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Drink to Your Health: Why Alcohol Is Good For You

Always feel guilty when ordering a cocktail instead of a heart-healthy glass of wine? Research shows the health benefits may actually be similar.
Drink to Your Health: Why Alcohol Is Good For You
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Most have heard about the health benefits of wine — and even beer. But those who prefer their drinks Sex and the City-style (Cosmos, anyone?) or à la Don Draper will be happy to hear that moderate consumption of any alcohol may have just as many health benefits as a good old vino or brew.

Blame It on the A-a-alcohol — The Need-to-Know

Photo by Marissa Angell

When wine was the only drink in the healthy box, researchers thought it was the resveratrol responsible for those heart-healthy benefits  — until they found beer provides similar benefits. Turns out it's the alcohol in both drinks that provides much of the healthy twist! The benefits initially seemed more pronounced in wine-drinkers, but once lifestyle differences were taken into account, researchers found that all alcoholic beverages provided similar protection against heart disease [1]. Excellent news for the liquor-loving Greatists out there!

But it's not just about protecting that ticker. Alcohol can also help increase HDL cholesterol (that's the good kind) and decrease artery-clogging LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) — a win-win if we ever saw one [2]. Plus, some research suggests drinking moderate amounts of alcohol (one drink a day for women, two for men) can even protect against brain disease. People may joke that alcohol makes them feel invincible, but it does have a scientific "superpower" as well, helping the neurons in the brain resist wear and tear that can lead to Alzheimer's and dementia way down the road [3]. Who knew alcohol could help us forget so much in the moment and help preserve memories for years to come?

But don't set down the stemware just yet. While the alcohol in wine, beer, and liquor all provide similar benefits, wine does have a few additional plusses other types of alcohol don't. We may not be declaring wine a superfood just yet, but it does contain antioxidants like phytochemicals and resveratrol, which can increase energy levels and combat signs of aging [4]. (So that's why we see so many 60 year olds dancing on cruise ship bars!) The resveratrol in wine has even been shown to be an anti-inflammatory that protects against arthritis [5]!

Bottoms Up! — Your Action Plan

To get maximum benefits from that cocktail (or two…), consider pairing alcohol with healthier mixers and staying away from super-sweet options and smoothie-like concoctions. While juice cocktails can rack up calories and sugar, choosing 100 percent fruit juice (with no added sweeteners) can help reach that daily dose fruits and veggies. If drinking with access to a full fridge, try a "superfood cocktail" of light cranberry and vodka; gin and seltzer with muddled blueberries; or the ultimate superfood frozen drink — Greek yogurt blended with almond milk, a frozen banana, and rum, with a dash of cinnamon. Looking to take healthy drinking to the next level? Try organic alcohol. Pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals from traditional processing can actually increase the risk of cancer or other health risks, partially negating any benefits from the alcohol [6].

Of course, while drinking to your health, be sure to avoid some common drinking pitfalls, like drinking too much and finding yourself on top of the bar shaking it to Call Me Maybe. We may joke about blackouts, but the truth is that any memory loss due to alcohol is no bueno. Drinking can be a health hazard in the form of cirrhosis, some forms of cancer, and basic injuries (hmm, wonder how those happened). So remember the golden rule: one drink per day for women, two for men.

This article has been approved by Greatist Experts Lindsey Joe and Aaron Mauck

Now that we're giving it the okay (in moderation!) what's your favorite way to indulge in this healthy pleasure?

Works Cited +

  1. Comparison of acute effects of red wine, beer and vodka against hyperoxia-induced oxidative stress and increase in arterial stiffness in healthy humans. Krnic, M., Modun, D., Budimir, D., et al. Department of Endocrinology, University Hospital Split, Soltanska 1, Split, Croatia. Atherosclerosis, 2011 Oct;218(2):530-5.
  2. Wine and Heart. Rayo Llerena. I., Marín Huerta, E. Servicio de Cardiología, Hospital 12 de Octubre, Madrid. Revista Espanola de Cardiologia, 1998 Jun;51(6):435-49.
  3. 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. Resveratrol and health — a comprehensive review of human clinical trials. Smoliga, J.M., Baur, J.A., Hausenblas, H.A.. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, 2011 Aug;55(8):1129-41.
  5. Resveratrol modulates murine collagen-induced arthritis by inhibiting Th17 and B-cell function. Xuzhu, G., Komai-Koma, M., Leung, B.P., et al. Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 2012 Jan;71(1):129-35.
  6. How sustainable agriculture can address the environmental and human health harms of industrial agriculture. Horrigan, L., Lawrence, R.S., Walker, P. Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2002 May;110(5):445-56.

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