Maybe you grew up in a dry household or one where drinking with meals was a daily occurrence. Either way, you probably have some preconceived notions about how alcohol affects your health. Some research seems to show that drinking in moderation is good for you. But things like social and economic status can complicate those findings. With that in mind, we’re looking at some of the most current knowledge on alcohol and your health.
The most well-known positive claim about alcohol is that it’s good for heart health. Several studies show a link between light-to-moderate drinking and lower rates of coronary artery disease. But drinking heavily increases almost all heart health risks.
- To make the most of potential heart benefits, drinking should be spread out across the week instead of binged on one or two days.
- Alcohol itself seems to be responsible for some benefits of drinking in moderation, like raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol and preventing blood clots.
- Some alcoholic beverages – particularly red wine – contain chemicals called flavonoids. These have been linked to reduced risks of death from stroke and heart disease.
- Red wine being especially good for the heart is a popular theory for why the French have relatively low numbers of heart disease despite a high dietary fat intake.
- At least one study suggests non-alcoholic red wine is actually the best choice for lowering blood pressure. This indicates flavonoids do most of the work to protect heart health.
- The American Heart Association doesn’t recommend drinking alcohol as a preventive health measure. Instead, they suggest exercising and eating flavonoid-rich fruits and vegetables to obtain the same health benefits. You don’t necessarily have to give up your occasional glass of red wine, but most health officials don’t recommend taking up drinking in the name of your heart.
Alcohol is linked to increased risks of certain cancers, with ongoing research looking to find more information about exactly why this is.
- Drinking can cause the production of unstable molecules called reactive oxygen species. These may go on to damage DNA and make cancer more likely to develop.
- Drinking can increase levels of estrogen in the body, elevating the risk of certain types of breast cancer.
- Cancers of the mouth and throat are more common in heavy drinkers. Having four or more drinks daily increases their likelihood by up to five times compared to occasional and non-drinkers.
- Smokers should be especially aware of their alcohol intake. The two habits together multiply risk factors for cancers of the head and neck.
- Drinking is also associated with a higher instance of colorectal cancers, and this risk increases along with lifetime alcohol consumption.
Alcohol is frequently used to help lubricate social situations. Drinking can definitely help to lower inhibitions and reduce situational anxiety, but too much could affect your after-party activities.
- Men who are light-to-moderate drinkers appear less likely to have ED, but it’s more common among heavy drinkers and alcoholics.
- The long-term effects of heavy drinking include reduced testosterone production and nerve damage that may cause continuing erectile dysfunction even with sobriety.
- Drinking too much at once is also a common cause of short-term erectile dysfunction. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, affecting the circulation and nerve impulses that are a crucial part of getting and maintaining an erection.
Widespread pain, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping are the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia, often occurring in debilitating flares. Alcohol intolerance is sometimes part of the chronic condition, and drinking even small amounts may trigger an unpleasant reaction or flare.
But some studies have shown that low-to-moderate alcohol consumption is associated with less severe fibromyalgia symptoms and better quality of life. Researchers think this could be due to the relationship between alcohol and the neurotransmitter GABA, which reduces nerve cell activity. People with fibromyalgia tend to have low levels of GABA, which light drinking could help to counteract.
Fibromyalgia makes it challenging to attend social events, which can lead to isolation. As so many people drink primarily in social settings, it’s also likely that those with the most severe fibromyalgia symptoms have stopped drinking alcohol because they’re not well enough to attend parties and social gatherings.
Individual studies often seem to suggest that light-to-moderate drinking leads to a longer life compared to abstaining or drinking heavily.
But low-to-moderate drinkers tend to have more money and better access to education and healthcare, all of which have profound impacts on average lifespan. Another problem with these studies is that people who stop drinking due to health problems skew the statistics, making lifelong non-drinkers appear to have shorter life spans.
Taking these common biases into account, a 2016 analysis of 87 studies found that moderate drinking doesn’t have an effect on life expectancy.
People usually start using alcohol to fit in where social drinking is the norm, and some end up drinking more often to self-medicate. Certain things can make you more likely to become dependent on alcohol, like mental illness or a family history of alcoholism. But anyone who drinks has the potential to develop an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
Becoming dependent on alcohol increases your likelihood of developing any of the medical conditions we’ve mentioned. Cirrhosis of the liver, alcohol related dementia, and accidental injuries also become more likely.
Light or moderate drinking may be good for you in some specific situations, but making healthier eating choices and getting more physical activity are probably just as helpful. People who already enjoy drinking in moderation don’t necessarily need to quit without a valid medical reason. But if you were considering taking up the habit in the name of your health, think again.
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