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5 Health Facts Everyone Should Know about Alcohol

Tim Boyer's picture
Alcoholic beverages

According to a recent issue of Consumer Reports on Health, scientific research tells us that drinking alcohol is good for us, bad for us...and…in some cases, somewhere in between. To make sure that you are making the right health decisions while drinking, see what Consumer Reports on Health has to say with their “5 truths about alcohol” summarized below:

Alcohol health fact #1: There’s a difference between the sexes

Recommendations by the American Heart Association and other agencies state that moderate drinking for men should be no more than 2 drinks per day; but for women, it’s only 1 drink per day. The reason behind this is physiological. The male body contains more water than the female body, which means that men dilute consumed alcohol a little better than women do. Therefore, given the same amount of alcohol, men will have a lower blood alcohol concentration and therefore can take on that one extra drink.

Alcohol health fact #2: Binging occasionally is still harmful

For men, binge drinking is defined as consuming 5 or more drinks in a 2-hour period (for women it’s 4 or more drinks in 2 hours). While it may seem to be safer to abstain from alcohol for a period and then “let loose” on a weekend night, the effects of binging over regular consumption is actually more harmful to your health. Not only does binge drinking put a person at risk of an unintended accident or regretful act that would not have happened during moderate drinking, but it also places undue stress on the heart and blood vessels. According to Consumer Reports on Health, people who binge drink have higher rates of high blood pressure and are 56% more likely to suffer a stroke than non- or moderate-drinkers—even in the absence of coronary artery disease.

Alcohol health fact #3: The Big C—and it’s not cognac

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According to the National Cancer Institute, the more alcohol you drink the higher is your risk of developing cancer of the mouth, esophagus, larynx, liver and breast. Comparing heavy drinkers (4 or more drinks per day) to moderate drinkers (1-2 per day), heavy drinkers have a 5–fold increase in the risk of developing head and neck cancers, and a higher risk of pancreatic, colorectal and breast cancer. For the less heavy drinker, only an overall moderate rise in risk links several cancers to drinking.

Alcohol health fact #4: Red wine surprise

The oft-repeated news is that red wine is good for your health. However, as it turns out in one study, it doesn’t have to be alcoholic red wine to gain any benefits. The study compared the effects of an ounce of gin, 10 ounces of red wine and 10 ounces of non-alcoholic red wine on blood pressure in a study consisting of 67 men ages 55 to 75 who were all at a high risk for cardiovascular disease. Looking at the effect the drinks had on blood pressure, the researchers found that as expected, drinking gin for 4 weeks gave no benefit for decreasing blood pressure. Red wine decreased blood pressure somewhat, but not enough to be statistically significant. Non-alcoholic red wine, however, did result in a statistically significant decrease in blood pressure. The researchers attribute the non-alcoholic red wine blood pressure reducing abilities to the antioxidant polyphenols found in grape skins.

Alcohol health fact #5: Meds and alcohol rarely ever go well together

We’ve heard it time and time again, and it’s printed clearly on the warning labels of many non-prescription meds such as cough syrups and pain relievers—“Don’t take with alcohol while pregnant or while operating heavy machinery such as driving a fork lift as it may make you drowsy and do something stupid like drink while pregnant and take a spin on a forklift.” But what about other types of meds like prescription meds for treating diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome? Is it okay to wash a pill down with a bottle of beer or glass of wine at the dinner table? In short—NO! While you may get away with doing that with some meds, many could result in a life-threatening situation. When in doubt about how your meds may interact with alcohol, always consult with your physician first.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: Consumer Reports on Health (Feb. 2013); “To your health? 5 truths about alcohol.”