Having a Drink: Is One Too Many?
February 7, 2024
Having a drink, taking a shot, chugging a brew are all familiar synonyms for alcohol consumption. Nothing new here, humankind the world over has been fermenting beverages for millennia with the oldest verifiable brewery located near Haifa in modern day Israel (1). Whether imbibing baijiu in Shanghai, sake in Tokyo, ouzo in Athens or a stunning variety of wines in the Mediterranean countries, the cultural and geographical blueprint for alcohol use runs deep and broad. France even has wines named after some of its’ most famous regions as any proud denizen of Champagne or Bordeaux will boast.
Today’s spirited debate is not about alcohol abuse. There is an acknowledged acceptance that too much ethanol, the toxic compound in alcoholic drinks, is unhealthy in the best case and potentially lethal in the worst. It is estimated there are nearly 3 million deaths worldwide annually related to alcohol misuse, half of those deaths due to injuries and digestive diseases like cirrhosis of the liver (2).
Instead, let’s explore the question of whether any alcohol is good for us, or at least non-harmful. For several decades, a popular school of thought was that some alcohol, maybe 1-2 glasses of red wine daily, might be a good source of the antioxidant, resveratrol. This polyphenol found in the skin of red grapes was thought to protect the heart and lower the risk of coronary heart disease. However, more recent research disputes this claim. It is now more accepted that moderate wine use may be just one indicator of a healthy lifestyle such as good diet, regular physical activity, and psychosocial fitness that provide a framework for promoting longevity.
In fact, the American Heart Association tells non-drinkers not to start drinking (3). And recent guidance published in Canada is even more direct, declaring the only health benefit from alcohol is to avoid drinking altogether. The Canadian report acknowledges that consuming 2 drinks a week is not risky but states that 3-6 drinks weekly raises the cancer risk, and seven drinks a week begins to adversely impact the risk for stroke and even heart disease—a rejection of the argument that 1-2 drinks a day is good for the heart. The report also indicates that every drink beyond seven per week adds to the more immediate risks associated with alcohol misuse such as injuries, violence and the digestive diseases mentioned earlier (4).
So, what’s the takeaway? It’s best to stay clear of alcohol, but if you would like to partake in a little bevy, moderation is key. If you’re going to enjoy that lovely glass of Pinot Noir, be sure to balance it with a healthy lifestyle, one that includes a good diet and regular exercise.
1. Wikipedia. History of alcoholic drinks. www.Wikipedia.org. N.D.
2. Poznyak, Vladimir and Rekve, Dag. Global status report on alcohol and health 2018. World Health Organization (WHO). September 2018.
3. American Heart Association. Is drinking alcohol part of a healthy lifestyle? American Stroke Association. December 30, 2019.
4. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction. Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health: Final Report. www.ccsa.ca. January 2023.