Alcohol & Health Questions

posted Jul 22, 2011, 12:00 PM by   [ updated Jul 22, 2011, 12:15 PM ]

Here's another question (s):

Numerous studies have shown that moderate alcohol intake results in healthier people (fewer strokes and heart attacks, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, less risk of Alzheimer’s).  What is your take on this?  What do you consider to be a moderate amount, and should that be based on bodyweight?  Are particular kinds of alcoholic beverages healthier for you than others (wine vs. beer vs. liquor)?  Are liquors of higher proof healthier for you?  How should athletes, or those aspiring to be more physically fit, incorporate alcohol into their diets?  Finally (and kind of implicit in how you answer the other questions), does alcohol itself have certain health benefits that make it worth the calories, etc.?

What is moderate drinking?

Moderate drinking is defined by the federal government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. This limit is based on differences between the sexes in both weight and metabolism. A drink is considered to be 12 oz. of beer, 4-5 oz. of wine, or 1.5 oz. of 80 proof hard liquor. Drinking patterns also can be as important as the amount. One to two drinks per day does not mean you can save up and drink a “week’s worth” of alcohol over a period of a few hours or a few days, especially on the weekend.   There are no health benefits to this type of drinking.

What is heavy or high-risk drinking?

Heavy or high-risk drinking is the consumption of more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 per week for women and more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 per week for men.

What is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is the consumption within 2 hours of 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men.

How many calories are you drinking?

Alcohol is full of calories with very few nutrients.  Although calorie information for drinks and brands varies, this information is based on averages for one drink.





80 proof hard liquor






Light Beer



Regular Beer






Long Island Iced Tea



Whiskey Sour



Wine cooler





If you drink 6 regular beers in one night, that’s 900 calories! If you need a 2000 calorie diet, that’s nearly half of your calorie needs!

Not only that, but drinking also triggers eating cues, regardless of whether you’re hungry. And since your judgment is impaired, your food choices while “under the influence” are usually not the most nutritious. In fact, the calories from snacking plus the calories from alcohol are considered two of the biggest contributors to weight gain.

Alcohol and Health

Alcohol in moderation may have some health benefits, such as helping your heart and clearing out your arteries.  But, individuals should not choose to begin drinking alcohol for health reasons.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010: “Strong evidence from observational studies has shown that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.  Moderate alcohol consumption also is associated with reduced risk of all-cause mortality among middle-aged and older adults and may help to keep cognitive function intact with age. However, it is not recommended that anyone begin drinking or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits because moderate alcohol intake also is associated with increased risk of breast cancer, violence, drowning, and injuries from falls and motor vehicle crashes.” 

Current research shows:

·        Light to moderate beverage alcohol consumption for some age groups may reduce the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

·        The reported potential benefits are associated with the ethanol (alcohol) found in all beverage alcohol products—distilled spirits, beer or wine. There are also a number of other dietary and lifestyle factors associated with reducing disease.

·        Even one drink per day can slightly increase the risk of breast cancer, according to a report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

·        Excessive (i.e., heavy, high-risk, or binge) drinking has no benefits, and the hazards of heavy alcohol intake are well known. Excessive drinking increases the risk of cirrhosis of the liver, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer of the upper gastrointestinal tract and colon.

·        For the growing percentage of the population with elevated blood pressure, reducing alcohol intake can effectively lower blood pressure, although this is most effective when paired with changes in diet and physical activity patterns.

Alcohol and Exercise

Drinking alcohol immediately before or during an athletic event is counterproductive to athletic performance. Since alcohol depresses the nervous system, your brain will not function as efficiently nor will your muscles work as skillfully. Drinking beer immediately after an athletic event is also unwise. Alcohol inhibits the release of ADH (antidiuretic hormone), which works to retain water in the body. Thus, in addition to losing fluids through sweat, you also lose fluids through more frequent urination. Instead, it is recommended that you drink three cups of water for every pound of sweat you lose after strenuous exercise.

Alcohol and Weight Loss

Alcohol can make weight loss more difficult. In addition to supplying empty calories, it interferes with fat burning. Normally the liver metabolizes fats, but when a person drinks, alcohol takes preference. The liver breaks down alcohol for energy first, causing a buildup of fatty acids. The body uses the calories supplied from alcohol before it is able to burn the calories from fat. Sometimes alcohol is referred to as "fat sparing" because its presence spares the fat from being burned for energy. In addition, as mentioned previously, alcohol stimulates appetite in many people.


In sum, while studies show that moderate alcohol intake may help to reduce the risk for heart disease, these beneficial effects may also be gained from a healthy lifestyle focused on a nutrient–rich diet and regular physical activity. For example, the antioxidants and phytochemicals that red wine contains may also be found in red grapes and red grape juice.   For health and wellness, focus on food first and include the “fun” food and drinks in moderation.