Most people know that abusing alcohol is bad for the body. It can damage the liver, increase risk of breast cancer, and cause accidents. But what are the effects of moderate alcohol drinking on health? Does it do anything of benefit?
- Heart Health
- Alzheimer’s & Dementia
- Enlarged Prostate (BPH)
- Gallbladder Disease
- Other Diseases & Conditions
The short answer is “yes.” Drinking alcohol (beer, wine, and distilled spirits) improves health and helps us live longer. Learn more at Alcohol and Health: Medical Findings. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the developed world. For example it kills about one million people in the U.S. each year.1 A federal agency (NIAAA) reports that moderate drinking is very good for heart health. It leads to a 40% to 60% drop in heart disease.2
The public generally knows that red wine is good for the heart and increases length of life. But the Red Wine Myth is that only red wine provides these important benefits. In fact, alcoholic beverages tend to be generally equal in their health benefits. It’s the alcohol in alcoholic beverages that largely improves health and lengthens life. And standard drinks of alcohol all contain six-tenths of an ounce of pure alcohol.
Impacts of Moderate Drinking on Health
I. Heart Health
Heart disease is a major cause of death. And drinking in moderation greatly reduces coronary diseases. As a result, moderate drinkers are less likely to suffer heart attacks or failure. That’s in comparison to either abstainers or heavy drinkers.
Also, moderate drinking increases the survivability of heart attacks. Very important is the fact that non-drinkers who begin drinking greatly reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. This shows that moderate drinking causes the reduced risk.
How Alcohol Promotes Good Cardiovascular Health
The ways moderate drinking causes better heart and vascular health is known, at least in part. Such drinking promotes good heart health in a number of ways. They include these.
Alcohol improves blood lipid profile.3
- Increases HDL or “good” cholesterol.4
- Decreases LDL or “bad” cholesterol.5
- Improves the particle size of cholesterol.6
Alcohol decreases thrombosis (blood clotting).
- Reduces platelet clumping.7
- Reduces the blood clotter fibrinogen.8
- Increases the process by which clots dissolve.9
Alcohol acts in other ways.
- Reduces coronary artery spasm from stress.10
- Increases heart blood flow.11
- Lowers blood pressure.12
- Reduces blood insulin level.13
- Increases estrogen levels.14
Health Alternatives to Drinking
What alternatives are there to drinking for reducing the risk of heart disease? What about eating a better diet, exercising, or losing weight? Wouldn’t that be just as effective?
No, it wouldn’t. The only more effective change is to stop smoking.
Alcohol is more effective than other lifestyle changes, even when combined. A typical person would need to
- Follow a strict low-fat and no salt diet.
- Regularly exercise very strenuously.
- Lose a substantial amount of weight.
- Take prescription medications.15
Yet drinking in moderation would have a greater impact on reducing heart disease risk than doing all of these things. So the effect of drinking on the body is beneficial.
A stroke or “brain attack” kills brain cells. Exactly where and how many brain cells die determines the resulting disability.
Stroke is the leading cause of disability among adults in the U.S. It is the fifth leading cause of death in the country. Every year almost 800,000 people have a stroke. This means that a stroke happens every 40 seconds. A stroke kills someone every four minutes.
The good news is that moderate drinkers are much less likely than others to have a stroke. Things that are good for heart health also tend to be good for the brain. Discover more at Risk of Stroke Reduced by Moderate Alcohol Consumption.
Type 2 diabetes (adult-onset diabetes) is a very serious disease. It’s especially harmful to the kidneys, nerves, and eyes. It can lead to problems such as blindness, impotence, loss of limbs, and death. The disease also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Tens of millions of people around the world suffer from diabetes. And many more are at risk of the disease.
Research clearly shows that moderate drinking reduces the risk of developing diabetes. Learn more at Drinking Alcohol and Type 2 Diabetes.
IV. Alzheimer’s & other Dementia
Dementia, including that caused by Alzheimer’s, is an important matter. Dementia effects millions of people, their loved ones, and tax payers.
Reducing the risk of dementia would help contain health care costs. It would reduce the emotional burden of care giving. And it would promote enhanced quality of later life.
Moderate drinkers are at lower risk of dementia. But either not drinking or drinking abuse increases the risk. To learn more, visit Drinking and Dementia, Alzheimer’s, & Memory Loss.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an incurable inflammatory disease. It’s an autoimmune disorder. The body’s immune system attacks the victim’s own body instead of an infection. The reasons for this are not known.
But we do know that arthritis risk is reduced by moderate drinking. The alcohol can be in beer, wine or spirits. Drinking any or all of these reduces rheumatoid arthritis risk.
Discover more at Rheumatoid Arthritis Risk: Drinking Alcohol Beneficial.
VI. Enlarged Prostate (BPH)
The prostate gland is part of a man’s reproductive system. It slowly grows after age 25 but rarely causes problems before age 40. However, by their 60, about half of men have symptoms of enlarged prostate or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). These include a variety of urination problems. But severe BPH can cause serious problems over time.
