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Does alcohol have any health benefits?
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Ever heard the one about red wine being good for your heart? Or that beer can do wonders for your gut bacteria?
It seems like every second day there’s breaking news either telling us to cut back on booze, or raise another glass to good health. If you didn’t already have a complicated relationship with alcohol, this constant flip flop makes it nigh on impossible to know where to draw the line.
So is it really time to say sayonara to post-work beers with the crew, or give up your nightly wind-down with a glass of red?
We can’t keep it bottled up any longer – let’s take a hard look at how hard drinks can impact your health.
Important: If you have concerns about alcohol consumption and its impact on your health, it's best to consult your doctor or a qualified healthcare provider for personalized guidance.
You know water is the smarter choice, but is there any benefit to booze?
Living longer with alcohol: fact or fiction?
If you’re confused about what ‘healthy drinking’ looks like, you’re not alone.
Up until pretty recently, there was a pervasive idea that while heavy drinking hurt your health, a little alcohol could actually help you live longer – cue the headlines about red wine and heart health. On the surface, the research seemed to support that idea.
But there are problems with lots of those high-profile previous studies (many of which are funded by alcohol companies):
Many studies don’t separate people who have never touched a drop from people who have quit, meaning the ‘alcohol free’ group often included people who might have given up because of health problems caused by their drinking. This lowers overall average health for the non-drinkers group.
Other research puts people who drank on occasion (think one drink a week or less) in the same category as people who consume around 2 drinks per day.
The latest comprehensive review aimed to address those issues and painted a different picture: it found no health benefits to moderate drinking.
It also confirmed that heavy drinking is bad news for a long and healthy life: people who averaged 4 drinks a day had a 19 percent higher risk of mortality when compared to people who don’t drink at all (and the more you drink, the worse those numbers get).
And while this particular study didn’t prove that moderate drinking would have serious longevity impacts either, there are plenty of other reasons you might want to reconsider your third (or fourth) glass…
Alcohol and sleep: out like a light?
Alcohol might knock you out quickly, but just 2 drinks (for a man) or 1 drink (for a woman) can decrease sleep quality by 24 percent. That’s because alcohol makes your liver work when it should be resting, disrupts your cardiovascular system and suppresses REM sleep cycles.
A lost night here and there probably won’t cause any serious setbacks. But poor sleep adds up. When you’re constantly underslept, you’re upping your risk of:
Mental health issues like depression
Getting sick in small ways (catching colds) and big ways (heart disease)
- Developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
That's not to say you can't drink once the sun goes down, but aim to stop 4 hours before bedtime to limit sleep disturbance.
Does alcohol affect muscle growth?
Centr nutrition expert Angie Asche says that if you are aiming to add muscle mass, regular alcohol consumption can hinder your results.
“Alcohol disrupts muscle protein synthesis and hurts sleep quality, which impacts muscle growth and training performance,” Angie says. “If your goal is to increase muscle, cutting alcohol is a no-brainer.”
Even if you’re not looking to build serious muscle, alcohol and exercise don’t mix: booze can interfere with recovery by impairing glycogen storage and slowing rehydration.
Angie suggests avoiding alcohol for at least a few hours after training.
“I’m not going to say you can never have a drink again (I’d be a hypocrite if I did) but there’s a time and a place for it – and it’s not post-workout!” Angie says.
Dan Churchill’s Triple Chocolate Super Smoothie is the right kind of post-workout cocktail.
Does alcohol make you gain weight?
Ultimately, weight loss comes down to being in calorie deficit – burning off more than you consume. Unfortunately, alcohol tends to be high in calories, but not the kind that keep you full or fuel your training.
“Alcohol provides 7 calories per gram, nearly twice as much as carbohydrates and protein, and has been shown to increase unplanned food consumption,” Angie says.
And it’s not just the calories in the cocktail itself that could cause problems. Alcohol lowers your blood sugar and makes you a certain kind of hungry – you crave food with plenty of fat, sugar, and carbs when hungover because that’s the easiest way to get the calories your body wants.
If you don’t want to quit entirely but are concerned about calories, try switching your usual cocktail or wine for a vodka shot with seltzer. Clear spirits tend to be lowest in calories and sugars, and sparkling water is more hydrating than tonic or sugary sodas.
Warm evenings were made for our Blueberry Lemon Spritzer.
What about alcohol and gut health?
If you’re concerned about keeping your gut-brain axis in good working order, alcohol can cause problems.
“When you drink alcohol in large amounts, it can overwhelm the gut, causing intestinal inflammation and increasing levels of harmful bacteria while reducing levels of beneficial bacteria,” Angie explains.
“Our gut is closely tied to our immune system, so inflammation in the gut can lead to a wide range of health problems.”
Once again, the odd drink isn’t a cause for concern, but chronic alcohol consumption is linked to major gastro-intestinal (GI) cancers, including stomach and colorectal cancer.
If you’re concerned about your drinking, speak with your doctor or contact:
USA: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Australia: The Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation.
Other: Look into substance support for your country, or make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your options.
Disclaimer: This Centr content is adapted with permission from an article written by Lifespan.io. The content herein represents Centr’s interpretation of the original source material.
Centr x Lifespan.io
Centr has partnered with Lifespan.io to bring you the latest in longevity research. Lifespan.io is the leading source of industry news and a nonprofit advocacy foundation whose mission is to accelerate progress toward overcoming age-related diseases. Since 2014, the organization has focused on responsible journalism, high-impact advocacy, and media initiatives that make longevity research and education more accessible to all.
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