It’s time we drill down and talk about the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to the health effects of alcohol consumption. While drinking alcohol typically embodies the spirit of moderation, in that some may indeed be healthier than none, this isn’t necessarily the case for everyone. An all or nothing approach may be warranted for many individuals with specific risk factors or history. Think of it more like a “some or nothing” approach rather than “all or nothing” as modern culture typically promotes.
Wine Gets Better with Age
Yes, this is true in terms of the quality, taste and integrity of the wine itself, but I’m referring to the fact that as we age many of us reach for that bottle more often. Yes, moms and ladies in their 40’s & 50’s, I’m talking to you! You can’t miss the abundance of comic postcards about moms drinking wine plastered all over Facebook and some really make me laugh out loud because they sure do hit home. And if your town is anything like mine, “book club” is actually “wine club,” which makes the social aspect of getting together all the more fun but can quickly rack up the number of glasses you consume per week.
Why might we drink more with age? It can be for a variety of reasons, but stress relief is top of the list for many. But there are many ways to reduce stress, besides alcohol, take a look here to learn more about lowering your stress levels.
Alcohol isn’t just for crazy college parties or pounding drinks at your after-work happy hour. You’ve heard the expression, “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” when it’s time for tailgating at 10 am or kicking off a holiday party in the early afternoon. This sort of drinking seems obviously in opposition to good health, but what about those more pervasive, “under the radar” day to day suggestions of drinking down antioxidants in your glass to protect your heart or iron-rich beer for energy? Let’s take a closer look at some of the health-related pros and cons of consuming alcohol.
- Antioxidants: Yes, red and even white wine do contain antioxidants, the most famous being resveratrol. And while it’s best to eat phytonutrients rather than pop supplement pills, wine isn’t the only place you’ll find this nutritional gem; it comes from the red grapes used to make wine, as well as peanuts, pistachios, blueberries, cranberries and dark chocolate. Recent research suggests that the early findings from animal and test tube studies, showing resveratrol reduces the risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and slows the aging process, may not hold up. This doesn’t mean pass on the pistachios. Each of these plant foods offers numerous nutritional benefits and it may turn out that resveratrol is simply one of many phytonutrients that act in concert to promote good health and support immunity. So bottom line is picking up a red wine habit solely for the resveratrol isn’t advised.
- Protect Your Heart: Moderate consumption of alcohol (see below for what that means) has been linked to a reduced risk of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease. But more isn’t better. Over four drinks per day raised the risk of stroke significantly, as much as 62%. Experts advise caution given the complexity of alcohol’s effects on health.
- Cancer Risk: Specifically, an increased risk that rises with the more alcohol you consume, for breast, head and neck (throat, larynx, mouth), esophageal, liver and colorectal cancers.
- Calories and Weight Gain: Disinhibition with food choices meaning that you’re way more likely to order up fried foods or sugary treats when your guard is down.
- Alcohol is metabolized as sugar in the body and can raise triglyceride levels.
- Insulin resistance and diabetes risk
- Fatty liver
- Sulfites or additives that may trigger migraines
Highway to the Danger Zone
For the Millennial Generation, awareness of their dangerous and common practice of mixing alcohol and energy drinks is a growing crisis! At least 36% of college students consume energy drinks regularly and about 25% of high school teens. Energy drink consumption is linked with increased binge drinking and prescription stimulant misuse, as well as higher rates of drunk driving. Studies also show young adults who choose energy drinks have other unhealthy behaviors including increased overall intake of sugary foods and beverages, skipping breakfast, cutting class more often, illicit drug use and trouble sleeping.
A Healthy Dose
Generally, guidelines are for women to drink no more than one drink per day and 2 per day for men. But this isn’t like a savings account, skipping all week then binge drinking 7-14 drinks Saturday night isn’t the same benefit vs risk ratio.
How Much vs. Which Type
Alcohol is alcohol when it comes to sugar, calories, cancer risk and weight.
5 oz wine, 1.5 oz spirit, 12 oz beer are all considered one serving and approximately 150 calories. Women who drink three to six alcoholic beverages per week on a regular basis were shown to have a 15% greater risk for breast cancer than women in the Nurse’s Health Study who abstained, regardless of the type of alcohol they consumed.
Bottom Line: Myths that wine is better risk-wise for cancer or for your waistline than beer is inaccurate. At the end of the day it’s the amount that matters most. Some studies suggest taking a standard multivitamin that includes folic acid, if you drink on a regular basis, especially women who may be at risk for breast cancer.
When you do want to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, in moderation of course, consider mixing it with fresh juice to help add beneficial nutrients and hydration. Try these recipes, they’re delicious with or without the alcohol:
- Mint Julep Low Sugar Lime Juice
- Fall Cinnamon Harvest Juice
- Sparkling New Years Juice Recipe