Alcohol Risks vs. Benefits

Alcohol Risks vs. Benefits
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Does moderate alcohol consumption extend the lifespan of healthy people?

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What about moderate alcohol consumption—one to two drinks a day? Now, everyone agrees that both heavy alcohol consumption, and binge drinking—even if really infrequent—are 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 increases our risk of cancers—including breast cancer—and increases our risk of one type of stroke—the bleeding kind—but decreases our risk of the other type of stroke—the clotting kind.

So what does that mean, overall? One to two drinks a day for the average American; what do you think? Overall harmful, harmless, or helpful?

And the answer is helpful, for the average American. But what about 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 a 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 for 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to tobiastoft via Flickr.

What about moderate alcohol consumption—one to two drinks a day? Now, everyone agrees that both heavy alcohol consumption, and binge drinking—even if really infrequent—are 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 increases our risk of cancers—including breast cancer—and increases our risk of one type of stroke—the bleeding kind—but decreases our risk of the other type of stroke—the clotting kind.

So what does that mean, overall? One to two drinks a day for the average American; what do you think? Overall harmful, harmless, or helpful?

And the answer is helpful, for the average American. But what about 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 a 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 for 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to tobiastoft via Flickr.

Doctor's Note

For more on alcohol and cancer risk, see:
Breast Cancer and Alcohol: How Much is Safe?
Breast Cancer Risk: Red Wine vs. White Wine

Also check out my other “HHH” videos (Harmful, Harmless, or Helpful?) – listed below the post.

For further context, see my associated blog posts: Breast Cancer Survival and Soy; Eating To Extend Our LifespanBreast Cancer and DietHow to live longer in four easy steps; and Breast Cancer & Alcohol: How Much Is Safe?

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

22 responses to “Alcohol Risks vs. Benefits

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. One advantage of wine over grape juice is that it does not cause a sugar spike since fermentation removes most of the sugars. Of course, eating whole grapes would be better. However, the grapes used in wine are very different than those available in the grocery store. The wine grapes often have thick skins and, I believe, are not as enjoyable to eat. Further, the wine health benefit is better if it is organic and the natural pests force the vine to defend itself thereby producing some compounds in the grapes that provide health benefits.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. In another video, he links low levels of pesticides to Alzheimer’s. Many, if not most wines likely contain low levels of pesticides. So… maybe not as healthy as he thinks, unless you choose a biodynamic or organic wine.

  7. I am looking for advice in the best diet for a recovering
    alcoholic. I have heard cravings for alchohol might be decreased by consuming
    less grains as they are metabolically the same as drinking most liquor and
    beer. Is this true?

    1. I have never even thought about diet for recovery! Perhaps focusing on diet is just one healthy behavior among many that can help. One study found just that. Alcohol craving in rehabilitation: assessment of nutrition therapy “Patients who received nutrition therapy reported significantly fewer hypoglycemic symptoms, lower sugar intake, less alcohol craving as well as significantly greater nutrient intakes; a greater number abstained from alcohol. These findings indicate that nutrition therapy can aid in the recovery from alcoholism.” I think mindfulness, which of course means something different to us all, plays a large role in recovery or change. Being mindful of our choices, our health, families, relationships, and physical activity. This video discusses research on trans fats and aggression. The results from this study show that the more hydrogenated fats consumed the greater the risk of aggression, perhaps something a recovering alcoholic may want to avoid? Lastly, diet has been found to improve mood.

      Although I am not sure the best diet, choosing more whole foods and more of a plant-based diet could help. Whole grains are just fine and are nothing near similar to the calories from alcohol.

      Thanks again for reposting this great question!
      Joseph

  8. I am looking for advice in the best diet for a recovering
    alcoholic. I have heard cravings for alcohol might be decreased by consuming
    less grains as they are metabolically the same as drinking most liquor and
    beer. Is this true?

  9. Dr Greger—Your videos and articles
    are great. A question: How do our microbiota get into our gut in the
    first place? As babies do we ingest our mother’s poop? Is everyone’s
    hygeine so poor? Do the bacteria survive our upper digestive tract?

    1. Hi John. Thanks for all the great questions did you ever get around to posting about the “anti-nutrients” ?

      Here is a study that described babies and gut health.

      I found this line particularly interesting “Thus, maternal dietary and microbial exposures are also crucial to the development of the microbiota early in life, as children may inherit genes with differing potential for predisposition for malnutrition or obesity, based on the diet of their mother.”

      Hope this helps!
      Joseph

  10. When I consume alcohol I experience, what I’ll call, an inflammatory reaction. My symptoms include joint and musculoskeletal discomfort and pain when touched. I can only assume something is happening at the cellular level. My consumption is 1-2 drinks or glasses of wine. I’m not binging or drunk. Can you shed some insight?

  11. What if i don’t drink during the week, follow a whole plant diet and do some exercise, but saturday night i have more than moderate consumption of alcohol (though high quality alcohol, organic or good brands), let’s say for instance: 2 liters of beer OR 1 liter of wine AND 2 oz of another drink, like whisky, vodka or gin?

  12. We got good Quality Medicinal,Natural Pure Green Herb,Wax,marijuana,Cannabis Oil,Seed,Hash cure cancer and chronic pains contact us for info Text/call..7744821204 ..

  13. My mother had two brothers. One drank alcohol and became addicted to it. He died of cirrhosis of the liver in his 40’s leaving orphaned children as their mother had already died of the same disease. Her other brother did not drink alcohol nor smoke. He died recently at 97 years old having lived to know his great grandchildren. His mind was clear up to the end. It’s great when we can learn some things the genius way – from the experience of others.

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