Can Drinking Alcohol have Health Benefits?

Despite the Benefits of Alcohol Consumption that Some Studies have Shown, it is Important not to Forget its Limitations and Risks.

Group of friends drinking glasses of wine

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LatinAmerican Post | Erika Benitez

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Leer en español: ¿Beber alcohol puede tener beneficios para la salud?

There are many myths and misinformation about the benefits that moderate alcohol consumption can have on human health. This has led many people to drink more calmly. In general, alcoholic beverages are harmful. However, some experts recommend having a glass of wine or beer, as long as you don't indulge in excess.

This social practice can be a double-edged sword, but the difference is primarily in quantity. According to the article "Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits," published by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, "Drinking in moderation appears to be good for the heart and circulatory system, and probably protects against type 2 diabetes and gallstones." However, it also notes that "Excessive alcohol consumption is a leading cause of preventable death in most countries."

Likewise, it adds that consuming large amounts of alcohol can affect the liver and heart, harm the fetus in pregnant women, increase the chances of developing breast cancer and other types of cancer, contribute to depression and violence and interfere in general in human relationships.

This is why it is understandable that for most people it is confusing to understand in depth the risks and, in turn, the possible benefits of alcohol for their health. What is the definition of moderate? It is necessary to understand what is the ideal amount to drink, enjoying the benefits, without falling into excess.

In this regard, the Harvard article points out that moderate consumption has to do with a balancing act. "Moderate drinking is at the point where the health benefits of alcohol clearly outweigh the risks." For healthy adults, it generally means up to one drink a day for women and 1 to 2 drinks a day maximum for men.

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Benefits of alcohol: the type of drink and the quality matter

More than 100 prospective studies show the connection between moderate alcohol consumption and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in both men and women. Biologically and scientifically, it makes sense, since drinking moderate amounts of alcoholic beverages raises high-density lipoprotein levels ("good" cholesterol – HDL) and these high levels of HDL are associated with greater protection against heart disease, notes the Harvard School of Health.

Now, from a social and psychological point of view, alcohol (in moderate doses) also generates certain benefits. For example, a drink before a meal helps digestion or an occasional drink with friends favors social environments, these effects contribute to the well-being and health of people.

Studies highlight that these benefits also have to do with the type of drink consumed. The most outstanding drinks are beer and wine. Regarding the latter, the Scientific Magazine "Molecules" published a study that highlights the great benefits of the components, such as flavonoids, of this drink that is so popular throughout the world. According to research, consumption of red wine helps lower blood pressure in patients suffering from hypertension. One of the main components of the grapes used to make wine are antioxidants, which reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Other epidemiological studies have shown that consuming 5 to 7 servings of fresh vegetables and fruits and two glasses of wine a day can contribute to the development of a longer and healthier life. Although, the medical community recommends that it not be consumed at night due to its high sugar content.

Another of the determining factors when analyzing the benefits and dangers that alcohol consumption can generate is age. That is, the risks outweigh the benefits until middle age, when cardiovascular disease begins to account for an increasing share of the burden of disease and death.

According to a study published by the British medical journal "The Lancent" on the Global Burden of Disease, in which 22 health indicators for people up to 40 years of age were analyzed, healthy consumption of alcohol is zero. “For some people over that age, they could have some benefits on cardiovascular health or diabetes by consuming small amounts of alcohol daily, equivalent to between one and two glasses of wine.”

These benefits are not an excuse to abuse

Despite the benefits mentioned, the risks of consuming alcohol should always be very present. The active ingredient in alcoholic beverages is ethanol, its regular consumption can affect the stomach, brain, heart, gallbladder and liver. It also alters mood, concentration and coordination, which is why dependence on this substance is one of the most common public health problems.

Among the diseases that can be triggered are: liver inflammation, increased blood pressure and heart muscle damage, and the appearance of various types of cancer. On a societal level, problem drinking also affects the families, friends, and communities of drinkers. It can even be addictive for people with a family history of alcoholism.

Indeed, given the complexity of the effects of alcohol on the body, the relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and health is complex and has sparked much controversy in the scientific community. However, warnings about alcohol are out of the question. Each person has different personal, medical, and family histories, so whether or not to drink alcohol, especially for "medicinal purposes," will involve a careful balance of benefits and risks for each person.

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