When it comes to your health, is it better to drink or not to drink? The short and long-term effects of alcohol can affect your body, lifestyle and mental health. The truth is that the health effects of alcohol are actually quite complex. They vary between individuals, and depend on the amount consumed and the type of alcoholic beverage.
What Is Alcohol and Why Do People Drink It?
The active ingredient in alcoholic beverages is called ethanol. Generally referred to as alcohol, ethanol is the substance that makes you drunk. Ethanol is produced by yeasts when they digest sugar in certain carb rich foods, such as grapes (wine) or grains (beer). Alcohol is the most popular recreational “drug” in the world. It can have very powerful effects on your mood and mental state. Alcohol can reduce self-consciousness and shyness, making it easier for people to act without inhibition. At the same time, it can impair judgment and make people do things that they end up regretting.
Alcohol’s two-faced nature shouldn’t come as a surprise. The active ingredient in alcoholic beverages, a simple molecule called ethanol, affects the body in many different ways. It directly influences the stomach, brain, heart, gallbladder, and liver. It affects levels of lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) and insulin in the blood, as well as inflammation and coagulation. It also alters mood, concentration, and coordination.
Moderate alcohol use has possible health benefits, but it’s not risk-free.
It sounds like a mixed message
Drinking alcohol may offer some health benefits, especially for your heart. On the other hand, too much alcohol may increase your risk of health problems and damage your heart.
When it comes to alcohol, the key is moderation. Certainly, you don’t have to drink any alcohol, and if you currently don’t drink, don’t start drinking for the possible health benefits. In some cases, it’s safest to avoid alcohol entirely — the possible benefits don’t outweigh the risks.
Moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits, such as:
Reduce your risk of developing and dying from heart disease
Possibly reduce your risk of ischemic stroke (when the arteries to your brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow)
Possibly reduce your risk of diabetes
Even so, the evidence about the health benefits of alcohol isn’t certain, and alcohol may not benefit everyone who drinks. Moderate alcohol use for healthy adults means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.
Now, we’ve all heard the reasons why alcohol is bad for you, but what about the benefits? Here is our list of seven ways that drinking alcohol in moderation (when you’re of the legal drinking age of course) might benefit your health.
It Can Lower Your Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease. Moderate alcohol consumption has also been linked with beneficial changes ranging from better sensitivity to insulin to improvements in factors that influence blood clotting. Such changes would tend to prevent the formation of small blood clots that can block arteries in the heart, neck, and brain, the ultimate cause of many heart attacks and the most common kind of stroke. This finding is applicable to both men and women who have not been previously diagnosed with any type of cardiovascular disease.
Beyond the Heart. The benefits of moderate drinking aren’t limited to the heart. In the Health Study, gallstones and type 2 diabetes were less likely to occur in moderate drinkers than in non-drinkers. The social and psychological benefits of alcohol can’t be ignored. A drink before a meal can improve digestion or offer a soothing respite at the end of a stressful day; the occasional drink with friends can be a social tonic. These physical and psychic effects may contribute to health and well-being.
It Can Improve Your Libido. Contrary to prior beliefs, newer research has found that moderate drinking might actually protect against erectile dysfunction in the same way that drinking red wine might benefit heart disease.
Lowers The Chance Of Diabetes. Results of study showed that healthy adults who drink one to two glasses per day have a decreased chance of developing type 2 diabetes, in comparison to those who don’t drink at all.
It Can Reduce The Risk Of Gallstones. Drinking two units of alcohol per day can reduce the risk of gallstones by one-third. The study found that those who reported consuming two UK units of alcohol per day had a one-third reduction in their risk of developing gallstones.
It Can Lengthen Your Life. Drinking occasionally could add a few years to your life. Drinking less than four or two drinks per day for men and women respectively could reduce the risk of death by 18 percent, This is another feature of the Mediterranean diet, where alcohol, wine above all, is the ideal partner of a dinner or lunch, but that’s all: the rest of the day must be absolutely alcohol-free.
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Even moderate drinking carries some risks. Alcohol can disrupt sleep. Its ability to cloud judgment is legendary. Alcohol interacts in potentially dangerous ways with a variety of medications, including acetaminophen, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, painkillers, and sedatives. It is also addictive, especially for people with a family history of alcoholism.
The benefits and risks of moderate drinking change over a lifetime. In general, risks exceed benefits until middle age, when cardiovascular disease begins to account for an increasingly large share of the burden of disease and death.
For a pregnant woman and her unborn child, a recovering alcoholic, a person with liver disease, and people taking one or more medications that interact with alcohol, moderate drinking offers little benefit and substantial risks.
For a 30-year-old man, the increased risk of alcohol-related accidents outweighs the possible heart-related benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.
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For a 60-year-old man, a drink a day may offer protection against heart disease that is likely to outweigh potential harm (assuming he isn’t prone to alcoholism).
For a 60-year-old woman, the benefit/risk calculations are trickier. Ten times more women die each year from heart disease (460,000) than from breast cancer (41,000). However, studies show that women are far more afraid of developing breast cancer than heart disease, something that must be factored into the equation.