June 2024


    Is alcohol in moderation still part of a healthy lifestyle?  We look at the latest news and what it might mean for your next Wine Wednesday.

    For some time now, we’ve thought enjoying wine with a delicious meal or sharing a cold beer with good friends came with a research-backed benefit: a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.  So, when global health researchers recently declared alcohol consumed in any quantity, even in moderation, can have a negative impact on health, it was like a record skipped at the world’s collective cocktail party.  Why the reversal?  Were earlier researchers wrong?  The science hasn’t changed.  It’s that scientists and medical experts are reframing their messaging to address the bigger picture: Alcohol may offer some health benefits, but the downsides outweigh them.  As researchers have conducted new studies with larger populations and datasets, they’ve taken a closer look at alcohol consumption and its health implications.  These studies have shown that any amount of alcohol increases the risk of developing several cancers.  The risk of developing cancer from alcohol consumption outweighs any potential cardiovascular benefit.  While the American Cancer Society has long talked about alcohol as a carcinogen, the AHA had included it as a benefit of a heart-healthy diet in regard to raising HDL cholesterol (the good type) levels, and being cardio-protective in some cases.  But you don’t create your dietary pattern for just one disease, and if you look across all diseases, alcohol has a negative impact.

    The good news is you can dial back on alcohol and get the cardiovascular protection from other sources.  The compounds within alcoholic beverages that might improve cardiovascular health can be found in several other foods that don’t increase cancer risk.  Berries, mainly blueberries, along with dark (red, black, blue, purple) grapes, apple skins, green tea and pomegranates have polyphenols such as resveratrol and quercetin.  Kind in mind there is no such thing as a 1:1 health trade-off, say, eating a huge vegetable-packed salad at lunch to balance out the Paloma you have before dinner.  But the experts agree that reducing as many risk factors as possible goes a long way toward living a long, healthy life.  If a person has eliminated other risk factors but accepts the risk associated with moderate alcohol consumption, I would consider this to be an informed decision.  And be sure to reduce other health risks by avoiding cigarettes and other tobacco products, wearing sunblock, or minimizing sun exposure, and getting regular screenings, including mammography, colonoscopy, and Pap smears.  These strategies will not reverse the increase in risk caused by alcohol, but they will prevent compounding risk factors.   That said, aim for more days not consuming alcohol than days with alcohol.  

    So, is it possible to consider yourself a health-conscious person and have a drink?  Yes.  Just be mindful when you’re drinking alcohol.  Treat it as you would any food or drink you like that doesn’t meet a nutritional need.  Nobody will say they need to eat candy.  But maybe you enjoy it.  Pick your favorite, and don’t waste it on something you’re not really going to enjoy.  And don’t shame yourself while you’re drinking.  Enjoy it in moderation.

    Benefits of Taking a Break

    If you’re looking to give up alcohol for a bit, you’re bound to find others who are too.  Aside from saving money and calories, what are the perks of temporary teetotaler status? 

    • It may lower your tolerance. The more you drink, the more alcohol it takes to feel relaxed.  If you’ve quit drinking for a time, once you start drinking again, you’ll be able to drink less to achieve the desired feeling.
    • It reduces your overall intake. Any reduction in drinking stresses your body less.  Just remember: You don’t bank nondrinking days for the future; the recommended limits are per day.
    • It helps you reassess your relationship with alcohol. After a few weeks without drinking, you might not even miss it.  If a person derives only small amounts of pleasure from alcohol consumption but consumes it with the hope of improving cardiovascular health, that person may choose not to consume alcohol once they learn about the cancer risk.
    • It’s healthier, if you do it right. The idea is to replace alcoholic beverages with ones that are less or not harmful to your health.  For example, as long as you’re not drinking beverages with high amounts of sugar or high fructose corn syrup like soda instead.

    There’s an App for That:

    As more people are trying occasional sobriety, or committing to it long term, technology has stepped up in the form of apps for mindful drinking and accountability.  You can track your consumption as well as your physical and emotional state (Try Dry), learn tips for reframing habits (Clarify), and even calculate how much money you’ve saved by swapping seltzer for Sauvignon Blanc (Less).   Some have an active member community where you can give and receive peer support (Sunnyside), and others offer live couching sessions (Reframe).  Curious?  Head to your app store to check out specific apps or browse with keywords like “mindful drinking” or “drink less alcohol” to see which is a fit for you.

    Melanie Mannarino