Can Alcohol REALLY Benefit Your Health?


It turns out that the pros and cons of alcohol aren’t as clear and concrete as we would like. The world of science talks about alcohol’s potential benefits with the B-vitamins in beer and the resveratrol in red wine, but those same scientists also have plenty to say about how it can destroy our health. Is it possible that the benefits of drinking can outweigh the risks? And where is the line between healthy and destructive?


The “Pros”

Alcohol has an impressive connection to heart health thanks to its ability to elevate HDL (high-density lipoprotein) levels. HDL cholesterol plays an important role in our physical health because it brings potential plaque-forming fats to the liver where they can be properly dealt with. Because of this important influence on our body’s levels of “bad” fats, moderate amounts of alcohol may help reduce risk an individual’s risk of heart disease. Who wouldn’t cheers to that?


But the benefits don’t stop there. If you’ve ever turned to a drink to recover from a rough day, then you know the powers alcohol has over stress. That euphoric feeling alcohol has long been cherished for dulls our anxieties, and low stress-levels are a key factor in a healthy heart.


And while alcohol may help the heart, it’s showing it may be on assistance in other realms of physical health.  Studies imply that the occasional drink may cut back the chances of developing gallstones, and others show that there’s even a reduced risk of developing serious diseases like type-2 diabetes and dementia.


The Cons

Alcohol clearly possesses properties that come with notable advantages, but the same drink that can help your heart can also do great damage to it. As the number of drinks and the frequency of drinking rise, so do the risks to the liver, heart, brain, stomach, and gallbladder.


Alcohol also inhibits the body’s absorption of folate — the B-vitamin that’s a major player in building DNA. That means trouble when it comes to DNA replication and cell division, so it’s not surprising that alcohol consumption is tied to higher risks of various cancers. Add to this alcohol’s role as an appetite stimulant, and it becomes clear why alcohol isn’t prescribed for health problems — use it to address one problem and you may end up with a whole other one.  


Finding The Balance

Alcohol certainly poses potential in certain health matters, but potential benefits will depend upon the individual. Someone at risk of heart disease may be able to benefit from the increased HDL of the occasional brew, but then someone at risk of breast or colorectal cancer increases their odds of disease even with moderate drinking habits. Alcohol doesn’t allow a “one size fits all” approach.


There aren’t any recommendations for “safe” consumption of alcohol, but science does have data on what “low-risk” drinking entails. For men, it’s a maximum of 4 standard drinks in a day that shouldn’t exceed 14 total drinks per week. Women are advised to follow different guidelines because tolerance levels may be lower due to less water in the body and slower metabolization of alcohol. Because of this, women are advised to stay under 3 drinks or less in a given day with no more than 7 drinks in a week.  


Drink Percentage of Alcohol Standard Drink
Beer 5% 12 oz
Wine 12% 5 oz
Liquor 40% 1.5 oz

Some studies suggest that wine may have a health benefit or two over beer while some other studies imply that red wine is a better option to white. There’s yet to be any sort of universal scientific conclusion on that though. The one thing that experts can agree on is the importance of drinking patterns.

Drinking frequency and the number of drinks consumed are the strongest indicators of health risks. “Saving” drinks for a weekend binge will do more harm than good, and even drinking within the recommended limits can be damaging when it’s done every single day. Whether you want to approach drinking for health or social fun, it’s best kept in moderation and used as a single piece in the puzzle of overall well-being.   

Ash Stevens is a mother, writer, and a wannabe shaman. She loves health, gardening, simplicity, culture, chocolate, and sarcasm. If she isn’t writing or pondering up multicultural cheats to happiness on her blog, then she’s surely playing badminton with the kids. Find her on Twitter or Facebook and make a new friend!