Alcohol, one of America’s favorite poisons, is among the most celebrated and demonized substances in existence. While an excess of alcohol can be highly detrimental to health – and even deadly – a small amount can provide substantial benefits, especially if you choose the right variety.
As most of us have been told all our lives, drinking too much is no joke. According to statistics compiled by the CDC, roughly 88,000 deaths in the US each year can be attributed to excessive alcohol use. Besides addiction, poor judgement and death by alcohol poisoning, drinking too much, especially on a regular basis, can lead to high blood pressure, kidney disease and liver damage.
An overabundance of alcohol can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, a condition in which scar tissue begins to replace healthy tissues. If cirrhosis continues for too long, the liver can fail entirely. Alcohol can also cause inflammation in the liver, due to the oxidative stress caused by it working too hard. Long-term drinkers are likely to develop a fatty liver. This occurs when liver cells become oversaturated with fat and as a result cannot function normally.
Drinking in excess can also wreak havoc on your complexion, because as it impairs the liver, the liver’s ability to detoxify the rest of the body, including skin cells, is compromised. According to Dr. David Colbert, the founder of New York Dermatology Group, “it may make us feel good, but alcohol is a hepatotoxin… what does someone look like who is dying of liver failure? They’re sallow, they’re pasty, they’re cold, their pores are huge.”
While too much alcohol can lead to terrible consequences, a large body of evidence suggests that having one or two drinks per day can be very beneficial to health. One drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men (according to USDA guidelines) has been found to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries), which can lead to heart attacks and heart disease.
A 2010 study published in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association, analyzed eight studies from Europe and North America, which included 192,067 women and 74,919 men. The researchers found that, “an inverse association between alcohol and risk of coronary heart disease was observed in all age groups.”
The study authors added, “alcohol is associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease in younger adults; however, the absolute risk was small compared with middle aged and older adults.”
Any kind of alcohol can deliver these health benefits, however, some varieties have additives and other compounds that are detrimental to optimal health.
Red wine – the healthiest option
It should come as no surprise, given the recent influx of reports on the health benefits of red wine, that this type of alcohol is our number one recommendation for your daily glass. The grapes used to make red wine contain an antioxidant known as resveratrol, which has been connected with improved memory, lowered blood sugar and blood pressure levels and longevity. Red wine also contains an array of polyphenol antioxidants, which are heart healthy, and may assist in lower LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol levels.
According to Dr. Jessica Krant, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, “red wine contains more antioxidants than white, which may help to counteract some aging processes. I would say the best single drink to have to support skin health and minimize aging risks is a glass of red wine.”
Although red wine offers an array of benefits, the tannins that it contains can lead to a nasty hangover if you drink too much, or drink on an empty stomach. To avoid this, limit yourself to a glass or two, drink with a good meal, and make sure to rehydrate yourself with plenty of water. To get the most benefits from red wine, choose an organic variety, to avoid exposure to chemical additives.
Distilled, clear liquors – a good choice if you’re careful
High-quality, thoroughly distilled, clear spirits such as vodka and gin are gluten-free, and contain the least additives of any other types of alcohol. For this reason, they are the least damaging to skin. They are also the mildest as far as hangovers are concerned, because the distillation process reduces the number of congeners, chemicals which are produced during fermentation that have been associated with hangovers.
With any liquor, the risk is that it is easy to overdo it, since they are very potent, so be sure to exercise caution and monitor your intake closely.
Beer – some ups, some downs
On the upside, drinking beer has been linked a reduced risk of developing kidney stones, as well as to increasing bone strength due to silicon content. Beer also contains essential B-vitamins. As far as the downside, most beers are high in carbohydrates, which can lead to excess weight over time. Most beers also contain gluten, though there are gluten-free varieties available.
Brown liquors such as bourbon, brandy and whiskey have been linked to the nastiest hangovers. Even a drink or two, if consumed on an empty stomach, can leave you regretting it the next day. If you choose these spirits, make sure to drink them with food, and follow with plenty of water.
The worst – sugary mixed drinks
Most of the fun, flavored cocktails you find at your local bar are laden with sugar. Many involve sodas, which are all-around horrible for health, and those that utilize flavor syrups often contain artificial colors and flavorings, as well as chemical preservatives. The sugar content of these beverages also heightens a hangover, and can add a sugar headache on to the misery of the morning after.
Sugar has been linked to a wide array of health problems and chronic illnesses, including obesity, type 2 diabetes and even certain cancers. It can lead to system-wide inflammation, wreaks havoc on the skin and accelerates aging.
A few words on hangovers
Hangovers are caused by several factors, including dehydration, nutrient depletion, the methanol and acetone compounds in some drinks, and the body’s withdrawal from the alcohol itself. The absolute best way to avoid one is to stick to one or two drinks per day – no more. Also, drinking slowly, and making sure you have something to eat with your beverage, can keep you hangover-free.
If you happen to have a crazy night, overdo it, and find yourself sick in the morning, there are natural ways to nurse the pain. First of all, drink lots of water. If your body is dehydrated, replenishing those lost fluids is of the utmost importance.
As soon as your stomach is able, a good, nutritious meal consisting of healthy protein and fresh fruit can work wonders. Homemade broth and bananas are two great foods to eat, as they can replace the potassium that too much alcohol seeps from your body.
Raw honey and freshly-squeezed fruit juice can also help curb a hangover, and many people swear by a cup or two of coffee to reduce the headache – just make sure to drink extra water to compensate for its diuretic properties if you go this route.
-The Alternative Daily