Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 03, 2020
Know the Limits
Before you start a petition to replace the office water cooler with a beer keg, let's be clear: Alcohol is only healthy in smaller amounts -- about 1 drink a day for women (5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor) and 2 for men. After that, the benefits get hazier and the risks increase.
Helps Your Heart
If you're in good shape, moderate drinking makes you 25% to 40% less likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or hardened arteries. This may be in part because small amounts of alcohol can raise your HDL ("good" cholesterol) levels. Heavy drinking, on the other hand, boosts your risk of heart disease.
Gets You More Active
Moderate drinkers are far more likely to exercise than people who don't drink. And they may even get more healthy effects from it. On the flip side, the more you exercise, the more likely you are to drink now and then. Scientists don't know exactly where this link comes from.
Prevents Kidney Stones
Regular moderate drinkers are less likely to get kidney stones -- 41% less likely for those who drink beer, 33% for wine drinkers. Part of the reason may be that alcohol, like caffeine in coffee and tea, makes you pee more often. That helps clear out the tiny crystals that form stones. Drink too much, though, and you can get dehydrated, and that increases your risk of kidney stones along with other health problems.
Makes You More Social
Good friends are good for you. And people who have a drink or two together -- rather than, say, sodas -- are likely to spend more time talking. They're also more likely to share smiles and keep everyone involved in the conversation. But don't overdo it -- it's called happy hour for a reason.
Gives Your Sex Life a Boost
Intimacy helps you deal with stress, and a little alcohol may move things along. In one study, women who had one or two glasses of red wine a day said they had more desire, arousal, and sexual satisfaction than those who didn't. Those who drank more reported no change. A drink also may help raise a man's testosterone levels, which makes both men and women friskier. But men who drink too much can lose the desire and the ability to have sex.
Helps Your Brain
A drink or two a few times a week may make you less likely to get Alzheimer's disease. In fact, the MIND diet, specifically designed to lower your risk of the disease, has wine as one of its 10 "brain healthy" food groups. It also reduces risk of stroke and heart disease -- both of which can speed up the effects of Alzheimer's.
Balances Blood Sugar
That happy-hour cocktail or glass of wine with dinner may make you less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Scientists aren't sure why exactly, but it might be that a drink or two helps your body deal with high blood sugar levels in a healthy way.
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American Diabetes Association: "Moderate Alcohol Consumption Lowers the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes."
Association for Psychological Science: "Moderate Doses of Alcohol Increase Social Bonding in Groups."
CDC: "Alcohol and Public Health."
Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology: "Soda and Other Beverages and the Risk of Kidney Stones."
The Fischer Center Foundation: "Moderate Drinking Can Reduce Alzheimer's Risk."
Frontiers in Psychiatry: "Exercise and alcohol consumption: what we know, what we need to know, and why it is important."
Harvard School of Public Health: "Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits."
National Institutes of Health: "Alcohol and Cognition in The Elderly," "Prevalence of sexual dysfunction in male subjects with alcohol dependence," "Effects of Dietary Components on Testosterone Metabolism via UDP-Glucuronosyltransferase," "Regular moderate intake of red wine is linked to a better women's sexual health."