Hey health nuts! In my last post I highlighted the benefits of drinking alcohol. Not too much, not too little. To expand, we’ve often heard of the importance of drinking red wine (and let’s not forget the dark chocolate!). This raises the question… what about beer, liquor, and other alcoholic drinks? As it turns out, the early publicity red wine received was because the French happened to be the population that caused scientists to first suspect alcohol to be beneficial. France maintained low rates of heart disease in spite of a typically high-fat diet; the so called “French paradox.” Red wine was thought to be the reason. As science matured, however, it became apparent that alcohol, and not necessarily red wine, explained the paradox. A number of recent studies continue to reinforce this, showing that people receive the same benefits regardless of drinking beer, wine, or liquor. What does matter is quantity, and studies point to an ideal consumption rate of about 1-2 drinks/day, probably on the lower side for women. The greatest benefit of alcohol consumption is the substantially reduced risk of heart disease, with many studies showing a 30-40% reduced risk of heart attack in men. Other benefits include increased “good” cholesterol and lower risk of diabetes and ischemic stroke, not to mention the benefits that come with reduced stress.
There is an important side note worth mentioning for women. That is, studies have shown that 2 drinks/day raises the chances of developing breast cancer by about 20-25%. Before you get freaked out, let me provide some good news. This increased breast cancer risk is mostly among women whose diets are deficient in the vitamin B known as folic acid. This suggests that simply taking a daily multivitamin can offset this risk. Aside from folic acid, it is also important to put this seemingly large increase in risk into perspective. The current rate of breast cancer in the U.S. is about 12 cancers in every 100 women. A 25% increase in this risk means that if women began drinking 2 drinks/day, the new breast cancer risk would be about 14-15 cancers per 100 women. By comparison, about 10 times as many women die from heart disease in the U.S.—about 500,000 compared to 41,000 deaths/year. So while there may be a slight increase in breast cancer risk from a drink a day (or maybe not), from a population perspective this is not nearly as substantial as deaths due to heart disease. With that said, a drink a day for women, particularly given a daily multivitamin, appears worthwhile and healthy. But this can be for you to decide.
Lastly, alcohol can be dangerous. Overdrinking leads to liver disease, high blood pressure, various cancers, and weakening of the heart muscle. Additionally, alcohol is implicated in one-third of all fatal traffic accidents and can tear families apart. So if you already drink, drink moderately and responsibly. And stay within the daily consumption recommendations to achieve the described health benefits. If you don’t already drink, don’t feel compelled to do so as there are other things you can due in terms of diet and exercise to realize similar benefits without taking on the dangers of alcohol.