Beer, Wine, Liquor -- The New Health Drinks?
In Moderation, All Forms of Alcohol Have Benefits
WebMD News Archive
June 14, 2002 -- The summer heat makes you long for a cold one, but does the flurry of press about wine's heart-healthy benefits leave you reaching for the corkscrew instead of a bottle opener or blender? Turns out that a bottle of beer, glass of wine, or even a margarita all have about the same amount of alcohol. And despite wine's popular image, experts say that means they're all probably equally good for your health when consumed in moderation.
"If you drink alcohol, beer, or wine in moderation, it probably does have a reasonably healthy effect," says Gerald Fuller, PhD, a biochemist at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.
Fuller says it's the ethanol, a pure form of alcohol found in all types of alcoholic beverages, that makes the various libations good for you, but only in moderation. That means an average of no more than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men. More than that, and the benefits evaporate quicker than the frothy head of a freshly poured beer.
Studies have shown that ethanol can have a variety of positive effects on heart health such as raising HDL (the "good" cholesterol) levels, preventing dangerous blood clots, and allowing the blood to flow more smoothly throughout the body, which reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Alcohol may also boost your health in several other ways as well. Studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption can increase insulin sensitivity, which can reduce the risk of diabetes, ward off some types of cancer, and prevent bone loss.
"We do know that ethanol itself has an effect, but there are lots of products in beer and wine such as hops and grape skins that may also have benefits," Fuller tells WebMD. But he says researchers still haven't exactly defined what those effects -- both positive and negative -- may be.
Experts say the health benefits of wine, especially red wine, may have gotten the most attention in recent years because of the popularity of the so-called "French paradox." The paradox refers to a study published several years ago that suggested that the French population's passion for wine may be responsible for keeping their heart disease rates low despite their love of rich, fatty foods.
Since then, researchers have been trying to tease out what exactly in the wine seems to protect against heart disease and stroke. Studies have suggested that it may lie in the antioxidant-rich skins of the grapes used to make wine, but others have shown that antioxidants have little effect on heart health.
Researchers say wine has also been more widely studied than other beverages due to its popularity, especially in Europe, and many of the benefits ascribed to wine may also come with other alcoholic beverages.