Alcohol: Friend or Foe?

As always, the mediasphere is a confusing place, and it seems as though drinking alcohol is healthy one day and harmful the next. So, like many, you may be wondering: is drinking alcohol in moderation beneficial to my health? Is alcohol harmful to me in some way? If alcohol is in fact healthy, how much is too much? All great questions – some of which have yet to be completely answered by means of robust clinical research.

Red Wine

However, we do know a few things about alcohol and our health. Many peer-reviewed studies have shown that moderate-drinkers may have a decreased risk of heart disease and longer life spans as compared to non-drinkers. And while researchers have yet to determine the exact reason for this association, it is thought that moderate alcohol consumption may help raise levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and possibly prevent the formation of blood clots. Let's drink to that, right? Well, maybe.

One study more recently published has shown a connection between light alcohol consumption and an increased risk of breast cancer in women and several other cancers in male smokers. So, does this mean you should quit drinking altogether? Maybe, but additional research is most certainly needed.

While most evidence indicates that moderate alcohol consumption may be the best choice, the drinking-for-health question is clearly far from answered. Many scientists and clinicians question the methods behind many of the studies mentioned – for good reason. It is essential that studies such as these are scrutinized severely; skepticism and scrutiny are necessary in the vast world that is research, as the recommendations developed from such findings directly affect our lives – your life, your children's life, life in general.

Also, it is important to note that the health benefits of alcohol consumption found in the studies mentioned merely show a correlation / association, not causation (i.e., cause-and-effect). For example, could it be possible that individuals who drink on occasion also have other things going on, such as a higher quality of sleep? Perhaps. We don't know. Because we don't know how these individuals' sleep quality (or some other variable) is affecting their heart disease risk apart from their occasional drinking, we can only say there is an correlation / association.

So, the question remains: to drink, or not to drink? In general, the current recommendation remains to limit alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women (however, this recommendation may vary depending on individual disease states and / or conditions). But that begs yet another question – what equals "one" drink?

One "standard" drink =

 Source:  niaaa.nih.gov

Like just about everything else, drink alcohol in moderation (following the recommendations as described above) – at least until we have more concrete scientific evidence guiding us to behave otherwise. 

Eat (& drink moderately),

Sarah
 

Some information adapted from clevelandclinic.org