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Is Drinking Alcohol Good for Your Health?

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Is Drinking Alcohol Good for Your Health?

It all depends on the shape you’re in.
Pamela  McDonald
Pamela McDonald More by this author
Jul 05, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Is alcohol harmful or protective? Alcohol consumption is a controversial subject in medicine today because it has shown both positive and negative properties.  Medical research on red wine has shown some positive cardio-protective effects, mainly an increase in HDL, the good cholesterol. However, this has led some medical providers to make blanket assumptions and statements about alcohol that patients can translate as, “Drink alcohol—it’s good for your heart, so drink it and drink it often.”

But let’s stop and think about this for a minute. First of all, if there is a “good” amount for daily alcohol intake, it is a moderate amount—not all you can drink. The American Heart Association’s definition of moderate alcohol consumption is no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men, where one drink equals 12 oz. beer, 5 oz. wine, or 1.5 oz. distilled spirits.

In addition, what about a person who has glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, or diabetes, and is on two or four medications, or has very high triglyceride levels? A person with any one of these should stay away from alcohol, yet I have known practitioners to tell these patients to drink it because it’s good for them. When I look at these patients’ medication lists, I see statin therapy (LDL cholesterol-lowering medication), Niaspan (a slow release form of niacin), Vitamin B3 (reduces LDL cholesterol and raises HDL cholesterol), diabetic medicines, and sleeping pills, all of which can make alcohol consumption dangerous. The benefits in these cases do not outweigh the risk.

People taking cholesterol medications especially need to avoid alcohol because combining these medications with alcohol can cause serious harm to the stomach lining, liver, and kidneys. Even so, I’ve seen many patients who take high doses of cholesterol medication and also drink alcohol, with their doctor’s permission—a dangerous mistake in my view.

I recommend that a patient with any active disease not drink alcohol. However, if you are in very good health and drink alcohol in a moderate fashion, here is a list of some positive effects of consuming small to moderate quantities:

  • relaxation and stress reduction
  • pleasurable taste
  • romantic associations
  • increase in HDL good cholesterol
  • tannins, flavonoids, and antioxidants in wine
  • possible increase in nitrous oxide production, potentially widening and improving flow in arteries
  • potential improvement of antioxidant defense system
  • reduction of platelet stickiness

Could the negative effects of alcohol outweigh the positive effects? Its negative effects include:

  • immediate absorption into the circulatory system, causing rapid rises in triglycerides, blood sugar, and insulin, and reduction in reaction times (dangerous if driving)
  • increased blood sugar levels even more quickly in diabetic and   insulin-resistant people
  • worsened diabetes
  • increased “bad” LDL cholesterol in certain Apo E genotypes by as much as 300 percent
  • hindered calcium metabolism and bone growth

With wine, is it the ethyl alcohol component that gives the benefit, or is it something in the grape juice? Grape juice alone has been shown to lower the risk of developing blood clots that may lead to heart problems.

In addition, research has identified the antioxidant catechin as a major antioxidant in grapes, and catechin from grapes remains in a person’s bloodstream more than four hours after consumption—longer than the alcoholic variety.  While there are lots of good qualities to alcohol when used wisely, it pays to think carefully when it comes to alcohol consumption.

About Author
Pamela  McDonald
Pamela McDonald is a leading integrative-medicine nurse-practitioner who has devoted her life to the prevention of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and chronic illness. She has had special training in surgery, women’s health care, adult primary ca Continue reading