Alcohol is one of many things (like chocolate and coffee) that are beneficial in small quantities but harmful in large amounts.
What is moderate consumption? Guidelines say that is a maximum of 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men. The government’s viewpoint. How much alcohol is in a drink? The source of the alcohol would seem to matter. Red wine contains beneficial antioxidants* where many mixed drinks are loaded with sugar and artificial colors.
Benefits: Surprisingly, especially in older persons, moderate alcohol consumption seems to reduce the risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, dementia and gallstones. And that is any alcoholic beverage, not just red wine. There is other useful information on this Mayo Clinic page. But how does it help? Improvements in cholesterol balance, insulin sensitivity and appetite may be partly responsible. But perhaps the alcohol-induced relaxation also offsets the damaging effects of the stress hormone, cortisol. Very low doses of alcohol help us sleep, but slightly higher amounts degrade the quality of sleep. As I point out in my book on heartburn, alcohol is anti-bacterial and so it reduces the likelihood of infection with the bacterium H. pylori that is a major cause of ulcers, gastritis and acid reflux. I also have to wonder if folks who are moderate drinkers also moderate about a lot of other factors that affect health.
Risks: It is less clear that the alcohol risk/benefit ratio works as favorably in younger persons. Also, a follow-up analysis of the Nurses’ Health Study conducted between1980 & 2008, indicates that as few as 3-6 drinks per week may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. Study link. The increase in risk was 15%. To put that in perspective, in absolute numbers, a 15% increase means that 19 new cases would appear in 100,000 women. Though that is not a huge number, it is still a slight trend in the wrong direction. More noteworthy is the fact that breast cancer risk jumped substantially with consumption of 2 drinks a day or more. Alcohol also speeds the conversion of testosterone to estrogen so men need to be careful too.
And, at any age, an alcohol binge can result in alcohol poisoning (in excess shuts down parts of the brain that control breathing and heartbeat) and fatal lapses in good judgment. It is common knowledge that heavy drinkers risk liver disease, job loss, family trouble and divorce. It is not so well known that alcoholics also have increased risk of heart disease, cancer, depression, dementia, etc. According to the Centers for Disease control, excess alcohol is the 3rd leading cause of death in the US. (Note: they always forget to include prescription drug side effects which would be much higher on the list.)
Impact on the body: Alcohol depletes the body of essential nutrients such as magnesium and vitamin B1. Those deficiencies alone could account for a lot of the short and long term side effects that plague alcoholics. It also creates free radicals and is dehydrating. Those are things to keep in mind when fighting a hangover. See remedies blog.
Bottom line: Since 6 Americans die each day from alcohol poisoning, I don’t think I should encourage anyone to start drinking. But, history tells us that there is a reason alcohol has been recorded as long as humans have left an archeological trail. Just remember, MODERATION. And obviously, drinking and driving is not only stupid, it shows a sociopathic disregard for fellow humans.
* The resveratrol and other molecules in red wine have been credited with many amazing health benefits. The very best way to take advantage of those on a regular basis is in the balance with other age-reversing nutrients in Longevinex, formulated by Bill Sardi.
Book: Alcohol (Historical and social emphasis) by Janet Chrzan, PhD