Is Alcohol Actually Good For You?
Alcoholic beverages tend to be a staple resource amidst social outings, parties, and solitary evenings when you’re wanting to wind down. But is there evidence that it can be incorporated into a healthy diet?
Traditionally, alcohol is touted as bad for you due to its inhibiting nature on the senses. But many things—even water—are bad for you in excess, yet wholly beneficial to the body under the correct proportions. Sure, intoxication is easily achievable with one too many drinks, and the type of drink combined with its quality will dictate a lot of its behavior in your stomach. Is it possible that appropriate amounts of alcohol are good for you? Does alcohol provide any positive health effects?
There’s a lot to discuss on this matter, so don’t reach for the libations just yet. Let’s dive into the science!
What Does Alcohol Do to the Body and Mind?
Before we can determine if even a single drop of an alcoholic drink is good or bad for you, let’s take a look at what alcohol actually does to your body when you consume it.
There are three types of alcohol out there: isopropanol, methanol, and ethanol. The former two are mostly utilized for practical purposes—isopropanol is a common ingredient in gas and fuels while methanol is the “sterile” alcohol used in many cleaning agents and disinfecting solutions. These two alcohols are toxic to humans because they provide a quick route to liver failure during metabolization.
Ethanol, on the other hand, is safe for people to consume. Also known as ethyl alcohol (yes, the same ethyl alcohol that is used in Muse Health’s own Fragrance-free Hand Sanitizer), this ingredient is primarily what gives alcoholic beverages their “kick.” The difference between ethanol used in drinks and ethanol used in sanitizers boils down to the total alcoholic concentration. Muse Health’s hand sanitizer contains a solution with 62% ethyl alcohol for bacteria-killing purposes, whereas beer typically contains 5% and wine boasts 12% according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Distilled spirits like liquors or whiskey normally contain about 40% ethanol!
Immediately after drinking alcohol, some of the ethanol goes directly into your bloodstream via blood vessels in your mouth. From there, you’re likely to absorb it through your stomach and small intestines. The more ethanol that enters your blood, the drunker you will feel—that’s why intaking food alongside your drink can help stem the stupor a bit.
Once in the bloodstream, ethanol can travel quickly to every destination in your body, causing some disturbances along the way. Inside your blood, the alcohol causes blood vessels to inflate, causing flushed skin or a decreased core temperature (despite a feeling of warmth).
Within 5 to 10 minutes, alcohol reaches your brain and initiates extra production of dopamine and serotonin—the two chemicals associated with reward and feeling good. This is where the mild effects of alcohol come into play: when these chemicals are released, you might feel happier, more outgoing, and more confident. Small amounts of alcohol use usually don’t do any major bodily harm aside from muddling your judgment.
But as your alcohol intake increases, your central nervous system will begin to malfunction, becoming worse at carrying out orders from the brain and inhibiting your senses. This can result in blurry vision, dizziness, and slurred speech.
All this time, your liver kicks in to oxidize the alcohol coursing through your body, converting it to carbon monoxide and water to flush it out. But it can’t perform this process particularly fast, meaning you can drink more than your body can handle…in other words, alcohol poisoning. Heavy drinking and binge drinking often carries severe consequences as a result. Excessive drinking over long periods of time can also bring about liver disease.
Many factors—such as age, sex, weight, and overall health—will determine how much alcohol your body can handle. But assuming you drink small amounts that your body can manage, are there any positive benefits to drinking?
Does Alcohol Have Any Health Benefits?
In the appropriate amounts, alcohol consumption does boast a few upsides for your health. But first, it’s important we define “appropriate.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refers to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for this information, which states that “moderate” alcohol consumption is considered 1-2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. More than this is considered excessive drinking and is prone to having negative impacts on health.
That being said, some of the small benefits that daily, responsible alcohol consumption can provide include a reduced risk of heart disease and heart attacks, slightly better mood, and a possible decreased risk of diabetes and stroke. Wine (especially red wine) contains many antioxidants, similar to dark chocolate or black coffee, which are certainly a boon to your cholesterol levels and heart health when received daily. This is why some people claim a glass of wine every day is healthy...they are correct in this sense!
However, don’t forget that even moderate drinkers are susceptible to dangerous health complications, such as an increased risk to develop certain cancers (like esophageal cancer) and accidental injuries due to slight intoxication. The risks are small when the appropriate measures are taken, but they are still there, nonetheless. After all, drinking and driving is never a good idea, no matter how much you’ve drunk—public health can become its own risk factor here.
Additionally, even moderate alcohol consumption should be avoided altogether under certain circumstances. If you are pregnant, have a history of strokes or heart failure, take medications that don’t interact well with alcohol, or are battling an alcohol addiction, it’s best to pass the bottle altogether.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
Ultimately, our outlook on the health benefits of moderate drinking is similar to our take on eating dark chocolate once a day: in small portions, drinking alcoholic beverages has its uses for healthy body function. But there are so many better things you could place in your body instead of alcohol (or chocolate) that would provide you with much, much greater health and nutrition across the board…and without the associated risks!
If you do not already drink, don’t start just for health benefits! In most cases, the health benefits of alcohol simply do not outweigh the cons, although the dangers of health problems are quite small if done tastefully and with consideration. Non-drinkers avoid the downsides of drinking altogether.
If, however, you do already drink, limiting your daily intake to a moderate amount does pose some benefits for your body as long as you’re careful. In this sense, you can likely continue to drink responsibly. A drink every now and then should be just fine, but when in doubt, always see your doctor for the best medical advice regarding your drinking habits.