We all know that drinking too much alcohol can lead to many problems. Heavy alcohol drinkers put themselves at risk for long-term chronic liver disease, because alcohol can damage the liver. As well, heavy drinkers are at increased risk of certain cancers, such as cancer of the throat or the esophagus (the tube from the throat to the stomach).
Since alcohol can lessen our physical and mental functioning, people who are intoxicated are at a higher risk of injuring themselves. Injuries can range from minor to grave, from cutting yourself with a kitchen knife while cooking to being killed or killing someone while driving drunk.
As well, some people who drink alcohol become addicted. Alcohol addiction causes physical problems like cirrhosis of the liver, where the liver becomes diseased and doesn’t work properly. It also causes social problems such as family violence and poor job performance. Some people, though not addicted, become violent when intoxicated. This can result in abuse of family members or bar room brawls and assaults.
On the other hand, recent research suggests that moderate alcohol intake may be good for you. People who drink an average of one to two drinks per day have lower death rates than non-drinkers or heavier drinkers. These results must be interpreted with caution, because sometimes people quit drinking due to health problems. However, they do seem to be valid since the same results have been found in a number of studies.
In particular, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can reduce the risk of heart attacks; this is probably because alcohol can increase HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. HDL is thought to carry cholesterol away from your tissues, so the higher your level of HDL cholesterol, the lower your risk of heart disease.
Experts agree that all alcoholic beverages may benefit health if taken in moderation. Some believe wine, particularly red wine, is healthier since helpful substances are found naturally in it. This may be true, but as wine drinkers tend to drink more moderately, drink with meals and eat more nutritiously, it is difficult to separate the effects of the wine from these other influences. And no; a glass of wine doesn’t count as one of the daily five servings of fruits and vegetables recommended as part of the healthy diet. In spite of the healthy substances, wine lacks fibre and contains little in the way of vitamins or minerals.
Alcohol also appears to decrease the 'clottability' of your blood, making it less likely that your arteries will clog up.
So, should you drink to your health? The answer is not straightforward. If you are addicted to alcohol or are at risk of addiction, then the answer is clearly no. It is also no if you have some health problem for which you should avoid alcohol. Check with your family doctor if this might be the case. If you can’t curtail your drinking – that is, once you start, you can’t stop at one or two – then, again, you should not start drinking.
If you are not currently drinking alcohol, most doctors would not advise that you start drinking to reduce your health risks. Again, if you are not sure, discuss it with your family doctor.
Those who drink and are not addicted should consider the following:
The healthiest pattern of drinking is a small amount daily, not heavy drinking on the weekend. Try to have at least one day per week when you do not drink.
Moderate drinking appears to be good for your health, but remember that alcohol also has the potential to be dangerous and is not recommended for all of us, all of the time. So, if you enjoy having a drink or a glass of wine . . . Santé!