Some writers argue that wine drinkers tend to be healthier than others because they generally have better health habits. They say it’s not because they consume alcohol. But the health benefits of moderate drinking actually result from the alcohol itself.
It’s true that wine drinkers tend to have better health habits than many others do. But that can’t explain away the clear medical fact that the moderate drinking of beer, wine or distilled spirits improves health and long life. Both beer and liquor tend to confer the same health benefits as red wine. The benefit is found in the alcohol rather than in a specific beverage.
Alcohol reduces heart attacks, strokes and circulation problems through a number of ways. They include these.
- Improving blood. It does that by increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol and decreasing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
- Decreasing blood clotting. It reduces platelet clumping, reduces a blood clotter, and increases the process by which clots dissolve.
- Other ways such as increasing coronary blood flow, reducing blood pressure, and reducing blood insulin level.
Alternatives to Moderate Drinking
The moderate consumption of alcohol is more effective than most other lifestyle changes people use to lower the risk of heart and other diseases. To lower cholesterol by 30 points or blood pressure by 20 points, the average person would need to do all of these four things.
- Follow a very strict low-fat diet.
- Exercise vigorously regularly.
- Eliminate salt from the diet.
- Lose much weight.
Also the person would probably need to take meds.
What about alcohol abstainers who begin to drink in moderation? Researchers found that after four years, new moderate drinkers had a 38% lower risk of cardiovascular disease. That’s in comparison to those who continued to abstain. Even after adjusting for physical activity, Body Mass Index (BMI), demographic and cardiac risk factors, this difference persisted.1
But medical research suggests that alcohol can have a greater impact on heart disease than even these drops in cholesterol levels or blood pressure. Only stopping smoking is more effective.
Exercise Increase Benefits of Moderate Drinking
Of course, moderate drinking in connection with other healthful activities is even better. For example, consider exercise. Researchers studied about 12,000 people for over 20 years. Here’s what they found.
- People who both drank moderately and exercised had the lowest risk of fatal heart disease. They had a 50% reduced risk in comparison to non-drinkers who didn’t exercise.
- Alcohol abstainers who exercised had a higher risk. And those who drank in moderation but didn’t exercise also had a higher risk. In both cases the risk of heart disease dropped about 30% in comparison to abstaining non-exercisers.
- People who neither drank nor exercised had the highest risk. Their risk of dying from heart disease was twice as high as those who drank moderately and exercised. Moderate drinking and exercise are cumulative in their positive effects. Doing one is better than nothing. But doing both is the best of all. It greatly lowers the risk of death from heart attack. The same is also true for all-cause mortality.2
After reviewing the research on heart diseases and stroke, Dr. David Whitten reported this. “[W]e don’t have any drugs that are as good as alcohol.” And noted investigator Dr. Curtis Ellison wrote that “abstinence from alcohol is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease.”
The moderate consumption of alcohol appears to be beneficial in reducing or preventing even more diseases and health problems. The benefits of moderate drinking are many. To learn more, visit Alcohol and Health.
Footnotes: Benefits of Moderate Drinking
1 King, D., et al. Adopting moderate alcohol consumption in middle-age: Subsequent cardiovascular events. Am J Med, 2008, 121(3).
2 Pedersen, J., et al. The combined influence of leisure-time physical activity and weekly alcohol intake on fatal ischaemic heart disease and all-cause mortality. Euro Heart J, 2008, 29(2), 204-212.