The answer to this vital question depends on how much you drink and the circumstances.
Virtually everyone knows that heavy abusive drinking, especially over a period of decades, increases the risks of both accidents and health problems. People shouldn’t drink if advised by their doctor not to do so, if they will be driving, operating heavy equipment, and so on.
Heavy drinking can begin to weaken the immune system over time, especially if while drinking the person’s body is lacking essential vitamins caused by lack of proper nutrition and sleep. When the immune system weakens, the body is unable to protect itself from infection. Commonly, stomach issues arise in an abusive drinker as well as a liver failure after years of heavy consumption of alcohol.
On the other hand, research on the health effects of alcohol has been conducted for decades around the world. It’s clear that drinking in moderation leads to better health and longer life than either abstaining from alcohol or abusing it.
A major health benefit of drinking in moderation is in improving heart health in particular and cardiovascular health in general. About half of all deaths in North America result from heart failure or other cardiovascular problems. Moderate drinking reduces the risk of such death by almost half.
Contrary to common belief, the health benefits of alcohol are not limited to red wine but apply to beer, wine, and liquor. That’s because the primary beneficial substance found in alcoholic beverages is the alcohol itself.
Many of the specific ways that drinking improves cardiovascular health have been identified, including:
- raising HDL (or good cholesterol)
- lowering LDL (or bad cholesterol)
- improving both HDL and LDL particle size
- reducing platelet aggregation; reducing fibrinogen (a blood clutter)
- increasing fibrinolysis (blood clot-dissolving process)
- reducing heart artery spasm resulting from stress
- reducing high blood pressure
- improving blood insulin levels
- and improving blood circulation
It’s also been found that frequent drinking is better for health than infrequent drinking. Just as the effects of aspirin wear off over time, some of the beneficial effects of alcohol begin to decrease within a day or two, although some last much longer.
Research has found that when non-drinkers begin to drink, their health improves, and their chances of living longer increase.
What is moderate consumption? Official answers depend on where you live.
If you are in Italy or France, the recommended limits can be twice as high as they are in the United States. And federal agencies in the U.S. don’t entirely agree. However, there’s general agreement that moderate drinking for a man is consuming an average of 14 standard drinks per week, with no more than four consumed in any one day. For women, the recommendation is seven drinks per week, with no more than three consumed in any one day.
So, here’s to your health, but always in moderation.