Nutrition

The health effects of alcohol

Author: Canadian Living

Nutrition

The health effects of alcohol

A drink a day keeps the doctor away?
Research extending back as far as 1926 when Dr. Raymond Pearl published his book Alcohol and Longevity has demonstrated that drinking in moderation is associated with a longer life span than is either abstaining or abusing alcohol. One possible explanation is the effect of alcohol on cardiovascular disease. Moderate consumption increases your level of "good cholesterol" (HDL), clot-dissolving capacity, coronary blood flow, and insulin sensitivity while decreasing blood clotting and fibrinogen (a blood-clotting compound) and artery spasms related to stress, all of which are good for heart health. Moreover, studies have found the risk of Alzheimer's disease to be as much as 75 per cent lower among drinkers, whether they drank more or less than the limits recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), leading researchers to conclude that moderate alcohol consumption may be protective.

Defining a drink as one 12-ounce beer, 4 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, or 1 ounce of 100-proof liquor, the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has reported that the greatest health and longevity benefits result from one to two drinks per day. In other words, moderate drinkers live longer than both abstainers and overconsumers, a finding backed by research in various other countries as well. The benefits are found in both middle-aged and older men and women, but are rapidly lost when too much alcohol is drunk on a daily basis. Make sure to limit yourself to one (for women) or two (for men) drink a day.

Beer, wine, whiskey and more: Which is best for your health?
The push during the last decade was to drink wine, particularly the red variety, to obtain the greatest health benefits. Recent studies on lower risk of heart disease, however, provide strong evidence that all alcoholic drinks are equivalently beneficial to cardiovascular health. Thus, it appears that a substantial portion of the benefit is from alcohol rather than other components or each type of drink. But you can't rule them out completely. For instance, red wine, especially when made from grapes grown in colder climates, offers even greater cardiovascular protection, likely due to its content of polyphenols contained in grape skin.

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Excerpted from The Science of Staying Young, copyright 2008 by John Morley and Sheri Colberg. Excerpted with permission from McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher.Resveratrol and other grape compounds like flavonoids and anthocyanins, which are also healthy compounds found in plants, have been positively linked to fighting cancer, heart disease, degenerative nerve disease, and other ailments. In reality, grapes of all colours, including lighter-coloured ones, bestow health benefits. Red wine has an additional disease-fighting power, compared to white or blush, only because many of these healthy compounds are found in grape skins and only red wine is fermented along with the skins. Resveratrol activates receptors for melatonin, a hormone with strong antioxidant properties. Blood clot formation is reduced, and consequently so are heart attacks. Moreover, if you are a heart attack patient or a coronary artery stent recipient consuming moderate amounts of alcohol, your artery walls will fare better than a teetotaler's, as faster healing appears to be promoted by the alcohol's anti-inflammatory effects on the body.

If you don't drink, should you start?
If you don't drink due to social or religious reasons, the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption are not large enough, however, that you should start drinking. Excessive alcohol intake bestows its own health problems, including a greater risk of high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, breast cancer, suicide, accidents, and more. Nondrinkers can use other strategies, such as regular exercise, smoking cessation, and a healthier diet, to gain protection against heart disease.

Will alcohol intake make you gain weight?
Drinking excess calories in the form of alcohol can certainly lead to gain fat weight, but contrary to common belief, drinking alcohol does not necessarily lead to weight gain, despite its high-calorie content of 7 calories per gram. In fact, a Mayo clinic study of 8,236 men and women found that compared to teetotalers, people who had one or two alcoholic drinks a day were about half as likely to be obese. Nevertheless, it is prudent to keep the higher calorie content of alcohol in mind. Furthermore, alcohol calories should not replace those normally coming from foods that supply your body with necessary vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients.

Read more:
5 ways to boost your metabolism naturally
5 foods that fight wrinkles
Wine 101
Do multivitamins work?
The 6 worst pieces of weight loss advice

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Excerpted from The Science of Staying Young, copyright 2008 by John Morley and Sheri Colberg. Excerpted with permission from McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher.
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Nutrition

The health effects of alcohol

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