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Sophisticated oenophiles and down in the gutter alcoholics alike tout the health benefits of alcohol. Indeed there is strong evidence that regular, light to moderate alcohol intake reduces the risk of heart disease. Death rates from heart attacks are 30-50% lower in low to moderate alcohol drinkers.


However, when it comes to cancer, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concludes in its 2014 World Cancer Report that no amount of alcohol is safe. Alcohol contains at least 15 carcinogenic compounds, and has been causally related to several types of cancer. The most convincing evidence of a relationship between alcohol consumption and cancer exists for cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, colon and liver. In all of these instances, the direct contact of alcohol with the affected organ is believed to be responsible.


However, recent studies have also linked alcohol consumption to pancreatic cancer and female breast cancer. In these cases, the mechanism by which alcohol promotes these cancers is less well understood.


But surely, light drinking does not cause or contribute to cancer? Apparently, it does. According to an analysis of 222 studies that followed 92,000 drinkers and 60,000 non-drinkers with cancer, light drinking increased the risk of mouth and throat cancer, esophageal cancer and breast cancer. This analysis concluded that just in 2004 worldwide, light drinking accounted for 5,000 deaths from mouth and throat cancer, 24,000 from esophageal cancer and 5,000 from breast cancer.


However, in this analysis, alcohol use was self-reported. In such studies, respondents often understate their actual alcohol consumption. This can result in finding associations between cancers and light drinking, when in reality, alcohol intake is much higher.


In fact, alcohol in only marginally greater amounts than what is considered beneficial for the heart is associated with a sharp increase in the risk of many other types of heart disease, including arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy and stroke. Alcoholism is also associated with increased blood pressure and diabetes. Keep in mind that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.


So what is the right amount?  Analysis of the multiple studies evaluating the beneficial and harmful effects of alcohol indicates that 14 g of alcohol for women and 28 g for men on a daily basis is considered moderate. For women this is equal to one 5 oz glass of wine, one shot (1 oz) of most hard liquor drinks and one 12 oz beer. For men, it is twice these amounts. Furthermore, the beneficial effect of alcohol appears to be linked to a consistent drinking pattern of daily, low to moderate level alcohol use, usually before or with the evening meal, and without “binge” drinking.


The heart benefits of alcohol arise from several sources. Alcohol itself is a vaso-relaxant, increasing the elasticity of your arteries and lowering blood pressure. Alcohol makes the platelets less sticky, reducing the risk of blood clots. Alcohol raises HDL-C (good cholesterol), which helps remove cholesterol from plaques. Alcohol also contains antioxidant polyphenols, which reduce the incorporation of LDL (bad cholesterol) particles into arterial plaque.


While the health benefits have been shown for all types of alcohol, red wine in particular appears to offer unique benefits. It is high in the content of resveratrol and procyanidins, both being types of polyphenol antioxidants associated with longevity and a markedly reduced risk of CHD. Red wine has ten times the polyphenol content of white wine. Red wines with the deepest, darkest colors have the highest content of the healthy polyphenols, so look for wines from the class of Clarets, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and Pinot Noir.



Victor Hugo said, “God made only water, but man made wine.” Perhaps, we should heed a message this quote was not intended to convey. Any level of alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing alcohol-related cancers, but that risk rises in accordance with the level of consumption. Conversely, low levels of regular alcohol consumption are beneficial to the heart and circulatory system. Enjoy what God has provided without limits, and enjoy what man has made from it sparingly.

To learn more about prevention, treatment and reversal of heart disease, get the book Don’t Let Your Heart Attack!, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes.


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