Having a drink or two. No big deal, right? In fact, aren’t there some health benefits with moderate alcohol consumption?
For years, that’s what we’ve been led to believe.
Pillars of mainstream medicine such as the Mayo Clinic suggest having a drink may reduce your risk of developing and dying from heart disease. Should you have a drink to that good news?
Before you have a celebratory toast, wait until you hear the other possible benefits of tossing one or two back, according to Mayo Clinic.
Drinking moderately may also reduce your risk of stroke and developing diabetes.
Cheers to that?
Well, don’t clink glasses just yet.
That’s because in the last couple years, new research studies have questioned the long-standing belief that moderate drinking confers health benefits.
In fact, not drinking at all might be healthier than having any alcohol.
But don’t worry. If you’re someone who enjoys an adult beverage, there are some steps you can take to make sure your drink doesn’t do you much harm.
First, however, let’s take a look at why being a teetotaller might be better for your health.
The Benefits of Alcohol are Hazy
It goes without saying that heavy alcohol consumption damages health.
But how can imbibing a wee bit be bad for you, especially when the most respected health institutions tell us it’s heart-healthy?
For the answer, we turn to Robert Shmerling, M.D., a faculty editor at Harvard Health Publishing. In this article, Shmerling explains that the reason there’s no consensus is that the methods of alcohol research studies vary widely. Another reason offered by Shmerling is that the definition of “moderate” varies from country to country. For instance, in the US, one alcoholic drink is 14 grams of alcohol. This equates to a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5-ounce shot glass of distilled spirits. But in other countries, the equivalent of one drink could be different.
For the most part, studies up until the last couple of years have suggested that there is at least a slight benefit of moderate alcohol consumption. Even as recently as 2018, Shmerling references a 2018 study that showed that in older adults, having up to 4 drinks a week was associated with a slightly lower risk of death compared with zero consumption.
However, a larger study, also published in 2018, concluded that the best option for overall health was no drinking at all. But if hearing that news is a buzz kill for you, take comfort knowing that the researchers of this study also confirmed previous findings: “Light drinking might have a modest protective effect for certain conditions among certain people.”
Nonetheless, the researchers' conclusion is sobering: “Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none.”
Is Alcohol Good for You?
Shmerling’s own conclusion, based on the conflicting research, is two-fold. First, if you’re not a big fan of alcohol, there’s really no big medicinal gain to start drinking. But if you do enjoy responsible, moderate drinking and you’re otherwise healthy, then no worries.
As Miracle Noodle founder, Jonathan Carp, M.D., points out on his personal blog, a study from Sweden reveals that only 15% of people show positive cardiac effects from alcohol, owing to the fact that they possess a certain gene that renders alcohol consumption slightly heart-healthy.
Dr. Carp warns against alcohol consumption because it causes massive free-radical damage. So if you are going to drink, make sure that you eat loads of nutrient-dense foods (a huge salad every day and/or several servings of steamed/lightly-cooked cruciferous veggies).
To reverse the free-radical damage, Dr. Carp says we need specific antioxidants that eliminate toxic acetaldehyde, a compound which is formed by your liver in response to alcohol.
So what are the best alcohol detox supplements?
Dr. Carp recommends 100 mg of this supplement. The main compound in milk thistle is silymarin. Several studies suggest silymarin is effective for detoxification of the liver. This research in World Journal of Hepatology concludes, “Current data demonstrate that the use of silymarin treatment in alcoholic cirrhosis patients may attenuate the damage.”
However, if you’re thinking this finding gives you a green light to toss a few back without worrying about the consequences, so long as you’re supplementing with milk thistle, think again.
The research on silymarin is mixed. In some studies, there’s clear evidence it can detoxify, while in other studies, there’s no definitive proof. Furthermore, in the study above, while milk thistle improved cirrhosis patients’ conditions, it did not lower their mortality rate.
This supplement is a precursor to glutathione, the body’s most important and powerful internal antioxidant. Dr. Carp recommends taking a 1200 mg dose.
Otherwise known as vitamin B1, Dr. Carp says that this nutrient gets severely depleted when you drink alcohol. Therefore, he suggests supplementing with 100 mg.
Plan on having a few drinks? Before you do, consume 2000 mg of this antioxidant and then another 2000 mg dose before you go to bed, Dr. Carp suggests.
It’s highly unlikely that anybody who has more than alcoholic drinks will take all four of these supplements. And it’s even more unlikely that people will follow Dr. Carp’s advice to have a whey protein shake before going out on the town for drinks. (Whey protein increases glutathione activity, hence Dr. Carp’s recommendation.)
Downing a protein shake before downing alcohol? Is your tummy rumbling just thinking about it?
Nonetheless, Dr. Carp has armed you with excellent health advice. Taking at least one of these supplements is better for your health than none at all.
Dr. Carp also offers pragmatic advice. He suggests, if you’re going to have a couple drinks, at least make it a healthy one by infusing your liquor with medicinal mushrooms. A personal friend of Dr. Carp’s, who is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) doctor, taught him how to combine dried reishi mushroom with distilled spirits. Allow to sit for 6 weeks, then sip and not only enjoy the booze, but be happy knowing that the fungus you’re downing will help protect your immune system and may even lengthen your life.
If you’re healthy, there’s most likely nothing wrong with having one alcoholic drink; your liver will most likely be able to detoxify the alcohol. But do realize that your liver has to work very hard at detoxifying alcohol. And with all the chemicals and pollution we’re exposed to, if you’re not eating a very healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise, the toxic load to the liver from even light alcohol drinking might be more severe than you realize.
In fact, the Mayo Clinic cautions against moderate drinking. In the same online article in which the possible benefits of light booze consumption are listed, the organization offers this warning:
“Even light drinkers (those who have no more than one drink a day) have a tiny, but real, increased risk of some cancers...”
To drink, or not to drink. That is a question you’ll have to decide for yourself.