Updated: Aug 15, 2022
Is moderate drinking protective?
The up-to-date answer is no. The long-held idea that some alcohol improved some health outcomes was widely accepted but new studies show that no amount of alcohol is good for overall health.
But the news isn't all bad. It’s safe to say that alcohol is both a tonic and a poison. The difference lies mostly in the dose. There's no question that heavy drinking is damaging and although drinking isn't helpful, a little isn't necessarily harmful either. The best practice for reducing the risk of harms from alcohol-related disease or injury is moderation.
What's moderate alcohol intake? The marker for moderate drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA) as a maximum of 14 alcoholic drinks for men and 7 drinks for women per week, further broken down into 4 drinks for men and 3 for women in any single day.
What's a drink? One alcoholic drink contains 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is roughly found in: 12 ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol) or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40% alcohol).
Like all drugs, any amount of alcohol can damage your body. It depends on how much you drink, your pattern of drinking, and even the quality of the alcohol you drink. Your body size and composition, age, drinking experience, genetics, nutritional status, metabolism, state of mind and social factors all play a part as well.
Long-term effects of alcohol consumption
persistent changes in mood - anxiety and irritability
insomnia and other sleep concerns
a weakened immune system - may get sick more often
changes in libido and sexual function
changes in appetite and weight
problems with memory and concentration
difficulty focusing on tasks
increased tension and conflict in romantic and family relationships
Physical risks of long-term excessive alcohol consumption
cancers of the mouth, throat and breast
damage to the nervous system
worsening of mental health disorders
Conclusion: the evidence is adding up that the safest level of drinking is none. Having said that, because each of us has unique personal and family histories, alcohol offers each person a different spectrum of benefits and risks. Given the complexity of alcohol’s effects on the body and the complexity of the people who drink it, blanket recommendations of how much how often are only the first step in qualitative exploration.
Myself, I had to eliminate alcohol from my diet for a year in order to restore proper gut function and boost my autoimmune system (see my blog "Trust Your Gut"). The first months were wicked but I stayed the course; now I reserve the enjoyment of a beverage to accentuate meaningful moments and special meals with loved ones without FOMO. One thing's for sure, I don't miss the wasted days of being tired and sluggish from indulging the day prior. The pay-off has been lower histamine levels which translates to fewer allergic responses and more living!
Don't underestimate the magic of cumulative effort... every little bit helps. Generating more health starts with the decision to change our habits. Next, we educate ourselves so we can tailor our own plan. Then, if we learn to commit fully to the process, the outcomes take care of themselves. But if we commit merely to the outcome and ignore the process, we sabotaged both.
I created Qspice to support others in their health evolution; turns out that it also helps me focus on my own healing journey. We teach best what we most need to learn.