The good news is that men who drink in moderation are much less likely to develop BPH. See more at Drinking Alcohol Reduces Risk of Enlarged Prostate.
Osteoporosis is a weakening of bone. It can cause severe problem, especially among older women. But also among many men. It often causes fractures that often lead to severe disability. Osteoporosis most often causes fractures in the hip, wrist or spine. Hip fractures are especially dangerous. About half the time, they start a downward health spiral leading to death.
Moderate drinking greatly reduces the risk of osteoporosis. In turn, this reduces risk of the many problems it causes. Visit Risk of Osteoporosis and Drinking Alcohol: Drinking Reduces Risk to learn more.
VIII. Gallstone & Gallbladder Disease
Drinking dramatically decreases the risk of forming gallstones or bladder disease. In comparison to abstainers, drinkers have a 40% lower risk. Also medical research finds that the greater the consumption, the lower the risk. This includes drinking much more than suggested by U.S. federal drinking guidelines.
Learn more about alcohol, gallstones, and gallbladder disease. Simply visit Drinking Alcohol and Gallstone & Gallbladder Disease Risk.
Drinking alcohol, especially along with smoking, increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx and larynx.16 These cancers are all very rare. In total, these cancers cause only 1% of all cancer deaths in the U.S.17
Yet moderate drinking has no impact on the risk of developing virtually any other cancers. On the other hand, it reduces the risk of these cancers.
- Kidney Cancer. (Fifth most common cancer in US.)
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
- Thyroid Cancer
X. Other Diseases and Conditions
Moderate drinkers are generally less likely to suffer other diseases and conditions such as these.
Abdominal aortic aneurysm.18
Helicobacter pylori infection(the major cause of hepatitis B).23
Hepatitis A 24
Hypertension or high blood pressure.25
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.30
Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).31
Peripheral artery disease.33
Poor physical condition in the elderly.34
Type B gastritis.36
Summary: Impacts of Moderate Drinking
In short, the effects of moderate drinking on the body are overwhelmingly positive. On average, moderate drinkers have better health and live longer than either abstainers or alcohol abusers.
These resources deal with the effects of moderate drinking on the body and related topics.
- Am Heart Assn. Your Heart… Complete Guide to Heart Health. NY: Pocket.
- Ascheim, R., et al. Heart Health. Your Questions Answered. London: DK.
- Chambers, R. Boost Your Heart Health. NY: Perigee.
- Crocker, B. Betty Crocker Cookbook. Heart Health Edition. Hoboken: Wiley.
- Gillinov, M. and Nissen, S. Heart 411. The Only Guide to Heart Health You’ll ever Need. NY: Crown.
- Marler, J. Stroke for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
- Nat Inst of Neuro Dis Stroke. Preventing Stroke. Bethesda: The Inst.
- Spence, J. How to Prevent Your Stroke. Nashville: Vanderbilt U Press.
Alzheimer’s & other Dementias
- Fife, B. Stop Alzheimers Now. Colorado Springs: Piccadilly.
- Films Media. Preventing Dementia. NY: Films Media. (Video)
- Null, G. Reboot your Brain. NY: Skyhorse.
- Smith, T. Reducing your Risk of Dementia. London: Sheldon.
- Arthritis Found. Overcoming Rheumatoid Arthritis. What You Can do for Yourself. Atlanta: The Found.
- Multz, C. How to Treat Arthritis with Sex and Alcohol. West Conshohocken, PA: Infinity.
- Sutton, A. Arthritis Sourcebook. Basic Consumer Health Information. Detroit: Omni.
- Green, W. Arthritis. A Self-Help Guide to Feeling Better. Chichester: Summersdale.
Enlarged Prostate (BPH)
- A.D.A.M., Inc. Enlarged Prostate. NY: Films Media.
- Nat Inst Aging. Prostate Problems. Bethesda: The Inst.
- Parker, J. and Parker, P. The Official Patient’s Sourcebook on Prostate Enlargement. San Diego: Icon.
- Taguchi, Y. The Prostate. Everything You Need to Know about the Man Gland. Ottawa: Canad Electron Lib.
- A.D.A.M., Inc. Osteoporosis. NY: 2013. (Video)
- FDA. Osteoporosis. Silver Spring, MD: FDA.
- Hoffmann, G. Osteoporosis. NY: Marshall. (Juv)
- Living with Osteoporosis. San Francisco: Kanopy, 2016. (Video)
- Holm, R., et al. Gallbladder Disease. Brookings: SD State U Coop Ext.
- James, D. and Scott, L. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Digestive Health. NY: Alpha.
- King, J. and Rohan, R. Mayo Clinic on Digestive Health. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books. (Audio)
- Crocker, B. Betty Crocker Living with Cancer Cookbook. Hoboken: Wiley.
- Gafni, R. The Ultimate Guide to Looking and Feeling Great while Living with Cancer. NY: Evans.
- Harrison, T. In-between Days. A Graphic Memoir about Living with Cancer. Toronto: Anansi.
- Krychman, M. 100 Questions and Answers for Women Living with Cancer. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.
- Am Heart Assn website.
