Most consumers of popular culture have become almost immune to the constant barrage of warnings, dire predictions of the consequences of consuming various foods. From the risk of contracting diabetes because of eating sweets, to the dangers of having a heart attack from your friendly neighborhood burger, many are tired of hearing the naysayers, spouting doom and gloom.
But good news is also available, if you care to look. There are plentiful news items available about the health benefits of some common, everyday food stuffs. Who hasn’t read about the wonders of a good bag of nuts! And a steaming cup of java has numerous benefits to one’s health. But reports over the preceding years may have ill-intended effects on those least benefiting from this news. Alcohol, in moderation, may have some health benefits.
Let me preface this discussion with a message I frequently offer up: too much of anything is a bad thing. Let me clearly state, this message obviously applies to the consumption of alcohol. Still, it seems increasingly certain that, in moderation, the imbibing of alcoholic beverages endows the drinker with some significant health benefits.
When the news broke a decade ago, it was only in relation to red wine. And yes, most of the studies have focused on the appropriately colored varietal. Red wine has higher quantities of resveratrol, the authorities proclaimed. In contrast, some investigations have proclaimed the quantities of this powerful antioxidant were insufficient to be responsible for some of the beneficial properties.
I want to interject at this juncture that, it is well recognized, studies of this sort can be extremely misleading. Studies on humans attempt to focus on one variable, such as those looking at wine consumption, yet people are pretty complicated. It’s only when studies involve huge numbers, over many years, can more reliable conclusions be drawn.
Having made that disclaimer, let us proceed with the discussion. Evidence has been mounting that something in certain alcoholic beverages carries with it some very positive attributes. For example, a Finnish study of men revealed that wine drinkers had a significantly lower mortality rate as compared to those imbibing beer or spirits. Chalk one up for the health benefits of ‘le vin.’
But what exactly is providing these attributes? That seems to be a very important question. Apparently, alcohol may aid in raising the levels of HDL, the good cholesterol, which helps protect against plaque buildup in the arteries and reduce clotting factors that contribute to heart attack and stroke. But there are other positives. For example, brain function appears to decline markedly faster in nondrinkers than in moderate consumers.
Again, please take note of the word “moderate” since it is well recognized that excessive intake of alcoholic beverages has numerous negative consequences, most of which are quite dire, including physical, emotional, and mental ones. It is a problem of tremendous scope in modern society.
At least some components of ‘well-being’ seem to be benefitted by moderate wine/alcohol consumption. Often-times, these pages have extolled the virtues of nutrition in reducing the risk of diabetes. How about a glass of an alcoholic beverage in reducing that risk? Moderate drinkers have a 30% reduced risk of developing diabetes in some studies.
Possess any of the risk factors for stroke? Drink alcohol moderately, and you will reduce your risk by about 50%, according to a Columbia University study. Additionally, studies have revealed that moderate consumption cuts the risk of colon cancer by 45 percent. But such is the nature of medicine: every month advances are made in our understanding of the science of health.
Until our knowledge level is greater, and we know more about this and all the many questions remaining, keep an eye to the studies. Opinions are plentiful, while true understanding takes time. We all know there are many potential dangers to alcohol use. Still, in moderation, there seems to be some benefits. Some are psychological, although an adequate discussion on that topic is not possible here. Finally, in summary, evidence exists that some forms of alcohol, in moderation, can have some benefits to health. And, of course, relaxing is good for one’s state of mind…in moderation!
Dr. Conway McLean, DABFAS, FAPWHc, has offices in L’Anse and Marquette. He is a physician who specializes in treating lower leg, ankle and foot problems.