Alcohol has been a part of our country’s social traditions and celebrations for centuries. Most adult drinkers are social drinkers, who enjoy moderate alcohol consumption (defined in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men) as a part of a healthy lifestyle.
According to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “Most adults who drink do so responsibly with no harm to their health. In fact, for some people, drinking moderately is associated with a variety of potential health benefits including a decreased risk of coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and certain types of strokes.”
Research over the last four decades (both epidemiological and molecular studies) have demonstrated the potential health benefits of moderate drinking (Figure 1). While there continues to be a misperception that red wine is the only type of beverage alcohol that may confer potential health benefits, studies show the potential benefit is due to the ethanol (alcohol) in all types of alcohol beverages — spirits, beer and wine.
Adding to this body of research is an interesting new study of approximately two million adults published in the British Medical Journal which found that moderate alcohol consumption (spirits, wine or beer) is associated with a reduction in the risk of several cardiovascular diseases.
This study found that the protective effects observed for moderate drinking is present even after separating out non-drinkers from former drinkers. This finding is particularly noteworthy given that a few researchers have recently called into question the potential benefits of moderate drinking citing flaws in the methodology of studies that grouped abstainers with former drinkers, who may have stopped consuming alcohol for health reasons.
The authors make it clear that individuals should not begin drinking to obtain these potential health benefits and conclude that “Ultimately an individual’s decision to drink should not be considered in isolation from other health behaviors or risk factors and instead be motivated by their own personal circumstances.”
This is sound advice. So, the bottom line when it comes to alcohol is: if you are an adult who chooses to drink alcohol, moderation is key.
Be mindful that alcohol abuse can cause serious health and other problems, and even drinking in moderation may pose health risk for some people. If you have questions regarding alcohol and health, you should discuss the potential risks and benefits with a physician who can help you determine what is best based upon individual risk factors including family history, genetics and lifestyle.
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