Alcohol doesn't make a lot of "Top 10" lists for being one of the healthiest things to put in our bodies. But alcohol in all of its common forms—beer, wine, liquor—actually has some unexpected health benefits like strong hearts, sharper brains, and uninhibited creativity.
So great, let's get smashed! Right? The key with alcohol and all of the benefits listed below is to consume in moderation. So, um, don't get smashed—enjoy responsibly. Drinking too much can result in serious negative heath effects including poor liver function, liver disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, and changes in the brain's ability to produce new cells Moderate drinking? Alcohol consumption significantly decreases neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus. Anderson, M.L., Nokia, M.S., Govindaraju, K.P., et al. Department of Neuroscience, Rutgers University/UMDNJ - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Piscataway, NJ. Neuroscience 2012; 224:202-9..
Dust off the bottle opener or corkscrew and get ready to crack one drink per day (for women), or maybe even two (for men) to get these sweet alcohol health benefits without the hangover.
Alcohol's Health Benefits
1. Get a healthy heart.
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Crazy, right? Beer and wine have natural antioxidants called phenols, which help protect against heart disease and lower the risk of hypertension. Just stick to moderate consumption—keg stands will not translate into even healthier hearts.
2. Freshen breath before (or during) a date.
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Any case of bad breath can be helped by a shot of vodka. The high alcohol content in vodka (and other alcohols) helps kill bad odor bacterias. Two pro tips: make sure to spit it out after use, and don't use any liquors with high sugar content, as they can eat away at all that healthy enamel.
3. Become a genius.
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Alright, you got us. Drinking is definitely not going to turn us into lil' Einsteins, but alcohol does help keep our brains sharp. Ethanol helps the neurons in the brain resist wear and tear that can lead to Alzheimer's and dementia later in life Ethanol protects cultured neurons against amyloid-β and α-synuclein-induced synapse damage. Bate, C., Williams, A. Department of Pathology and Infectious Diseases, Royal Veterinary College, North Mymms, Herts, UK. Neuropharmacology, 2011 Dec;61(8):1406-12..
4. Finally finish that novel/album/painting with a creative flourish.
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Alcohol actually (really and truly) helps us be more creative. One study found that people who drank and ate during a problem solving test performed better than their sober counterparts. The study was necessarily limited, and alcohol can certainly have detrimental effects on brain functions when confused in excess. A little inebriation could get the juices flowing, but don't chug an entire handle of vodka in hopes of painting the next Mona Lisa.
5. Look younger, longer.
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Drinking is not known for helping people look their best, but the special antioxidants in wine (such as phytochemicals and resveratol) can increase energy levels and combat signs of aging.
6. We're going to live forever!
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Well, no. But one study found that drinking a moderate amount of red wine helped increase life span by inducing longevity genes. [Note: This study was conducted on mice with highly concentrated values of resveratol, the supercharged antioxidant naturally found in red wine.]
7. Get good cholesterol (for a change).
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Red wine is the superhero here. Alcoholic beverages, and wine especially, are credited with increasing "good," HDL cholesterol levels. HDL helps clean the body by removing LDL, or "bad," cholesterol.
8. Soothe a sore throat.
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Not much of a voice to shout over that thumping bar music? Order another whiskey. Gargling some whiskey, combined with a spoonful of warm water, can help ease pain by numbing the throat. As with the mouthwash, make sure you don't swallow the dose. We want to feel better, not get smashed by accident.
9. Get over a malaria infection!
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Granted, malaria is not a going concern for the Western world, but the tonic (in gin and tonics) has historically been used to treat malarial infections. Tonic contains quinine, an alkaloid that also has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Much more effective solutions have been developed, but quinine (and tonic water) can still help in a pinch before proper medication can be administered Safety and efficacy of rectal compared with intramuscular quinine for the early treatment of moderately severe malaria in children: randomised clinical trial. Barennes, H., Balima-Koussoube, T., Nagot, N., et al. Center Muraz. BMJ (Clinical Research Edition), 2006 May 6;332(7549):1055-9.
10. Fight off the stomach butterflies.
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Alcohol is the great uninhibitor, lubricating social interactions and making awkward situations a little less anxiety-inducing. Consuming alcohol can help us feel like we fit in at parties and temporarily boost confidence (see also: "liquid courage") "No alcohol, no party": An explorative study on young Danish moderate drinkers. Frederiksen, N.J., Bakke, S.L., Dalum, P. Department of Cancer Prevention and Documentation, Danish Cancer Society, Denmark. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 2012 Oct 1.. The flip side, however, is that using alcohol as a social crutch can lead to long term physical and mental health concerns. Much like with opening our creativity, it's important to limit alcohol consumption to recommended averages with the goal being to squelch those stomach butterflies without glass in hand.
11. Outrun the common cold in style.
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Cold season is fast approaching, so start drinking (in moderation). Two studies found that drinking alcohol was able to mediate the risk of getting a common cold. (Sorry, no studies suggest that drinking while sick will actually help.) One study found that moderate drinkers had a higher resistance to colds, while another out of Spain found that people who drank eight to 14 glasses wine—particularly red—was linked to as much as a 60 percent risk of developing a cold.