Gin: Are There Health Benefits?

In the United States, gin is a distilled alcohol that must be no less than 80 proof (40% alcohol) and have the distinct flavor of juniper berries

While a similar Dutch and Belgian drink called jenever was popular at least as early as the Medieval Period, gin was invented in England in the 17th century. It then became commonplace during the “Gin Craze” in the early 18th century. England’s monarchs allowed unlicensed gin production while imposing heavy duties on imported alcohol, making it a cheap alternative embraced by the lower classes.

These days, gin is enjoying a resurgence thanks to its relative affordability and popularity with craft producers. 

Nutrition Information

One fluid ounce of gin contains: 

  • Calories: 64
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams

Gin has less sugar and fewer calories than some other liquors. If you already consume alcohol, gin may be a slightly healthier option. Be careful with mixers, however. They can make the sugar content of your drink skyrocket.

Potential Health Benefits of Gin

While some online articles have championed the benefits of drinking gin due to the properties of juniper berries, from which gin is derived, no evidence suggests that juniper’s antioxidants survive the fermentation process. When used as a control in a study on red wine, gin showed no special antioxidant properties.

However, there are several health benefits associated with the light to moderate consumption of any form of alcohol, i.e., about 1 drink a day for women and 1-2 for men. These include:

Decreased Risk of Heart Disease and Other Conditions

Alcohol has a U or J-curve relationship with certain conditions. While light drinking has a positive impact on them, heavy drinking negatively affects or increases the risk for the following:

However, in order to validate the relationship between moderate drinking and these benefits, more studies that control for other factors are needed. For example, one team of researchers found that, when they controlled for socioeconomic status, the supposed health benefits of light drinking were vastly reduced.

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Potential Risks of Gin

You should not drink at all before driving or operating machinery. In addition, the following groups should avoid gin entirely:

  • Pregnant women or women who are trying to conceive
  • People under the legal drinking age
  • People with depression
  • People with alcohol dependency issues and people unable to control the amount they drink

In addition, drinking gin may carry the following risks:

Potential Medication Interactions

Alcohol interacts with drugs and other medications, sometimes making them less effective or even harmful. In addition to side effects such as nausea and drowsiness, more serious problems are possible, including internal bleeding as well as heart and respiratory problems.

The impact of alcohol on medication can vary between individuals and change with age. Talk to your doctor about any prescriptions you take in order to see if you can safely consume gin.

Breast Cancer  

Even light alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer. Alcohol use decreases folic acid levels and alters hormone levels and their associated biological pathways.

Sexual Health Problems

Alcohol intoxication has been linked to difficulty achieving arousal and orgasm. In addition, it corresponds with increased sexual risk behavior, including condom-use resistance and incidents of victimization.

Heavy Drinking

In the short term, excessive drinking can lead to risky behavior or alcohol poisoning

Long-term risks include:

Healthier Alternatives

Polyphenol-rich Alcohols

Compared to wine and beer, gin has a very low number of polyphenols (plant nutrients with antioxidant properties). These non-alcohol components appear partly responsible for the various health benefits associated with alcohol. Red wine is packed with polyphenols, so consider swapping your gin and tonic for a glass of red wine.

However, servings of wine and beer do have more empty calories than a serving of gin, and you should be attentive to related health risks.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 22, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau: “Definitions ("Standards of Identity") for Distilled Spirits, Title 27 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.”

Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research: “Alcohol Use and Breast Cancer: A Critical Review.”

Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage: “Chocolate and Other Colonial Beverages.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Gin, 80 proof.”

Jenever Museum: “Jenever History.”International Journal of Angiology: “Polyphenols are medicine: Is it time to prescribe red wine for our patients?”

The Journals of Gerontology: “‘Health Benefits’ of Moderate Drinking in Older Adults may be Better Explained by Socioeconomic Status.”
Journal of Internal Medicine: “The positive and negative effects of alcohol--and the public health implications.”
The Journal of Sex Research: “Alcohol and Sexual Health Behavior: ‘What We Know and How We Know It.”

National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse: “Harmful Interactions.”
Nutrients: “Wine, Beer, and Polyphenols on Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer.”

Perspectives in Diabetes: “Red Wine and Diabetes Health: Getting Skin in the Game.”

Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases: “Alcohol and CV Health: Jekyll and Hyde J-Curves.”
Substance Use and Older People: “Psychopharmacology and the Consequences of Alcohol and Drug Interactions.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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