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Alcohol Risks vs. Benefits

Does moderate alcohol consumption extend the lifespan of healthy people?

October 23, 2009 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Image thanks to tobiastoft.


What about moderate alcohol consumption—1-2 drinks a day? Now everyone agrees that both heavy alcohol consumption, and binge drinking—even if really infrequent—is bad, and that any alcohol during pregnancy is bad. But the reason moderate alcohol consumption has been such a conundrum is that if you look at the top three killers, moderate alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of a heart attack, but increase our risk of cancers, including breast cancer, and increase our risk of one type of stroke, the bleeding kind, but decrease our risk of the other type of stroke, the clotting kind.
So what does that mean overall? 1 to 2 drinks a day for the average American, what do you think? Overall harmful, harmless, or helpful?
And the answer is healthy, for the average American, but what for a healthy person?
This new study asked the question “Who benefits most from the cardioprotective properties of alcohol consumption—health freaks or couch potatoes?” In that study “health freak” was defined as anyone who exercises 30 minutes n day, doesn’t smoke, and eats at least one serving of fruits and vegetables every day. In America, that’s a health freak.
Anyways, for those people, for people who follow a baseline of minimum healthy behaviors, what does moderate alcohol consumption do to their overall lifespan? Does it shorten the lives of healthy people? Not do anything for the lifespan of healthy people? Or does it make healthy people even healthier?
And the answer is that it doesn’t appear to do anything.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out theother “HHH” videos (Harmful, Harmless, or Helpful?). Also, there are over a thousand subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Breast Cancer Survival and SoyEating To Extend Our LifespanBreast Cancer and DietHow to live longer in four easy steps, and Breast Cancer & Alcohol: How Much Is Safe?

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other “HHH” videos (Harmful, Harmless, or Helpful?). Also, there are over a thousand subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

  • Toxins

    I love the dry humor in this video!

  • maybush1

    But, what about the consideration (even with moderate alcohol consumption) of its effect on liver health and brain cells? I would think that liver and brain cell death in healthy people would be a bad thing.

    • Toxins

      I agree, that is why I dont drink alcohol at all

  • BPC

    This is a very interesting topic as so many people believe that alcoholic beverages are heart-healthy, despite known cellular toxicity of alcohol. Do we even know for a fact (through randomized trials) if the pure alcohol itself is providing the health benefits or whether the benefits exist for some other reason such as because of the antioxidants present in the plant components of the alcoholic beverages. There is evidence that alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer contain appreciable quantities of antioxidants. Furthermore, it has been argued that antioxidants are beneficial to the heart (see for example “The power of NO”). Of potential relevance is the question of whether alcohol or associated processing techniques (i.e. fermentation) enhance the bio-availability of the antioxidants present in alcoholic beverages? In other words, maybe the grape components in wine have more nutritional value than the equivalent amount of grape before processing.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please also check out my associated blog post, Breast Cancer Survival and Soy!

  • Crizzly A

    Great. And it shows that if you are taking care of your nutrition aka consider yourself a health freak – it is a big step ahead – as long as you enjoy what you eat and drink! That is my opinion. I eat healthy most of the time, exercise every day and love my glass of wine with my dinner and a non-grata food item once in a while. Thank – great short piece of information.

  • Bruce Gray

    Of course, the unethical gotcha in this sneak of study is they’ve included a lot of unhealthy people in the health nut category….1 serve of veges? come on! The adverse effects of moderate alcohol intake will be masked by the group’s lower baseline health. If they chose real health nuts, with higher baseline health, then alcohol’s toxic effects would be more obvious.

  • tavit

    I didn’t know that I was health freak for most of my life

  • Ben

    One of the problems I saw in an article (a long time ago) was that the non-alcohol intake group in studies included not just T-total people who never drank but T-totalers who drank an awful lot before practicing abstinence.

    When these two types of non-drinkers were separated the article suggested that those practicing abstinence were worse off health wise than those who drank very little and that those who didn’t drink but didn’t have a history of drinking were better off than moderate drinkers.

    It’s ashame I don’t have the article to hand, or know where to find it and I don’t think it effects your analysis (especially for the study on us “health freaks”) but interesting non the less