- Highlights of the NIAAA position. Press release from the journal, Alco: Clin Exper Res., June 14, 2004.
- Rimm, E., et al. Moderate alcohol intake and lower risk of coronary heart disease. Brit Med. J., 1999, 319, 1523-1528.
- Doll, R. One for the heart. Brit Med J, 1997, 315, 1664-1668.
- Paassilta, M., et al. Social alcohol consumption and low Lp (2) lipoprotein concentration. Brit Med J, 1998, 316, 594-595.
- Mukamal, K.. et al. Alcohol consumption and lippoprotein subclasses in older adults. J Clin Endocrin Metab., 2007, April. PMID: 17440017.
- Zhang, Q., et al. Effects of acute, moderate alcohol consumption on human platelet aggregation. Alco: Clin Exper Res., 2000, 24, 528-534.
- Wang, Z., and Barker, T. Alcohol at moderate levels decreases fibrinogen expression. Alc Clin Exper Res., 1999, 23, 1927-1932
- Sumi, H., et al. Urokinase-like plasminogen activator increased in plasma after alcohol drinking. Alc Alc., 1988, 23, 33-43.
- For discussion, see Ellison, R. C. Does Moderate Alcohol Consumption Prolong Life? NY: Am Coun Sci Health, 1993, p. 7.
- Israel, Y., et al. Acetate-mediated effects of ethanol. Alc Clin. Exp. Res., 1994, 18(1), 144-148.
- MacMahon, A. Alcohol consumption and hypertension. Hyper., 1987, 9(2), 111-121. Dairdron, D. M. Cardiovascular effects of alcohol. W J Med., 1989, 151(4), 430-439.
- Facchini, F, et al. Light-to-moderate alcohol intake and enhanced insulin sensitivity. Diab Care, 1994, 17(2). Rimm, E., et al. Prospective study of cigarette smoking, alcohol use and the risk of diabetes in men. Brit Med J., 1995, 310, 555-559. Bell, D. Alcohol and the NIDDM patient. Diab Care, 1996, 19(5), 509-513.
- Vliegenthart, R., et al. Alcohol consumption and coronary calcification. Arch Int Med., 2004, 164, 2355-2360.
- Ellison, R. Here’s to your health. Wine Spec., Oct 31, 1998, 34-46.
- Head and Neck Cancers.
- Cancer Facts & Figures.
- Stackenberg, O., et al. Alcohol consumption, specific alcoholic beverages, and abdominal aortic aneurysm. Circ, 2014, 130, 646-652.
- Lieberoth, S. Euro Respir Soc (ERS) 2011 Annual Cong: Ab 319. Presented Sept 25, 2011; McCall, B. Moderate Alcohol Consumption Protective Against Asthma, Medscape Med News, Nov. 5, 2011.
- Cohen, S., et al. Smoking, alcohol consumption and susceptibility to the common cold. Am J Pub Hlth., 1993, 83(9), 1277-1283.
- Baum-Baicker, C. The psychological benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. Drug Alco Depen., 1995, 15.
- Boecker, H., et al. The effect of ethanol on alcoholic-responsive essential tremor. Ann Neurol., 1999, 39, 650-658.
- Gao, L., et al. Alcohol Consumption, Serum GammaGlutamyltransferase, and Helicobacter Pylori Infection in a Population-Based Study Among 9733 Older Adults. Ann Epidem, 2010, 20(2), 122-128.
- Desenclos, J-C., et al. The protective effect of alcohol on the occurrence of epidemic oyster borne hepatitis A. Epid., 1999, 5, 525-532.
- Thadhani, R., et al. Prospective study of moderate alcohol consumption and risk of hypertension in young women. Arch Intern Med, 2012, 162, 569-574.
- Djousse, L., et al. Alcohol consumption and risk of intermittent claudicating. Circ., 2000, 102, 3092.
- Curhan, G., et al. Prospective study of beverage use and the risk of kidney stones. Am J Epid., 1996, 143(3), 240-247.
- Siu, S.,et al. Alcohol consumption and lung function. Chest Mtg Ab, 2007, 132, 614b-615b.
- Alkerw A, et al. Alcohol consumption and the prevalence of metabolic syndrome. Athero., 2009, 204, 624-635.
- See Alcohol and Liver Disease.
- Hellenbrand, W., et al. Diet and Parkinson’s disease. Neurol., 1996, 306, 1,506-1,509.
- Camargo, C., et al. Prospective study of moderate alcohol consumption and risk of peripheral arterial disease . Circ., 1997, 95(3), 577-580.
- Nelson, H., et al. Smoking, alcohol and neuromuscular and physical function of older women. JAMA., 1994, 272(23), 1825-1831.
- Lipton, R. The effect of moderate alcohol use on the relationship between stress and depression. Am J Pub Hlth., 1994, 84(12), 1913-1917. Baum-Baicker, ibid.
- Brenner, H., et. al. Relation of smoking and alcohol and coffee consumption to active Helicobacter pylori infection. Brit Med J., 1997, 315, 1389-1492.
This site gives no advice. Please see your doctor for that.