Humans have been drinking alcohol for at least 10,000 years. Today it is well known that there are significant differences between drinking in moderation and excessive intake of alcohol, such as the case with alcohol abuse and full-blown addiction to alcohol known as alcoholism.
In many studies, it has been found that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol is good for circulation and for the heart. Alcohol, when drunk in moderate amounts seems to protect people against gallstones, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
What Is Moderate Alcohol Consumption?
• In women, this means drinking one alcoholic beverage every day (and no more).
• Men can get away with 2 alcoholic beverages per day.
One drink is about 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer and about 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. More alcohol than that and the positive effects of alcohol seem to slip away.
Positive Effects of Moderate Alcohol Consumption
• Moderate alcohol consumption, such as in the amounts listed above, have been found to decrease the risk of diseases caused by blood clots by a factor of 25-40%. This includes stroke, heart attacks, and peripheral vascular disease.
• It has been found to decrease the risk of complications of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and old age.
• This amount of alcohol has been found to increase the levels of HDL cholesterol, which is considered the “good cholesterol.”
• Blood clotting factors are less likely to cause clots in those who drink alcohol.
Negative Effects of Alcohol
Certainly, heavy drinking is a problem and is one of the #1 causes of preventable injury and death in the US.
Alcohol plays a role in nearly 50% of all motor vehicle accidents, can damage the heart and liver in large doses, causes alcohol dependence, and increases the risk of birth defects, breast cancer, depression, relationship problems, and other cancers.
Alcohol has been found to inhibit the absorption of folate, an important B vitamin for embryonic spinal cord growth. It is partly why alcohol is not recommended in pregnancy. This folate disruption in alcohol consumption is also felt to be the reason why alcohol can increase the risk of colon, breast, and other cancers. People who take in at least 600 mcg per day of folate can decrease some of the negative effects of alcohol consumption.
Alcohol in moderation has been shown to help those with type 2 diabetes and gallstones. This connection also goes away when alcohol is taken in too heavily. A drink after a meal can aid digestion of the meal and people who drink only small amounts of alcohol tend to be less stressed than those who do not drink. The trick is to spread out the alcohol consumption over the week. Binging on alcohol at any time negates the positive effect of the disease.
Heavy Drinking And Alcoholism
Heavy drinking poses numerous dangers for the body, easily comparable to poison it directly causes chronic disease, like cirrhosis and negatively effects important organs and processes in the body.
• Alcoholism can cause alcoholic hepatitis, which is inflammation of the liver and cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver tissue that is not reversible and may lead to premature death.
• It can increase blood pressure and cause cardiovascular damage to the muscle of the heart.
• Cancers of the breast, mouth, pharynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, and larynx are linked to heavy alcohol intake.
• Those who drink and smoke together are at an even higher risk of these diseases.
• Alcohol consumption that reaches the level of being an alcoholic can lead to violent crime, automobile accidents, and social problems.
• Alcohol abuse costs US citizens and the government more than $185 USD per year.
• Those who drink in moderate to heavy amounts can have sleep disruption, cloudy judgment, and medication interactions.
• It can be addictive in some people, especially those who have a family history of alcoholism.
• Heavy alcohol use has been found in several studies to increase the risk of developing breast cancer in women. Those who drank more than two drinks per day suffered from a greater risk of breast cancer by a factor of 41%. Taking folate seems to counteract this negative effect.
Who Becomes An Alcoholic
Both genes and environmental issues play a role in who becomes an alcoholic and who doesn’t. Genes for the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase seem to play a specific role. Those who have one type of alcohol dehydrogenase develop less heart disease than those who have another type of alcohol dehydrogenase in their bodies.
The benefits and risks of alcohol consumption vary with a person’s age. Younger people have less benefit and more risk, especially among pregnant women and those who drive drunk.
Older people may benefit from drinking one alcoholic beverage per day (or two for men).
How To Make Sense Of It All
Alcohol has complex effects on the body so that it is difficult to make statements as to whether or not you should consider alcohol helpful or harmful.
If you are at a low risk for heart disease and cancer, it may not pay at all to drink alcohol. If you are at risk for addiction, no amount of alcohol can prevent you from eventually developing an addiction to the drug in some cases.
If you currently don’t consume alcohol, most experts recommend you don’t start drinking just for medicinal purposes. People at a high risk for heart disease or breast cancer because of family history or lifestyle options may choose to drink a moderate amount of alcohol every day.
Make sure to take in at least 600 mcg of folic acid along with the alcohol so you don’t become folate deficient.