Health Benefits and Risks of Alcohol

You may have heard that drinking alcohol has some health benefits to it. In fact, one of the most highly recommended diets for good health is the Mediterranean diet, which includes a daily glass of red wine. But, why aren’t other types of alcohol, such as beer or white wine included in this stipulation? And what exactly is it in the red wine that may benefit your health? Below, we will examine what the research tells us. You might be surprised.

Why Red Wine?

Yes, there are some health benefits to alcohol, red wine in particular. Most experts agree that red wine does have some heart healthy qualities. This type of alcohol contains antioxidants (i.e. flavonoids) and another substance called resveratrol. It is believed that these two properties of red wine are what provides the heart healthy benefits.

Research shows that resveratrol in red wine might be the ingredient that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol), and prevents blood clots. Additionally, some research shows that resveratrol could be linked to a reduced risk of inflammation and blood clotting, both of which can lead to heart disease. It is important to note, however, that most of these studies have been done in animals, not humans. And, if you drink too much alcohol, any positive effects received from the resveratrol are easily trumped by the damage that can be done to your body, especially your liver.

Moderation is key

So how much is too much? More than one glass per day for women and two glasses per day for men. Any more than that and you are increasing your risk for chronic diseases such as alcoholism, cirrhosis of the liver, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer of the upper gastrointestinal tract, and colon and cognitive impairment. It’s easy to see why most health professionals do not recommend drinking alcohol at all.

Confounding factors

In addition to the resveratrol and antioxidants found in red wine, research tells us that it’s also the general dietary habits of people who tend to drink red wine as compared to beer, that actually lend to some of the statistics which show that people who drink red wine generally have less of the diseases mentioned above. In general, people who drink red wine are also more likely to buy heart healthy foods containing healthy fats and antioxidants, such as olives, fruits, vegetables, poultry, and low fat cheese and milk. By comparison, the beer drinkers generally buy more processed, sugary, and heavier fat meats (i.e. sausage and pork).

The take home point here is that drinking a glass of red wine per day is not a magic health bullet. If you are interested in reaping the health benefits of red wine, it is best if you commit to eating a healthy, balanced Mediterranean style eating plan, in general.

Bottom Line

Deciding to include alcohol in your diet is a personal decision. Neither the American Heart Association nor the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommend that you start drinking alcohol just to prevent heart disease. Alcohol can be addictive and can cause or worsen other health problems. It’s safe to say that you would be better off if you didn’t drink alcohol at all. But, if you really want those antioxidants in the form of wine, stick to no more than one (for women) or two glasses (for men).

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