Alcohol and Your Health

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The effect of alcohol consumption on your health can be either positive or negative, depending on the amount you drink. Like most things, moderation is the key to getting the greatest benefits from alcohol. Those who drink moderately generally live longer and in better health than those who either abstain completely or drink heavily.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), moderate drinking lowers your risk of heart disease by 40 to 60 percent. And people who normally consume one or two drinks daily have the lowest rate of mortality, according to the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association. The mortality rates of those who have suffered a heart attack are 32 percent lower than those of abstainers. The moderate consumption of alcohol leads to a lower incidence of strokes and can reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and prostate problems.

A European study found greater arterial elasticity in volunteers who had a drink of beer, wine or spirits each day, compared to those who were abstainers. In another study of over 18,000 men from the Physicians Health Study, those who increased the number of drinks they consumed from one to six per week showed a 29 percent lower risk of contracting cardiovascular disease. This was also found to be useful to diabetics, who achieved a 58 percent reduction in heart disease risk by consuming an alcoholic drink every day.

Alcohol has been shown to increase your "good" HDL cholesterol while reducing your "bad" LDL cholesterol, in addition to decreasing clotting and increasing blood flow to your heart. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the risk of stroke to be cut in half for those who take two alcoholic beverages per day.

A standard drink is considered to be one:

  • 12-ounce bottle or can of beer
  • 5-ounce glass of wine
  • 1 1/2 ounce serving of distilled spirits (the equivalent of a shot glass)

"Moderate" drinking is considered to be the consumption of one to three alcoholic drinks per day, depending on your body size. Less than that provides only minimal health benefits and more than that leads to a number of health problems, including liver disease, cirrhosis, cancer, high blood pressure and depression. The over-consumption of alcohol is one of the leading causes of preventable death worldwide, according to a study in The Lancet.

Of course, those who are pregnant, suffering from alcoholism or have adverse reactions to alcohol should abstain, as the benefits do not outweigh the risks. But for most healthy adults, moderate alcohol consumption will help them live longer and healthier lives.