Getting wasted every weekend might not be the best thing for your physical or mental well-being, but moderate alcohol consumption may have some substantial health benefits. It should be noted that alcohol consumption and its benefits vary based on an individual's body makeup and type.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, "moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. This definition is referring to the amount consumed on any single day and is not intended as an average over several days."
Now, we've all heard the reasons why alcohol is bad for you, but what about the benefits? Here is our list of seven ways that drinking alcohol in moderation (when you're of the legal drinking age of course) might benefit your health.
1. It Can Lower Your Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease
The School of Public Health at Harvard University found that "moderate amounts of alcohol raises levels of high-density lipoprotein, HDL, or 'good' cholesterol and higher HDL levels are associated with greater protection against heart disease. Moderate alcohol consumption has also been linked with beneficial changes ranging from better sensitivity to insulin to improvements in factors that influence blood clotting....Such changes would tend to prevent the formation of small blood clots that can block arteries in the heart, neck, and brain, the ultimate cause of many heart attacks and the most common kind of stroke." This finding is applicable to both men and women who have not been previously diagnosed with any type of cardiovascular disease.
2. It Can Lengthen Your Life
Drinking occasionally could add a few years to your life. A study by the Catholic University of Campobasso reported that drinking less than four or two drinks per day for men and women respectively could reduce the risk of death by 18 percent, as reported by Reuters. "Little amounts, preferably during meals, this appears to be the right way (to drink alcohol)," said Dr. Giovanni de Gaetano of Catholic University, another author on the study. "This is another feature of the Mediterranean diet, where alcohol, wine above all, is the ideal partner of a dinner or lunch, but that's all: the rest of the day must be absolutely alcohol-free."
3. It Can Improve Your Libido
Contrary to prior beliefs, newer research has found that moderate drinking might actually protect against erectile dysfunction in the same way that drinking red wine might benefit heart disease. In a 2009 study published in the, Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers found that the chances of erectile dysfunction were reduced by 25 to 30 percent among alcohol drinkers. The lead researcher, Kew-Kim Chew, an epidemiologist at the University of West Australia, conducted the study with 1,770 Australian men. In his study, Chew cautiously noted that he and his team in no way are advising men to hit the bottle, and that further research is needed to accurately connect impotence and alcohol consumption.
4. It Helps Prevent Against the Common Cold
The Department of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University found that while susceptibility to the common cold was increased by smoking, moderate alcohol consumption led to a decrease in common cold cases for nonsmokers. This study was conducted in 1993 with 391 adults. In 2002, according to the New York Times,Spanish researchers found that by drinking eight to 14 glasses of wine per week, particularly red wine, one could see a 60-percent reduction in the risk of developing a cold. The scientists suspected that this had something to do with the antioxidant properties of wine.
5. It Can Decrease Chances Of Developing Dementia
In a study that included more than 365,000 participants since 1977, as reported in the journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, moderate drinkers were 23 percent less likely to develop cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. "Small amounts of alcohol might, in effect, make brain cells more fit. Alcohol in moderate amounts stresses cells and thus toughens them up to cope with major stresses down the road that could cause dementia," said Edward J. Neafsey, Ph.D., co-author of the study, as reported by Science Daily. "We don't recommend that nondrinkers start drinking," Neafsey said. "But moderate drinking — if it is truly moderate — can be beneficial."
6. It Can Reduce The Risk Of Gallstones
Drinking two units of alcohol per day can reduce the risk of gallstones by one-third, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia. The study found that those who reported consuming two UK units of alcohol per day had a one-third reduction in their risk of developing gallstones. "Researchers emphasized that their findings show the benefits of moderate alcohol intake but stress that excessive alcohol intake can cause health problems," according to the study.
7. Lowers The Chance Of Diabetes
Results of a Dutch study showed that healthy adults who drink one to two glasses per day have a decreased chance of developing type 2 diabetes, in comparison to those who don't drink at all. "The results of the investigation show that moderate alcohol consumption can play a part in a healthy lifestyle to help reduce the risk of developing diabetes type 2," researchers said in a statement to Reuters.
Get a healthy heart.
Crazy, right? Beer and wine have natural antioxidants called phenols, which help protect against heart disease and lower the risk of hypertension. Just stick to moderate consumption — keg stands will not translate into even healthier hearts.
Freshen breath before (or during) a date.
Any case of bad breath can be helped by a shot of vodka. The high alcohol content in vodka (and other alcohols) helps kill bad odor bacterias. Two pro tips: make sure to spit it out after use, and don't use any liquors with high sugar content, as they can eat away at all that healthy enamel.
Become a genius.
Alright, you got us. Drinking is definitely not going to turn us into lil' Einsteins, but alcohol does help keep our brains sharp. Ethanol helps the neurons in the brain resist wear and tear that can lead to Alzheimer's and dementia later in life .
Finally finish that novel/album/painting with a creative flourish.
Alcohol actually (really and truly) helps us be more creative. One study found that people who drank and ate during a problem solving test performed better than their sober counterparts. The study was necessarily limited, and alcohol can certainly have detrimental effects on brain functions when confused in excess. A little inebriation could get the juices flowing, but don't chug an entire handle of vodka in hopes of painting the next Mona Lisa.
Look younger, longer.
Drinking is not known for helping people look their best, but the special antioxidants in wine (such as phytochemicals and resveratol) can increase energy levels and combat signs of aging.
We're going to live forever!
Well, no. But one study found that drinking a moderate amount of red wine helped increase life span by inducing longevity genes. [Note: This study was conducted on mice with highly concentrated values of resveratol, the supercharged antioxidant naturally found in red wine.]
Get good cholesterol (for a change).
Red wine is the superhero here. Alcoholic beverages, and wine especially, are credited with increasing "good," HDL cholesterol levels. HDL helps clean the body by removing LDL, or "bad," cholesterol.
Soothe a sore throat.
Not much of a voice to shout over that thumping bar music? Order another whiskey. Gargling some whiskey, combined with a spoonful of warm water, can help ease pain by numbing the throat. As with the mouthwash, make sure you don't swallow the dose. We want to feel better, not get smashed by accident.
Get over a malaria infection!
Granted, malaria is not a going concern for the Western world, but the tonic (in gin and tonics) has historically been used to treat malarial infections. Tonic contains quinine, an alkaloid that also has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Much more effective solutions have been developed, but quinine (and tonic water) can still help in a pinch before proper medication can be administered .
Fight off the stomach butterflies.
Alcohol is the great uninhibitor, lubricating social interactions and making awkward situations a little less anxiety-inducing. Consuming alcohol can help us feel like we fit in at parties and temporarily boost confidence (see also: "liquid courage") The flip side, however, is that using alcohol as a social crutch can lead to long term physical and mental health concerns. Much like with opening our creativity, it's important to limit alcohol consumption to recommended averages with the goal being to squelch those stomach butterflies without glass in hand.
Outrun the common cold in style.
Cold season is fast approaching, so start drinking (in moderation). Two studies found that drinking alcohol was able to mediate the risk of getting a common cold. (Sorry, no studies suggest that drinking while sickwill actually help.) One study found that moderate drinkers had a higher resistance to colds, while another out of Spain found that people who drank eight to 14 glasses wine — particularly red — was linked to as much as a 60 percent risk of developing a cold.