A beer at happy hour, a few cocktails on a night out, a nice glass of wine to relax.. Drinks hold a particular position in our lives and are often part of social interactions. Do you ever wonder if and how drinking does benefit your health in any way? We did too. Let’s find out.
Alcohol and health 101
There are lots of resources online that make different claims about alcohol; in ‘moderation’ drinking alcohol can bring a range of health benefits, but alcohol is also extremely toxic for our bodies and can easily be addictive. Addiction can deeply interfere with our everyday life physically and socially.
Common types of alcohol
The variations of alcoholic drinks bring about their own individual influences on us. When specific effects are associated to ‘alcohol’, it does not necessarily mean that all categories of alcohol are included. Here are some of the most common categories we reviewed:
Beer is made by brewing fermented grains, usually barley, in warm water, to extract the sugars from the grains for yeast to breakdown to make alcohol which forms the beer we get. Beer supposedly contains traces of several minerals and polyphenols which are good for the body.
Wine: red, white, rosé
Made by the process of fermentation of grapes, as grapes contain a nutrient called resveratrol, which supposedly brings an array of antioxidizing benefits. This makes wine an alcoholic drink with greater benefits in comparison to other types of alcohol, but does not necessarily make wine ‘healthy’; it would be better to eat grapes to obtain resveratrol in greater amounts, than to drink wine!
Available in scotch or bourbon versions, whiskey is an alcohol made by the fermentation of grains such as corn (bourbon) or barley (scotch). Whiskey contains very little sugar and is supposedly low in calories when consumed straight. It has a history of being used as medication during historical times, when medicinal practices were not as advanced as they are today.
Colourless and odourless, vodka is made by distilling fermented cereal or potato grains. This is commonly used as the alcohol base for many cocktail drinks.
Mixed drinks of variations of alcohol such as vodka, brandy, gin, rum, tequila or whiskey. Cocktails consists of alcohol mixed with a range of syrups, juices and other garnishments. They can be quite full of sugar.
These are liquors with added flavourings, which could be sweeteners or fruits, examples of these include plum wines, where those of better quality will incorporate the real fruits, whereas the lower quality versions may use artificial flavours.
Health risks of alcohol
1. Alcohol is toxic
Alcohol is a toxin that has negative effects on cell production. The process of breaking down alcohol also bring about production of more toxins, before our bodies can effectively flush them out of our system, with drinking an extra load of water as compensation.
2. Alcohol is highly addictive
Alcohol is associated with stimulation of endorphins that are hormones that bring about a ‘good feeling’. However, this reaction can be highly addictive, and research shows that the heavier an individual drinks, the more endorphins can be stimulated to be produced, this can lead to an addiction to develop if individuals do not take more care to manage how much alcohol they are consuming.
3. Alcohol takes a toll on your liver
The liver is responsible for filtering toxins from our blood, as well as producing hormones that help with our overall digestion. It also regulates the blood sugar and cholesterol levels in our system. This is why it can be a burden to our overall health if we consistently consume alcohol, which can mean a build up of toxins in our liver – too much means that our liver cannot catch up in terms of filtering out the toxins.
4. Alcohol can increase the risk of cancer
As alcohol affects the normal processes of cell production, it may mean that by drinking, we are at higher risks of developing cancer. Research has shown that the more people drink, the higher risks they are at for developing cancer. Cancers at the mouth, throat, oesophagus, breast, bowel and liver are the most likely amongst other types of cancer.
What is “moderate” drinking?
According to mayoclinic.org, for healthy adults, a moderate consumption of alcohol means up to 1 drink a day for women of all ages and men aged 65 and older, and up to 2 drinks a day for men aged 65 or younger.
Examples of one drink: wine (148 ml), beer (355 ml), distilled spirits (44 ml).
For those with specific health conditions, consult your doctor to get his/her thoughts on how much alcohol is appropriate for you.
Possible health benefits
1. Contributes to reduce risk of heart diseases
Research has found that, for healthy individuals, alcohol in moderate amounts is said to increase the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol in our bodies. This helps to remove ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol in our blood, which can build up to contribute to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases.
2. Prevents Against the common cold
A study done in 1993 with 391 adults by The Department of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University (USA) found that non-smokers who drank from 8 to 14 glasses of wine a week were at 60% lower risk of catching the common cold. It is believed to be due to wine’s antioxidant properties.
3. Can Improve Your Libido
In a 2009 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers found a reduction of up to 30% of the chances of erectile dysfunction among alcohol drinkers (1,770 Australian men were part of the study). This doesn’t mean that you need to overdrink tonight, but it contradicts some common beliefs!
4. Can help prevent dementia
According to research, alcohol can make the brain more ‘fit’; in moderation, alcohol serves to minutely cause stress on the brain, which supposedly better prepares the brain for other potential major stresses, such as dementia, in the future.
Alcohol: depressant or stimulant?
It is said that alcohol is a depressant but people get confused because we drink, many of us feel more lively and happier, rather than mellow or moody. To clarify, when looking at this effect, we also need to consider our blood alcohol content (BAC) throughout the process of drinking. According to psychologists, when we begin to drink, the initial rise of BAC causes elation, excitement and extroversion, however, as our drinking levels out and BAC begins to descend, it can then become a sedative, which brings about fatigue, restlessness and potentially depressiveness. Alcohol’s effects resemble those of depressants: while they can act as a stimulant for a moment, the effects don’t remain for long.
What’s the conclusion?
All in all, drinking should not be incorporated as part of a daily lifestyle for the purpose of reaping its “potential health benefits”. That’s not to say we must ban alcohol from our lives completely. Being part of our social life, alcohol can represent a time of relaxation from busy schedules, and when consumed in moderation, we may also gain from its health benefits.