The health benefits of alcohol: Can booze really be good for you?

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  • We all know that, in excess, alcohol isn’t good for our health. However, in moderation, our favourite drink might not be so bad for us after all.

    Alcohol can help you live longer

    ‘Studies have found that women, in particular, who drink a glass of wine every day have a lower risk of all-cause mortality than those who drink alcohol less frequently,’ says Sarah.

    A study from the American College of Cardiology found that a glass or two of wine each day could reduce your risk of developing various life-shortening diseases and illnesses by 25 per cent. Further studies have also found drinking moderate amounts of gin also has many health benefits, which also can also help you live longer.

    It could lower the risk of heart issues

    ‘Moderate drinking has been found to have a possible link to a lower risk of heart disease,’ says Sarah. A joint study from the University of Cambridge and University College London found that those with consistent drinking patterns might benefit from cardioprotective effects, reducing the risk of heart and circulatory issues, such as angina, heart attacks, heart failure, or strokes.

    ‘However, the study found that this was the case with people who drank moderately in a consistent way, rather than people who had unstable drinking patterns,’ says Sarah, so to benefit from the effects you should space out your alcohol consumption across a week, rather than ‘save up’ your units for the weekend and bingeing in one go.

    Alcohol can prevent against colds

    The festive period and colds season go hand in hand, so it may come as a welcome surprise that a glass of red could help prevent a cold – and even mulled wine has some surprising health benefits. ‘The antioxidants in red wine can help to reduce the risk of a cold by a shocking 60 per cent,’ says Sarah. However, the research found that it only reduces the susceptibility of getting a cold, so if you already have one, a hot toddy won’t necessarily see it off.

    Red wine contains powerful antioxidants

    Talking about the health benefits of red wine, Dr Nicholas Perricone says: ‘Red wine contains a powerful heart-healthy, anti-cancer and anti-ageing antioxidant called resveratrol.’

    It’s also believed that this antioxidant helps to protect the skin against UV damage. ‘Cabernet Sauvignon grapes have the highest concentration of anti-oxidants,’ he says, ‘but just be sure you keep it to one glass, and have your wine with your meal to mitigate the inflammatory effects of alcohol.’

    Alcohol good for you?

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    Booze improves cognitive function

    A study from the University of Exeter found that those who drank after studying performed better at recalling new information.

    It’s thought that alcohol consumption can improve brain power, including memory and cognitive function, as alcohol causes the hippocampus (the part of the brain associated with memory) to transfer new information to long-term information, heightening the chances of us logging something new. ‘It is also why we often reveal embarrassing stories about ourselves when we’ve had a drink!’ says Sarah.

    The counter argument…

    ‘As with most things in life, the evidence on alcohol consumption and health isn’t black and white,’ says Nutritional Therapist, Hannah Braye. While alcohol may have some health benefits, it’s important to remember that consumption carries other health risks, she warns.

    ‘Even moderate intake can place people at higher risk for breast cancer and bone fractures, and higher than moderate intake increases the risk for colon polyps, colon cancer and a number of other conditions,’ she says. ‘Excessive alcohol consumption is linked with tissue injury and organ dysfunction, including alcoholic liver disease, increased risk of developing cancer and abnormal function of the immune system.’ It’s advised that you should not consume more than 14 units per week.

    The health benefits of alcohol

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    How to have a healthier drink

    Choose red wine

    ‘Firm evidence of health benefits really can only be attributed to antioxidant-rich red wine, whereas spirits and beer just don’t have the same nutrient content,’ explains Sarah.

    Gut issues?

    ‘Beer is high in carbohydrates and due to the wheat content, which can contribute to digestive issues,’ says Sarah. Gin can cause similar problems. ‘Gin appears to be one of the least beneficial drinks for the microbial community in our guts,’ says Hannah.

    Choose low sugar

    ‘Many alcoholic drinks (or the mixers they are served with) can be high in sugar, which can contribute to weight gain, mood fluctuations and disturbed sleep,’ says Hannah. ‘The drinks that tick the boxes of low carb, low sugar are wine and spirits that are mixed with sugar-free options,’ adds Sarah.

    Alternate drinks with water

    Follow each alcoholic drink with anon-alcoholic drink. ‘Drink plenty of water before sleeping to reduce the effects of a hangover,’ says Sarah.

    How to have a healthier drink

    Choose red wine ‘Firm evidence of health benefits really can only be attributed to antioxidant-rich red wine, whereas spirits and beer just don’t have the same nutrient content,’ explains Sarah.