Health Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol may have some heart-healthy benefits, but excess drinking can lead to weight gain and put you at greater risk for additional health problems.

Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol (one serving for women; two servings for men) per day may offer some heart-healthy benefits. For example, moderate drinking can reduce your risk of coronary artery disease, as well as the risk of death from heart disease. It can also increase your HDL “good” cholesterol.

All alcohol seems to have some benefit, but thanks to the nutrient density of grapes (especially their deep-colored skins), red wine offers extra antioxidants, including resveratrol.

It’s important to understand that the positive research linking alcohol consumption and improved heart health is based on moderate, appropriate drinking. If you drink heavily (up and beyond the recommended daily dose) you will increase your risk of disease, including high blood pressure, and high triglycerides. If you currently have high triglycerides, even small amounts of alcohol can elevate them further. Therefore, people with high triglycerides should avoid alcohol altogether or imbibe only on special occasions.

Alcohol provides empty calories, and can contribute to weight gain. However, there are some tricks you can take advantage of if you want to cut out some of the calories. First, alternate alcoholic beverages with a noncaloric, nonalcoholic drink (a glass of water, seltzer, or club soda). Second, watch out for sugary mixers — added fruit juices, sodas, sour mixes, and simple syrups that can top off your glass with a whole lot of extra calories. And finally, know when to stop. Alcohol can lower your inhibitions, which means you may find yourself eating or drinking more than you wanted to. For the sake of your health (and your weight), be vigilant about limiting your alcohol intake.

Heavy drinking can weaken bones and raise your risk of osteoporosis. Alcohol consumption may also increase the risk of cataracts, especially in smokers. Since alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to clear uric acid, drinking — especially beer — raises the risk of gout. And don’t think you can use alcohol to help fight insomnia. A couple of drinks may make you sleepy initially, but alcohol will end up causing poor quality sleep, often characterized by repeated awakenings during the night.

Drinking alcohol can also affect women’s PMS symptoms. For example, it may increase breast tenderness. It may also lower blood sugar, which is likely to worsen mood symptoms.

Alcohol, especially beer, red wine, sherry, and vermouth may be a migraine trigger. Alcohol can also trigger IBS symptoms in some people.