By Dr. Sankalp Mohan, Neurology
It is common belief that alcohol consumption is a social menace and is injurious to health. It is the third leading lifestyle causes of death in the United States and takes a toll on the health care costs of the country. Many organs like the liver, kidney, heart, and brain are affected in people who are addicted to alcohol. However, it has been proven that alcohol consumption in minor amounts can have beneficial effects on the human body including the heart.
The side effects depend on a number of factors listed below.
- Type of alcohol consumption (social or habitual drinker)
- Amount of alcohol consumed
- Frequency of drinking
- Age, gender, and genetic predisposition of the person to develop alcohol-related diseases
- Family history of alcoholism and its related diseases
- Age at which the person started drinking
- The number of years that a person has been consuming alcohol
- Overall health condition of the person
- Exposure to alcohol as a fetus
Like the adage goes, anything in excess is bad. It is not necessary that a habitual or social drinker who consumes a drink or two per week would end up with these issues. In fact, if recent studies are to be believed, mild to moderate intake of alcohol does have a benefit to overall health.
- The cardiovascular benefits are the most prominent. Red wine and beer, in particular, are shown to provide benefits against cardiovascular damage in the long run. This could be due to the antioxidant properties of red wine. Alcohol itself (ethanol or ethyl alcohol) also has a positive effect. Some varieties of beer, porter and stout varieties in particular, are also shown to be beneficial. The anti-inflammatory properties and antiatherogenic (effect on plaque formation in the blood vessel) are what contribute to these positive effects.
- There is evidence to show that cholesterol profile is improved (good cholesterol increase) and clotting function is improved in people who have mild alcohol consumption.
- The insulin sensitivity is also better, leading to better control of sugar levels.
- Light alcohol consumption also is believed to reduce the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. However, heavy alcohol consumption is believed to increase the risk of stroke and other cerebral events.
- Limited alcohol use is also linked with reduced risk of dementia. Heavy consumption leads to faster memory decline.
- The key to note is that these benefits are only when the alcohol consumption is mild to moderate. In excess, the negative effects of alcohol are well established and numerous. Some of the most significant ones being cirrhosisof the liver and cancers of various organs including mouth, liver, larynx, oesophagus, colon, breast, pancreas, etc. To reduce these effects, alcohol screening and brief counselling to reduce habituation are helpful.