point, I think it best that I insert a disclaimer on this blog post. Please be advised that this article does not serve as medical advice. It is merely a general comment on the consumption of alcohol. Although, there may be some benefits in consuming a moderate amount of alcohol, 1 to 2 drinks per day, I am by no means suggesting that anyone needs to start consuming alcohol if they don't already consume it. If you need personal advice about alcohol and your health, please make an appointment with a healthcare practitioner.
Now that you know that I am not encouraging you to buy stocks in your local bottle store, what are some of the scientifically proven benefits of drinking alcohol?
For as long as history has been recorded, human beings have been drinking alcoholic beverages. Beer, wine and spirits have been the topic of many scientific studies. It was recognised that although the French consume a diet high in saturated fat, they have a very low incidence of cardiovascular disease. It was hypothesised that the concurrent consumption of red wine is what is protecting them. So, some clever people at various universities across the world have been studying groups of people in an attempt to find the answers. And many of them have found answers that most of us like to hear - alcohol can protect us from various conditions:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Alcoholic beverages have been shown to increase levels of HDL-Cholesterol ("good" cholesterol)
- Alcoholic beverages may prevent the formation of small blood clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes
- Alcoholic beverages may improve insulin sensitivity
- Alcoholic beverages may reduce the incidence of gall stones
- Alcoholic beverages may reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes
This does not mean that you can go wild and have a party every night! These findings are all consistent with MODERATE drinking only. That means only 1 to 2 drinks per day. And, no, that doesn't mean that you can save your 7 drinks for Saturday night. Your pattern of drinking is just as important. Binge drinking (which is what you do when you drink all 7 drinks in a single occasion) comes with its on set of risks, both health and otherwise.
The big question, though, is
Which alcoholic drinks offer the most benefit?
The answer is those that contain polyphenols. I big fancy word! Resveratrol (another big word!) is a polyphony found in red wine that has been linked to all the positive things alcohol does for us. But, we don't need to drink red wine to in order to find polyphenols. They are also found in berries, herbs, spices, tea, cocoa, olives, nuts and seeds.
We know that drinking alcohol has some benefits, but it also comes with some risks to our physical wellbeing. I don't think I need to spell it out. Everyone knows why drinking too much alcohol is bad for you. But I am going to give a list of reasons why, if you do drink alcohol, you should only drink a little.
- Foetal harm
- Foetal alcohol syndrome
- Inflammation of the liver
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Cardiomyopathy (damage to the heart muscle)
- Cancers including mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, breast, colon, rectum
- Cloudy judgement
- Dangerous interactions with some medications
All of this and the fact that driving under the influence of alcohol is extremely dangerous, means that alcohol is a substance that we should treat with respect.
To end… A note on alcohol and weight gain.
For those of you who may drink a little more than moderately, if you have tried an alcohol-free month to "detox", you will no doubt have found that you felt better generally and you lost some weight. Cutting out the alcohol significantly reduces your daily calorie consumption. Just a small glass of wine (150ml) will give you 523kJ (125kCal). Now, 150ml is a SMALL glass of wine. Most of the modern glasses hold much, much more than that.