Alcohol is good for your heart
After quitting smoking, having one or two drinks a day is the best single thing you can do for your cardiovascular health. It's better than losing weight, better than getting more exercise, and better than lowering your cholesterol.
As the evidence mounted over the past few years, I've grown more and more grumpy with the medical community's hesitance to support moderate alcohol consumption. After doing some research, though, I guess I understand.
The benefits to alcohol consumption are absolutely clear. Drinking five to six drinks a week reduces the risk of sudden cardiac death by 79 percent. It cuts heart attack risk, both in men who exercise and eat right and in men with hypertension. It also protects against type-2 diabetes and gallstones. In middle-aged women, moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with a 17% reduction in death from all causes.
But it's that "all causes" thing that turns the medical community into cowards on this issue. Death and injury rates due to things like accidents, suicide, and liver disease start increasing even at moderate levels of drinking (one to two drinks a day) and spike up very quickly with higher alcohol consumption.
Although there are probably some additional benefits from the antioxidents found in red wine and some beers, most of the benefit seems to come from the alcohol itself, which both raises HDL cholesterol and reduces dangerous blood clots, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, which goes on to talk about other good things associated with moderate alcohol consumption:
The social and psychological benefits of alcohol can't be ignored. A drink before a meal can improve digestion or offer a soothing respite at the end of a stressful day; the occasional drink with friends can be a social tonic. These physical and psychic effects may contribute to health and wellbeing.
I can see why health experts don't want to give people the idea that having a couple of drinks is a substitute for a healthy lifesetyle, nor find themselves acting as enablers for an alcoholic in denial. But even after looking at those downsides, I wish they'd be a bit more willing to recommend light-to-moderate drinking for its health benefits. It would save lives.
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