Alcohol has been a part of human social behavior for centuries. From ancient civilizations to modern times. For some, it is a way to unwind after a long day. For others, it is used to celebrate a special occasion. But what exactly are the health effects of alcohol consumption? In this blog post, we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of alcohol and health.
Alcohol and Health: The Good
First, let’s talk about the good news. Studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption (defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men) can provide a number of health benefits. One of the most well-known benefits is its ability to lower the risk of heart disease. The antioxidants in red wine are believed to promote healthy blood vessels and reduce inflammation, which can help prevent blockage and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. However, it’s important to note that this benefit only applies to moderate drinking, as excessive consumption can ironically increase the risk of heart disease.
Another surprising benefit of moderate alcohol consumption is its potential to improve brain function. Studies suggest that low to moderate drinking can reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as improve cognitive function in adults. This is believed to be due to the ability of alcohol to promote blood flow to the brain and improve the function of nerve cells. Of course, as with any health benefit, moderation is key – excessive drinking can have the opposite effect, similar to the above, and end up impairing cognitive function.
As a side note, seven drinks per week for women and fourteen drinks per week for men is still fairly high when you look at it from a weekly perspective. I personally will save those drinks for special occasions or when I am out with friends. Doing so has made the drinking part of my life more intentional and allows me to be more present when I do decide to have that glass of wine.
Alcohol and Health: The Bad
Now before you crack open another bottle, it’s important to consider the risks of alcohol and the factors that can affect its impact on our health and unfortunately, the bad news outweighs the good news when it comes to alcohol and health. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a whole host of health problems. Binge drinking, which is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men within a two-hour period, is especially dangerous. Binge drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal.
Another important factor to consider is the type and quality of alcohol you’re consuming. While wine has been touted for its health benefits, it’s worth noting that the same benefits can be found in non-alcoholic grape juice. On the other hand, sugary, high-calorie mixed drinks and cheap, low-quality liquor can have the opposite effect on our health. When it comes to alcohol, quality over quantity is key – look for high-quality, minimally processed options with fewer additives and preservatives.
How Alcohol Affects The Body
Now let’s get into more on how it affects our body long term. First, the liver, which is responsible for breaking down and filtering toxins in the body, is especially sensitive to alcohol. Regular alcohol abuse can lead to a build-up of fat in the liver, which can cause inflammation and eventually lead to liver diseases like cirrhosis. Your liver is vital to your body’s overall health, so it’s important to be mindful of your drinking habits and consume alcohol in moderation.
Another part of your body that is affected by alcohol consumption is the heart. Heavy drinking can cause an irregular heartbeat, making the heart work harder than it should. It can also raise your blood pressure, which over time, can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, or even heart failure.
The brain is another area of the body that is impacted by alcohol consumption. Alcohol can interfere with the brain’s natural communication pathways, causing slurred speech, slower reaction times, and impaired memory. It can also have a negative impact on an individual’s mental health, causing depression, anxiety, and even suicidal tendencies.
Alcohol also plays a big role in the digestive system. Heavy drinking can cause inflammation of the stomach lining, leading to chronic abdominal pain and discomfort. It can also impact your body’s ability to absorb crucial vitamins and nutrients, which can lead to malnutrition over time. Abstaining from alcohol or keeping consumption to a minimum can help minimize digestive issues and promote overall gut health.
Last, excess alcohol impacts our immune system. Alcohol has been shown to weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to infections and diseases. Heavy drinking can also lead to a greater risk of cancer, particularly mouth, throat, liver, and breast cancer. So if you want to keep your immune system healthy and ward off any potential diseases, cutting back on alcohol is one of your best bets.
The Ugly truth about Alcohol
The ugly truth about alcohol and health is that it can be addictive. Alcoholism is a disease that can ruin people’s lives. It can lead to job loss, divorce, and even death. It’s estimated that alcoholism affects over 14 million adults in the United States. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible.
Tips for Safe Alcohol Consumption:
If you choose to drink, it’s important to do so safely. Here are some tips for safe alcohol consumption:
1. Know your limits
2. Stay hydrated
3. Don’t drink and drive
4. Don’t mix alcohol with medication
5. Pace yourself
You didn’t think I was going to leave you on an ugly note did ya? Of course not! Let’s talk about some fun and safe alcohol alternatives.
As a society, it seems that we are moving more and more towards non-alcoholic drinking and gatherings. From kava bars to finding more unique concoctions on the non-alcoholic side of the menu. The sober fad has been coming in hot and at this point, it feels less like a trend and more of a normal part of how we gather and socialize. And as someone that is now in her 30s and values waking up feeling good in the morning, I am here for it.
Luckily, there are dozens of mood-uplifting herbs, amino acids, adaptogens, and non-alcoholic stimulants to choose from. Here are some of the best mood-uplifting herbs whether you’re looking for a refreshing way to lift your spirits after a long day or just want to have a good time with friends, I’ve got you covered. These delicious, uplifting herbs and supplements consist of lemon balm, St. John’s Wort, L-theanine, kava, American ginseng, ginkgo biloba, adaptogenic herbs such as rhodiola rosea and any caffeine-containing herb such as guarana, coffee beans, yerba mate, matcha tea, green tea, black tea, chai tea, or cacao.
Herbal remedies and certain amino acids are a natural and fun way to uplift our mood while providing a sense of calm and focus to our day-to-day. Keep in mind that it is always important to seek professional advice before consuming any supplement or herb, especially if you are already taking medications for a medical condition.
The Bottom Line on Alcohol and Health
While a little bit of alcohol now and then won’t do any harm, heavy and regular consumption can have serious long-term consequences on your body, affecting all areas of health and various organs. From your brain and heart to your immune system, it’s important to be mindful of the impact of alcohol on your health.
Moderation is key, and as with everything in life, striking the right balance is vital for leading a healthy and happy life. And remember, you can always skip the booze and incorporate mood-boosting herbs and supplements instead. Your morning-after self will thank you for it, I promise! A long and fruitful life is in your hands.
Cheers to good health and responsible drinking, alcoholic and non!
Alma Ervedosa is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), specializing in nutrition counseling. Alma believes in a functional, whole person approach to nutrition counseling. See Alma’s full bio to learn more.
Jeon KH, Han K, Jeong S, et al. Changes in Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Dementia in a Nationwide Cohort in South Korea. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(2):e2254771. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.54771