Is alcohol bad for your health? Here’s What the Science Really Says

last week, the The Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) released a 90-page report outlining new guidance on safe alcohol consumption. According to the CCSA, consuming more than two alcoholic drinks per week puts you at moderate risk of adverse health consequences linked to alcohol, such as cancer, liver disease and heart disease. In addition, reports suggest that three to six standard drinks a week puts you at more than seven cancer risks. Those recommendations echo a statement from the World Health Organization earlier this year that said “when it comes to alcohol consumption, there is no safe amount that doesn’t affect health.”

In the United States, the dietary guidelines for alcohol intake are two drinks or less per day for men and one drink or less per day for women.

When you think of harm associated with alcohol, the first images that come to mind are car accidents, bar fights and falling from high places. But according to a report published in jama In November of last year, only 40 percent of deaths attributed to alcohol among American adults aged 20 to 64 were “acute,” such as car accidents or alcohol poisoning. Most, the report alleged, are caused by chronic health conditions such as liver disease, cancer and heart disease.

But like so many health topics, studies of alcohol’s effects on the body can produce unclear and conflicting results. Is no wine always better than no wine? Can alcohol be beneficial in some ways while harmful in others? And how much alcohol can you safely drink without adverse health effects? Here’s what we know about alcohol and the health consequences.

Is Wine Good For Your Heart?

Some studies have suggested that the cardioprotective effect is due to wine’s polyphenols—a class of naturally occurring compounds found in fruits, chocolate, herbs, spices, and, yes, wine.

It is far from certain. While several studies have found an association between low to moderate red wine consumption and better heart health, others have found the opposite. Furthermore, the American Heart Association states that no research has found a direct cause-and-effect relationship between alcohol and improved heart health. Instead, “studies have found that among alcohol and such benefits is a lower risk of dying from heart disease.”

Some studies have suggested that the cardioprotective effect is due to wine’s polyphenols—a class of naturally occurring compounds found in fruits, chocolate, herbs, spices, and, yes, wine.Getty

It may be that low to moderate drinkers have healthier habits than non-drinkers. They may follow a “Mediterranean diet,” which includes fish, nuts, whole grains, and other foods considered healthy, in addition to wine. In addition, other studies have found that people who abstain from alcohol have no higher risk of heart disease than people who consume low to moderate amounts of alcohol, suggesting that that may not have a cardioprotective effect. In addition, at least one observational study published in Jama Last year found an association between habitual alcohol consumption and an increased risk of heart disease. Last year, the World Heart Federation published a policy brief arguing that no amount or type of alcohol can be considered “heart healthy”.

Fortunately, polyphenols, which we know are good for human health, are not found exclusively in wine. They’re in many other plant-based foods, so if you want the health benefits of these antioxidant-like compounds, you have other options than cracking open a bottle of Cabernet.

Does alcohol cause cancer?

Alcohol is a known carcinogen. When you drink alcohol, an enzyme in the mouth turns it into acetaldehyde, a chemical that damages DNA and prevents the body from repairing the damage. Noel Loconte, MD, medical oncologist at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center and associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, explains In Verse That when you drink alcohol, “that carcinogen touches your mouth, throat and esophagus when you swallow,” which is why researchers think there’s a link between those cancers and alcohol use.

“For breast cancer,” she adds, “alcohol increases the amount of estrogen in the blood. For liver cancer, alcohol causes cirrhosis that leads to cancer.”

a study published in Lancet Oncology 2021 found that “Globally, approximately 741,000, or 4.1 percent, of all new cancer cases in 2020 were attributable to alcohol consumption.” Three-quarters of alcohol-attributable cases were in men, and the cancer sites contributing to the most attributable cases were esophageal, liver, and breast (in women).

The more you drink, LoConte says, the higher your risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer. The same applies as long as you drink alcohol; If you have been a moderate drinker for 30 years, your risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer is higher than someone who has consumed the same amount but only for ten years.

The more you drink, LoConte says, the higher your risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer.Getty

LoConte says you can lower these risks if you quit drinking completely, although it may take years before your risk of being a lifelong teetotaler drops.

“We know from head and neck cancer research and esophageal cancer research that the risk decreases over time, but it takes about 20 years to get back to baseline. This is similar to smoking and your risk drops to non-smoking levels. how long it takes to reduce,” she says.

Does Alcohol Damage Your Liver?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the United States, the most common individual cause of alcohol-related death is alcoholic liver disease. The CDC estimates that about 22,400 people died from the condition annually between 2015 and 2019.

The more you drink alcohol and the older you get, the risk of developing alcoholic liver disease increases. It is characterized by three phases:

  1. Fat accumulates in the liver, resulting in “alcoholic fatty liver”.
  2. alcoholic hepatitis, which is inflammation of the liver
  3. cirrhosis, which occurs when liver tissue becomes scarred

If you stop drinking, the first two stages are reversible; Once the disease moves into stage three, however, it does not reverse even after discontinuing alcohol.

How to understand the risks of alcohol to your health

Dan Malleck, a medical historian specializing in drug and alcohol regulation and policy and professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, has some qualms with the CCSA guidelines—which again state that no more than two drinks per week. puts you at risk of many diseases – and how we interpret alcohol research more broadly.

“It comes down to actual risk versus relative risk,” Malleck tells WebMD. In Verse, “If your risk of dying from a disease is .0002 percent, or 2 in a million, and having three drinks a day increases your risk of dying from that disease by 100 percent, you now have .0004 percent, or one in 4.” There is a million chance of dying from that disease.

“Social connection and stress reduction are inherently beneficial to one’s health. So I don’t think we can dismiss it just because alcohol may be involved.”Getty

“I hear some people say, ‘You have a one in 100, or one percent, chance of dying from something because of drinking,'” Malleck says. “Which suggests you have a 99 percent chance of dying from something else. But it’s never been designed that way.”

Are There Any Health Benefits of Wine?

While alcohol can unquestionably harm one’s health, Malleck believes that some of the potential health benefits are hard to quantify.

“It’s important to recognize that, typically, one of the things people do when they go to bars is not just to fight or drink, but actually to see, hang out, and appreciate or celebrate their friends. Contains. May include alcohol. Not necessarily, but Courage, But social connection and a reduction in stress are naturally beneficial to one’s health. So I don’t think we can rule it out just because alcohol may be involved.

For her part, LoConte and her colleagues at the University of Wisconsin intended their work to be informative; What other people choose to do with that information is up to them. “From a cancer prevention perspective, there is no ‘safe’ amount of alcohol,” she says. “If people choose to drink regularly for other reasons, that’s their choice. We want people to be informed. As it stands now, only 30 percent of Americans are aware of the alcohol-cancer link.

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