Is a Little Alcohol Good for Your Health? Cooper Experts Weigh In
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Many believe a nice glass of pinot noir or a cold beer can help you unwind after a long day. Even though there are studies and reports that talk about both the benefits and dangers of alcohol, how do you sort out the good and the bad?
"It's always been kind of a mixed bag," says Camron Nelson, MD, President and CEO and Preventive Medicine Physician at Cooper Clinic. "There's probably not one particular answer."
To honor Alcohol Awareness Month this April, we have the facts about alcohol: In excessive quantities, alcohol can be very harmful to your health. However, when consumed in moderation by people without risk for complications, alcohol may be safe—and even offer somewhat of a cardioprotective effect.
The Dangers of Alcohol
There are certainly drawbacks to consider when it comes to alcohol. "Among other things, it ends up causing you to gain weight, and that has adverse effects in and of itself," says Dr. Nelson. Most alcoholic drinks have somewhere around 200 to 250 calories per drink—and that means extra activity to burn off those calories.
Excessive alcohol consumption may also damage your liver and your heart, and increase the risk of developing some types of cancer. While researchers haven't quite pinpointed how, Dr. Nelson says that alcohol is essentially toxic to cells. Mental health problems, such as depression, can worsen due to excessive alcohol consumption, and gastrointestinal and cardiovascular conditions may also occur.
The Benefits of Alcohol
“For some people, moderate alcohol intake may have a benefit for the heart," says Dr. Nelson. "If there is a cardioprotective benefit, that's going to be for people in the middle-age category with heart disease, as opposed to someone who is 25 to 30."
"Most of the other effects of alcohol are considered neutral to maybe deleterious," says Dr. Nelson. “If you sum up the cardiovascular benefits of other healthy lifestyle changes, you're going to get much more benefit from exercise and weight maintenance than drinking alcohol. Alcohol consumption as a health benefit would be considered minor compared to other things that we know benefit heart health."
Before You Pour a Glass
Certainly there is no research that would say if you're not drinking alcohol you should start. Of course, people with a history of substance abuse, pregnant women, those with certain medical conditions and those younger than 21 years old should never drink alcohol.
Kenneth H.Cooper, MD, MPH, Founder and Chairman of Cooper Aerobics, also stresses that you shouldn't reach for a glass simply for the health benefits. "If you don't drink, don't start," says Dr. Cooper. “If you exceed moderate levels of alcohol consumption, there's a sharp increase in the risk for disease. That risk shoots way up above the nondrinker."
It's also important not to fall into the trap of thinking that drinking alcohol can replace other healthy habits, like exercise.
Moderation is essential when it comes to alcohol, because there's a fine line between a potential benefit and doing harm to your body. Traditionally two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women is the recommended maximum. As part of the eight steps to Get Cooperized, Cooper Clinic recommends no more than 10 drinks per week for men and no more than six drinks per week for women. Dr. Nelson also stresses the importance of stretching those drinks out over the course of a week, not piling them up on one weekend.
For more information on Cooper Clinic and how to Get Cooperized, click here or call 972.560.2667.