A healthy way to drink alcohol?
You've probably heard that a glass of wine a day is good for you, right? Or that one drink a day is better than none at all? But is this just an urban myth or the product of a bit too much wishful thinking on the part of those of us who enjoy the occasional drink? Is it not just a convenient excuse to open that midweek bottle? If you want to lead a healthy lifestyle, can you really justify any booze at all?
Certainly, some doctors suggest that no amount of alcohol is good for us, and they point to studies linking alcohol consumption with cancer and heart attacks. It’s been claimed that talk of a healthy glass of wine per day is based on a misconception. In particular, the World Health Organisation has recently been very vocal in warning that no amount of alcohol is safe – due to the cancer risks.
Confusingly, however, at the same time medical studies continue to point towards health benefits associated with a moderate amount of alcohol consumption. A recent study, for example, claimed to have found that men who have between four and six alcoholic drinks per week are 20% less likely to suffer from a potentially fatal dilation of the aorta. The news for women was even better: a 44% reduction.
And the old glass of wine per day recommendation cropped up yet again recently, when a study suggested that this level of alcohol consumption may be associated with a 37% reduction in the risk of chronic kidney disease.
Alcohol has been linked to increases in the risk of several types of cancer, including cancers of the larynx, mouth and liver, and in these cases it seems pretty straightforward: the more you drink, the higher your risk. However, when it comes to kidney cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, studies show that drinking can in fact result in a lower risk.
Some prominent doctors have publicly criticised the lack of alcohol awareness among the general public. But really, with so much apparently contradictory information out there who can blame us for being confused?
Picking your way through the masses of studies, data and news reports can be so stressful that… well, you’ll feel like a drink! Ultimately, the only reasonable conclusion has to be that old chestnut: moderation. Drink, but not too much. But for those of us wondering ‘am I drinking too much’, this can be less than helpful. How much is moderate, exactly? And does it have to be per day, or can you ‘save up’ your allowance?
Thankfully, there seems to increasing agreement both within the scientific community and the media about what defines moderate drinking – even if they can’t quite decide how good or bad it is for you. Essentially, to be able to honestly call yourself a moderate drinker you shouldn’t have more than 12-14 drinks per week if you’re a man, or nine per week if you’re a woman. And no, you can’t combine your allowances: the current standard advice states that in any individual drinking session you should have no more than three or four standard drinks. A standard drink would include things like a 12oz (355ml) beer, a 5oz (150ml) glass of wine, or a 1.5oz (45ml) measure of spirits – all assuming average levels of alcohol content.
If your alcohol consumption has been quite heavy in the past, the good news is that studies indicate that it’s never too late to enjoy the benefits of reducing your alcoholic intake. Moderating your drinking habit – even if you don’t quit – can help with weight loss, improve the quality of your sleep, reduce the risk of stroke or high blood pressure, and of course lower your chances of getting several forms of cancer. As alcohol is known to sometimes act as a depressant, cutting your intake could also improve your general mood and feeling of wellbeing. Oh, and of course it can save you money – which you can then spend on healthy things like vegetables.
Few doctors would recommend that someone should take up drinking if they don’t already, but it really does look like agreement is growing that a drink per day really isn’t too much to worry about.