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The Pros and Cons of Drinking Alcohol

By Edited Oct 12, 2015 2 4

Benefits of Drinking Alcoholic Beverages

Disadvantages of Alcohol Consumption


In the year 1996 the U.S. government declared that a moderate intake of alcohol seemed to be beneficial to human health. The announcement was astonishing. After so many years of combat versus alcohol consumption, the government was literally encouraging it. Even so, the government was mindful to emphasize "moderate." That implies one half to one drink a day for women and one to two drinks a day for men— nothing more than that.

Alcohol is a complex issue, and one that involves careful thought, because alcohol can both help you or harm you. Regular consumption of alcohol in little amounts helps avoid arterial aging and heart attacks. Too much alcohol intake may result in alcoholism, liver disease, elevated cancer rates, and increased risk of death because of accidents while intoxicated. About 5 percent of all deaths can be attributed to undue consumption of alcohol, and the medical and social effects can be serious. Around 100,000 Americans die each year of alcohol-related disease, and another 20 million have problems linked to alcohol addiction.


 The Health Benefits of Alcohol

The link between alcohol and reduced arterial aging—the alleged "red wine factor"—was first detected in France. The southern French, having their traditional diet heavy in fatty cheeses, butter, and red meats, had rates of cardiovascular disease that were, astonishingly, lower than anybody would have predicted. The possibility was that all the red wine the French used to go with their saturated-fat-laden food was helping to protect their arteries from fatty plaque buildup. The French do not ingest more saturated and trans fats than Americans, due to the fact that the French use nine-inch plates, and, more significant, eat small helpings. Americans use 11- or 13 inch plates, and our portions are nearly twice the size of French portions. And that's just our first serving: we could have two or three. Also, Americans consume a lot of trans fats which, till the last few years, were uncommon in France.  Nobody knows precisely how alcohol delays or reverses arterial aging. It seems to prevent clotting by lessening the rate of platelet accumulation, signifying that the platelets don't stick together as fast as they ordinarily would. Likewise, alcohol seems to prevent the oxidation of fat that leads to gathering of fatty plaques around the walls of the arteries. Alcohol promotes health of the endothelium, the layer of cells that lines the arteries, and helps promote suitable blood flow. In test-tube studies, alcohol lessened inflammation in the endothelial cells of arteries. Though some may be better than others, all types of alcoholic beverages help bring down the level of atherosclerosis. All alcohol induces an increase in healthy (HDL) cholesterol levels.

Red wine does give an extra benefit. It has resveratrol, a flavonoid that appears to decrease aging of the DNA in the mitochondria, the cell's energy plant. Red wine has this benefit because the skin of the grape bears resveratrol, and red wine has been in contact with that skin for a longer time period than 'white wine (thus its red color). Red wine, presumably because of the presence of flavonoids inside grape skins could have other antioxidant benefits too. The flavonoids work as an antioxidant and free-radical resulting in reduced arterial and immune system aging. A fun way to introduce moderate drinking into your life—and one that is less likely to lead to over-consumption of alcohol—is to be a wine lover. 


The Disadvantages of Alcohol Consumption

People at high risk of cardiovascular disease due to a family history of heart attacks or due to signs of developing atherosclerosis will get the most age reduction benefit from a drink a day. Those who smoke and those having a family history of alcoholism, hepatic cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, or other alcohol-related illnesses are also strongly urged to fend off all alcohol consumption.

The liver is the main site of metabolism of alcohol and as such remains at the highest hazard of damage—and aging—from alcohol use. Liver scarring from use of alcohol (cirrhosis) or its precursor, alcoholic hepatitis, can induce considerable aging. In a few urban areas, it's the fourth leading cause of death for people twenty-five to sixty-four years of age. Because cirrhosis of the liver does irreversible structural damage, there are few treatment alternatives for the disease once it arrives at an advanced stage. Damage to the liver also seems linked to a higher risk of cancer.

There are two hypotheses of why excessive drinking causes cancer. The first and most commonly held explanation is that use of alcohol causes or increases the production of an enzyme that breaks down the alcohol, CYPE2A This enzyme breaks down not just alcohol but also other foreign substances, often producing carcinogenic compounds in the process. That is why smokers particularly need to avoid drinking alcohol. The combination is lethal: the same enzyme that breaks down alcohol (CYPE2A) and increases when you're drinking, also breaks down the nitrosamines in cigarette smoke into a carcinogenic form. By inducing the production of this enzyme, alcohol increases the risk of cancer from smoking.

 A second explanation for the higher occurrence of cancer with heavy drinkers is that alcohol itself carries low levels of cancer-causing substances. The risk of throat and digestive tract cancers grows 2 to 10 times among heavy drinkers, depending on the type of cancer. Women in particular have to be mindful: women who drink a bit much are at twice the risk of uterine and cervical cancers, and perhaps breast cancer, although the data are not definitive enough to affirm a direct cause and effect.

 Because alcohol has a high caloric content, heavy drinkers tend to carry around more paunch, which is another way that unreasonable drinking can age. And that fat doesn't just make you look older—it literally makes you older. It is, after all, fat around your waist that releases substances that increase inflammation and damage to your arteries and immune system. The impurities that are stashed away in the fat also step-up your risk of cancer to that of somebody five to ten years older. Lastly, heavy alcohol consumption impairs the absorption of crucial nutrients and vitamins, contributing to nutrient deficiencies and even malnutrition. Heavy alcohol consumption is linked with a decreased intake of thiamine, folate, iron, zinc, vitamin E, and vitamin C.



Feb 2, 2012 7:02am
Very interesting article you have here! I recently enrolled for a Health Psychology course at my college (as my major is Psychology anyways), and one thing I already learned is that there is new evidence which is suggesting that people who do not drink at all actually cut down the number of years they live to a similar extent as those who drink too much. That was really surprising, but in some ways makes a lot of sense. I think people need to rethink the importance of abstaining from alcohol, because it can be good (or really good if you drink like a champ!) for you so long as you are not abusing it. Great job!
Feb 3, 2012 2:44pm
I have the drinkers paunch, that can also be blamed on food and child bearing also. I couldn't care less, I will die of something, so will die enjoying myself. Great article however.Thanks for sharing Athena.x
Feb 3, 2012 3:50pm
I love the pros! I think everything in moderation is the key.
Feb 4, 2012 5:36am
How right you are Athena! I love red wine and drink about 750ml in 4 days on average. I'm sure that is good?
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