The Unexpected Health Benefits Of Moderate Alcohol Consumption

Findings from a research published in The Journal of Neuroscience show that people enjoy drinking alcohol because of its mood-altering effects, such as inducing pleasure and relaxation while lowering tension and anxiety. Because of its ability to flood the brain's reward circuits with dopamine to produce euphoria, many people see alcohol as a distraction from their struggles and resort to getting buzzed to cope with stress. In ancient times, alcohol was also used as a form of painkiller. Hyped as it is, alcohol also gets a bad rap for a number of reasons.

For instance, excessive drinking increases the risk of alcohol poisoning as a result of high blood alcohol concentrations, lack of impulse control, including self-disclosure and aggressive behaviors, domestic violence, and miscarriage among pregnant women. Per a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol use accounted for more than 49,000 deaths in the U.S in 2020. That also means alcohol use caused 13 deaths for every 100,000 people. However, alcohol isn't necessarily the mother of all social ills if it's consumed in a moderate amount. That means one drink a day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. In the U.S, a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of alcohol, which translates to 17 grams. Below, check out the promising health benefits you can expect to reap from moderate alcohol consumption.

It lower risks of death from all causes

According to a 2016 study in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, the risk of death from all causes was 20% lower in persons who consumed one drink a day as compared with non-drinkers. However, the benefit of alcohol use was reduced if the person consumed more than one drink per day. Another study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology also shows similar findings. Men and women who drank moderate amounts of alcohol had a 13% and 25% reduced risk of all-cause death, respectively, and a 21% and 34% lower risk of cardiovascular mortality, according to the study. This suggests that light to moderate alcohol use may bring down the risk of all-cause or cardiovascular disease mortality.

Researchers Giovanni de Gaetano and Simona Costanzo noted in an article that while moderate drinking may not provide substantial benefits to younger persons, light drinking can vastly lower cardiovascular disease risk and cancer risk in elderly people. However, lifestyle habits, rather than drinking, continue to play the most important role in keeping a person healthy and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

It raises your good cholesterol

Moderate consumption of alcohol can raise your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, also known as the "good" cholesterol, which absorbs excess cholesterol in the blood and carries it back to the liver, where it is eliminated from the body. High levels of HDL cholesterol can lessen your risk of heart disease and stroke, says food scientist Dr. Taylor Wallace (via EatingWell). For both men and women, the desirable level of HDL cholesterol is 60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or above. A study in the AHA Journals shows that light to moderate use of alcohol can raise your HDL level by increasing the Transport Rate of Apolipoproteins A-I and A-II.

By the same token, excessive drinking can increase the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is also referred to as "bad cholesterol," as it constitutes the majority of your body's cholesterol. The higher your LDL cholesterol level is, the higher your risk of suffering a heart attack and a stroke. Having said that, the benefits of alcohol don't outweigh its risks, so don't hit the bar every day for your heart health. If you have a history of cardiac problems, you should avoid drinking completely or consult a physician to determine the safest quantity to consume.

It helps with Type 2 diabetes

Another unexpected boon of moderate alcohol consumption is that it can improve Type 2 diabetes. Findings from a preliminary research by the American Heart Association suggest that drinking one or two glasses of wine with meals may reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes. In this study, researchers looked at health information of 312,388 heavy drinkers in the U.K who were 56 years old on average. Following participants for roughly ten years, researchers found that those who reported consuming alcohol with meals had a 14% lower risk of Type 2 diabetes than those who stated they consumed alcohol outside of mealtime. It's also worth noting that only those who drank in moderation — up to two glasses, or roughly 10 ounces of wine for males and up to one 14-gram glass of wine for females — showed a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.

These findings resonate with a popular belief that you shouldn't drink wine on an empty stomach. "On an empty stomach, blood-alcohol levels peak about one hour after consuming a drink and then decline at a linear rate for the next four hours or so," dietitian Ginger Hultin told Wine Spectator. Having food in your belly while consuming alcohol keeps you from being intoxicated quickly, staves off a hangover later, and takes the burden off your liver. However, keep in mind that overuse of alcohol can worsen insulin resistance, which eventually results in Type 2 diabetes. So if you don't drink, there's no reason to start.

It prevents kidney stones

According to a study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, those who consume a moderate amount of alcohol on a regular basis are less likely to suffer kidney stones. Particularly, beer consumers are 41% less likely than wine drinkers to get kidney stones, while drinkers of wine, especially white wine, are 33% less likely. Alcohol use, by increasing the frequency of urination, aids in the flushing from your kidney the compounds that cause crystallization and form kidney stones, such as calcium, urate, cystine, phosphate, oxalate, and xanthine.

However, drinking too much alcohol might dehydrate you, which accelerates kidney stone production by raising the density of minerals in the kidneys, Phoenix Rising warns. Due to their high content of purines, which are chemical substances that can result in uric acid kidney stones, excessive consumption of beer and grain alcohol, for example, might raise the risk of kidney stones.

It strengthens bones

Moderate consumption of alcohol is also good for the bones, a study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research shows. The general consensus is that light to moderate alcohol use increases bone mineral density (BMD) and decreases age-related bone loss by delaying the pace of bone remodeling. On the other end of the spectrum, excessive alcohol consumption can decrease BMD, compromise bone quality, and heighten the risk of fractures.

These findings are also reflected in another research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. According to the cohort study that involves 1,182 men, 1,289 postmenopausal, and 248 premenopausal women, the men who drank one to two drinks of beer or alcohol on a daily basis had higher bone mineral density than non-drinking men. Meanwhile, compared to non-drinkers, postmenopausal women who drank one to two drinks per day had increased bone mineral density in the hip and spine regions. Having said that, it's also important to note that other substances in the drinks, aside from alcohol, also have an impact on bone health. More research needs to be done before experts can agree that one form of alcohol is more beneficial than another regarding bone density.

As you can see, alcohol has plenty of health benefits, but moderation is the key to unlocking them. At the best of times, consume no more than two standard alcoholic drinks per day. Even one more drink can be too many and backfire on your health.