Can Alcohol Be Healthy For You?

Are you an individual who drinks? For the longest time, alcohol has been thought to be harmful for the body. It’s hard to eliminate that image of an overly intoxicated individual unsteady on his or her feet, face flushed red, vomiting, and potentially even in the hospital getting his or her stomach pumped. Beyond these physically damaging health effects, people are also at further risk for drunk driving and mental instability due to making poor life choices. Yet even so, there is a saying that certain alcohols can actually be beneficial for one’s health if drunk in moderate amounts. Is this true? What are the exact rumors circulating around and what are the current facts surrounding them?

One should first understand the bodily processes occurring when alcohol is consumed. Once ingested, alcohol diffuses directly through the cell membranes in the stomach and move into the bloodstream. As a result, alcohol can reach and affect almost every organ in our bodies. However, most of the alcohol is absorbed through the small intestine, and from there, it travels through a large blood vessel to the liver. The liver then secretes enzymes to degrade the alcohol and convert the substance into energy usable by the body. In the heart, alcohol causes the heart muscles to contract with less force, leading to reduced heart rates and blood pressure. This is considered a more relaxed state compared to an individual’s usual bodily functioning.

Drinking too much alcohol can cause heart problems such as cardiomyopathy, which is the stretching or drooping of heart muscles, arrhythmia – an irregular heartbeat, or even stroke. Meanwhile, the liver can suffer a variety of inflammation problems ranging from steatosis – excess retention of fats in liver cells - to cirrhosis – permanent liver damage caused by tissue scarring. Since alcohol can affect almost every organ in the body, damage isn’t limited to only the heart or the liver. Other organs such as the brain or pancreas can also be greatly impacted, with consequences as severe as cancer.

So what are the opposing opinions to this scientific findings? According to an article written by Spoon University and various other sources, alcohols such as red wine are believed to contain health benefits through the active compounds they contain. Red wine specifically contains polyphenols, resveratrol and quercetin, which have been shown to improve overall heart health. Furthermore, a study of the  University of Massachusetts Amherst has also shown that red wine helps slow down the process of glucose entering the bloodstream, preventing high insulin spikes. Other alcohols such as whiskey contain antioxidants and ellagic acid, which are known to prevent cancer by absorbing rogue cells. The list of “healthy” alcohol goes on, ranging from tequila to champagne – each said to have unique health benefits.

However, a global study published in The Lancet also points out that no amount of alcohol is good for one’s overall health. Why? Because although a said glass of wine may lower one’s risk of contracting heart disease, these benefits are offset by the increased chance of developing cancer and other diseases. In other words, the risks brought about by drinking are much worse than its potential benefits. But does that mean we should stop drinking altogether? Noelle LoConte, an oncologist and associate professor from the University of Wisconsin says no. She points out that there is likely a level of drinking that is fine, and that the idea isn’t to promote and propagate complete abstinence. It is simply that less alcohol is better from a cancer prevention perspective.

The next time you decide to have a drink, perhaps you should consider all of the aforementioned points. Sure, there are possible health benefits associated with drinking, but these benefits may also be greatly offset by the downsides. Although there may be a safe level for drinking alcohol, the exact amount is yet unknown. As per usual, remember to drink responsibly!

References:

https://www.dummies.com/health/nutrition/how-your-body-processes-alcohol/

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body

https://spoonuniversity.com/lifestyle/6-healthiest-alcohols

https://www.npr.org/2018/08/24/641618937/no-amount-of-alcohol-is-good-for-your-health-global-study-claims

Sherry Chow