In moderation, alcohol may have some health benefits. However, alcohol in excess can be terrible for your health. Learn if alcohol can be part of a healthy lifestyle here.
Alcohol is often the topic of heated debate. On the one hand, it does appear to have some benefits in moderation. However, on the other hand, the downsides of excessive alcohol consumption far outweigh any potential benefits.
In this guide, you’ll learn how alcohol is metabolized in your body, the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, and the downsides of excessive drinking.
Alcohol is toxic to your liver. This means that its metabolism is prioritized over everything else when it’s present in your system so that your body can get rid of the toxin as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Alcohol absorption occurs in the stomach, where it travels via the bloodstream directly to the central nervous system and the liver. Because it’s absorbed in the stomach, eating food while drinking alcohol can help to slow down its effects on your brain.
Your liver makes it a priority to metabolize alcohol into compounds that are not toxic to the body and then secrete the toxic portions through your urine.
Benefits of moderate alcohol consumption
In moderation, which is defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, alcohol can have some benefits, such as:
- Stress relief: Through its effects on the central nervous system, small amounts of alcohol can reduce anxiety and tension.
- Improved heart health: In moderation, alcohol may provide a small heart health benefit. This is especially true for red wine, which is rich in antioxidants.
- Decreased risk of certain conditions: Drinking in moderation may also reduce your risk of stroke and diabetes.
Examples of a single serving of alcohol include:
- 12 ounces of beer containing 5% alcohol
- 5 ounces of wine containing 12% alcohol
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol) liquor
- A mixed drink that contains 1.5 ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol) liquor
Note that you can’t “bank” drinks for the weekend or a special event. Any day in which you drink more than one drink per day for women and two drinks for men is considered an episode of excessive drinking.
Downsides of excessive alcohol consumption
Unfortunately, the downsides of alcohol consumption far outweigh its potential benefits—especially when drinking more than 1-2 drinks per day. These downsides include:
- Increased cancer risk: Excessive alcohol consumption can increase your risk of breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, and liver cancer.
- Addiction: Alcohol is addictive, and an alcohol addiction can have far-reaching impacts on your health, your family, and your circumstances.
- Liver damage: Alcohol is toxic to the liver, and excessive alcohol use over the long term can lead to complete liver failure.
- Impaired brain function: Alcohol can impair your judgment significantly and, in large quantities, cause you to black out.
- Increased risk of heart disease: Excessive alcohol can damage your heart, especially if you have pre-existing heart disease.
Other downsides may include an increased risk of pancreatitis—a painful, inflammatory condition of the pancreas—and reproductive dysfunction or infertility.
For optimal health, it’s important to only drink alcohol in moderation. To learn more about leading a healthy lifestyle, check out our other Medlixr guides.