The effects of heavy alcohol consumption – from car accidents to illness to death – are constantly staring us in the face. On the other hand, moderate alcohol consumption may actually lower your risk for developing some of these same illnesses.
Everything in life should be done in moderation, and in this case, no more than one or two glasses of alcohol daily is probably the safest limit – provided that your doctor gives you the green light to drink in the first place.
Studies show that people who drink alcohol in moderation (only one or two drinks a day) are 25-40 percent less likely than those who don’t drink to have a heart attack. This level of protection is believed to be due to the fact that alcohol in moderation lowers blood pressure. Also, good HDL cholesterol is increased and fibrinogen is decreased when drinking alcohol.
Good cholesterol balances out the bad, while reducing fibrinogen keeps blood clots down to a minimum. Together these processes ensure that the heart and arteries aren’t clogged with fat and cholesterol that can turn into heart disease or stroke.
Red wine is full of antioxidants and flavonoids that have special heart-protective qualities not found in other alcoholic beverages, but as far as your heart is concerned, alcohol is alcohol. As a rule of thumb, one drink pans out to about 4-6 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of whiskey or other hard liquor.
Drinking one or two alcohol drinks daily also defends against ischemic strokes the same way it prevents heart attack. Ischemic strokes are most common and most preventable. Since ischemic strokes usually result from blood clots in the brain, keeping the blood circulating as it should and preventing these clots is how small amounts of alcohol help. If you exceed two glasses of alcohol per day, you run the risk of having a hemorrhagic stroke, in which bleeding occurs in the brain.
Though it’s unclear why, alcohol in moderation seems to protect against developing diabetes. Some experts believe that alcohol, when consumed with meals, slows down food absorption and keeps blood sugar levels at an even keel. Others believe that alcohol makes cells more sensitive to insulin. Whatever the reason, moderate drinkers are up to 40 percent less likely to develop adult-onset (Type 2) diabetes, which is the most common form of the disease. Type 2 diabetes can cause blindness, heart disease and kidney failure.
Drinking alcohol can raise your risk for developing cancer, but again just 1 or 2 drinks per day makes that unlikely. Your risk for developing colon cancer, however, can increase with just 2 drinks per day. To counter this effect, up your intake of folic acid, or folate (vitamin B9). If you get your daily requirement of folate (400 mcg) daily, you wipe out this risk almost entirely. Get more folate from whole grain cereals, orange juice and green veggies.
The risk for breast cancer in women can also be increased with 2 or more drinks per day by up to 40 percent. Particularly if breast cancer is common in your family, limit your drinks to 1 or fewer a day and aim to drink red wine instead of other alcoholic beverages.
The bottom line is that drinking 1 glass of alcohol a day (preferably red wine) is a great preventative measure for major illness. Consult your doctor if you have concerns and especially if you are on prescription medication.