Moderate, regular alcohol consumption
While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how much constitutes moderate drinking – the same amount of alcohol can have a vastly different impact on different people – the standard sources in Canada recommend the following:
- Women: Do not drink more than 2 standard drinks per day and limit consumption to 10 standard drinks by week.
- Men: Do not drink more than 3 standard drinks per day and limit consumption to 15 standard drinks by week.
- Don’t drink every day.
Definition of a standard drink
- 1 glass of beer
- 340 ml
- 12 oz
- 5% alcohol
- 1 glass of wine
- 140 ml
- 5 oz
- 12% alcohol
- 1 glass of spirits
- 45 ml
- 1.5 oz
- 40% alcohol
- 1 glass of fortified wine
- 85 ml
- 3 oz
- 18% alcohol
The limits decrease for the elderly, and some people should abstain from drinking altogether, or else drink less than the recommended limits. These include people with specific health problems, people taking medication, people with a personal or family history of alcohol dependence, pregnant women and those trying to conceive, etc. It is also recommended that heavy drinkers reduce their intake of alcohol. And under no circumstances are abstainers advised to begin drinking in order to improve their health!
Drinking habits make the difference
The key to the beneficial effect of alcohol lies in your drinking habits: how much and how often you drink. In terms of the impact on your health and your life, there is a world of difference between having two drinks a day and downing 14 drinks on a Saturday night, and abstaining the rest of the week. Moderate, regular and responsible alcohol consumption requires that you limit the amount you drink on each occasion as well as how much you drink over the course of an average week.
The health benefits of MRAC
Not counting other risk factors, such as smoking, poor nutrition and obesity, MRAC is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. One or two drinks a day reduces the risk by at least 30%; more than that and the beneficial effect disappear. Thus far, the protective effect of alcohol has been observed in men over the age of 40 and in women as of menopause. The beneficial impact is most notable in people over the age of 60.
The protective effect comes primarily from the fact that, over the long term, MRAC increases the level of high density lipoproteins (HDL, or the “good” cholesterol) in the blood. HDL helps clear “bad” cholesterol (fat molecules or LDL) from arterial walls to prevent build-up and blockages. In the short term, alcohol also appears to inhibit the formation of blood clots.
All kinds of alcohol are associated with the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, although some researchers note that wine may have somewhat more of a protective effect than other alcoholic beverages.
Since alcohol protects against cardiovascular disease, it may also protect against other diseases, such as strokes and peripheral vascular disease, which are caused by atherosclerosis (the build-up of plaque, which is an accumulation of cholesterol and calcium, in the inner lining of the arteries).
It is very difficult to define the specific link between MRAC and strokes. Since alcohol raises HDL (the “good” cholesterol), one would expect that MRAC would reduce the risk of ischemic strokes, which are those caused by blood clots or blockages in the arteries of the brain.
Conversely, the same effect that alcohol has on inhibiting the formation of blood clots may increase the risk of hemorrhagic strokes, which are those caused by the rupture of an artery in the brain, due to an aneurism or sclerosis of brain . In short, the information about the relationship between alcohol and strokes is inconclusive.
Peripheral vascular disease
Peripheral vascular disease refers to diseases of blood vessels outside the heart and brain. Blood circulation in the arms and legs may be compromised due to a narrowing of the blood vessels, which leads to a loss of sensation and muscle weakness. Since the pathology is similar to that seen in strokes, i.e. the presence of atherosclerosis, it is suspected that the protective effect of alcohol would be similar.
Moderate drinkers are about 30% less likely than non-drinkers to develop type 2 diabetes, which generally develops after age 45 and occurs when, for various reasons, the body either does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore it. The beneficial effect of alcohol is that it helps the body moderate glucose levels in the blood.
A number of studies show that MRAC is associated with a reduced risk of gallstones. As it turns out, the way that alcohol affects bile production and “good” cholesterol (HDL) helps prevent the formation of gallstones.
The research confirms the common knowledge that alcohol has some beneficial effects on psychosocial condition. MRAC promotes relaxation, reduces stress, and improves mood and sociability; it can also have a positive impact on social cohesion, creativity and leisure time. These psychosocial benefits, like all others attributed to alcohol, may vary from one culture to another and depend on the amount of alcohol consumed.
Other beneficial effects
Other beneficial effects are suggested by the research. For example, alcohol may reduce the risk of rheumatism and rheumatoid arthritis (in women), as well as osteoarthritis, kidney stones, infection and even the common cold.
However, the impact of MRAC on cognitive abilities, such as memory, reasoning and thinking, remains largely unexplored.
Risks associated with MRAC: no definitive answer
While there is no doubt about the fact that alcohol abuse is harmful to one’s health, the potential risks of MRAC are less well known and sometimes controversial. Aside from the increased risk of injury and accident (after only one or two drinks, in some cases), the most frequently noted diseases are breast cancer, colorectal cancer and cirrhosis of the liver.
Some studies show a link between alcohol and breast cancer among both pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women.
Similarly, while some research has shown a connection between drinking and the risk of developing colorectal cancer, there is no proven causal link or even association between low alcohol consumption and colorectal cancer.
As for liver disease, the amount of alcohol at which the risk increases is not precisely known. Unlike other cases involving the negative effects of alcohol, where regular drinking is less harmful than the occasional consumption of large amounts of alcohol, the opposite is true for liver diseases: it would appear that the daily drinkers are more at risk than the occasional bingers.
The effects of MRAC on health vary from one person to the next. At this time, it is not possible – and it will likely never be possible – to make recommendations that apply to all people.
Since alcohol provides protection essentially against cardiovascular diseases, which are very rare among young adults, no positive impact on mortality has been observed in this group. MRAC may protect them later against this type of disease, but this remains to be shown.
The beneficial effects of alcohol on health can be observed at low levels of consumption and among certain groups of people. In the case of a number of diseases, while some studies are encouraging, more research is necessary in order to confirm the positive impact of alcohol.
Among post-menopausal women and men over 40, MRAC is associated with reduced mortality due to the protective effects of alcohol on fatty deposits in the blood vessels.