One early fall day, a few years after I’d graduated from college, I attended a local alumni association meeting and heard a fellow alumnus make this toast:
To that terrible
Time of year
Too warm for whiskey
Too cool for beer.
That little ditty suggests whiskey is best enjoyed in cold weather. So, with the temperatures dropping across the country, I’m taking time today to talk about, and toast, the five key health benefits of drinking whiskey in moderation.
1.) Fights free radicals
Traditionally made using just three basic ingredients — water, barley, and yeast — whiskey contains beneficial phenolic compounds (bioactive substances occurring in edible plants), which act as antioxidants to combat cancer-causing free radicals. Of course, free radicals are the byproducts of oxidative stress that cause damage to cells, proteins, and DNA. And they’re often associated with diseases like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
Many phenolic compounds are better extracted and absorbed in alcohol than in water. So, whiskey (particularly single malt whiskey) actually contains more of these beneficial plant compounds than red wine, since it has a higher alcohol content. In fact, many stronger liquors were originally used specifically to extract beneficial botanical compounds from plants (in many cases, by monks in their secluded monasteries, like Benedictine).
2.) Beneficial for people with Type II diabetes
Whiskey is aged in wooden barrels, which grants the liquor its amber hue and introduces ellagic acid, another powerful antioxidant that combats free radicals.
The ellagic acid also helps to control blood sugar, making whiskey in moderation a good choice for people with Type II diabetes.
Of course, unlike some other alcoholic beverages, whiskey doesn’t contain any sugar, making it even more appropriate for people with Type II diabetes. During fermentation of the barley, sugars are converted into alcohol, then purified by distillation.
Many people who suffer from the pain and numbness of peripheral neuropathy — a condition that often accompanies Type II diabetes — have reported a swig of whiskey with lunch and dinner helps improve their symptoms.
Drinking whiskey can also curb your appetite and make you feel full, helping you refrain from overeating, which can also drive up blood sugar.
3.) Good for circulation and the heart
As you know, stress is the silent killer lurking behind high blood pressure, heart disease, and other chronic diseases. But alcohol has been shown time and time again to reduce stress. And just a single glass of whiskey calms the nerves, settles the brain, and relaxes the walls of your arteries.
Most importantly, drinking whiskey (and any type of alcohol) stimulates circulation. Which means oxygen and nutrients are better delivered to your brain, heart, tissues, and cells.
4.) 50 percent lower Alzheimer’s risk
I’ve written before that moderate drinkers are more likely to live to age 85 without dementia compared to those who abstain from alcohol. Plus, a brand-new French study found that people who abstain from alcohol for many years run a higher risk of developing dementia later in life.
In fact, this new study showed that long-term abstainers were about 50 percent more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s or another form of neurodegenerative disease. They also had an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, and Type II diabetes.
Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol confers these long-term brain and health benefits by improving the dilation of the blood vessels and circulation.
5.) Fights off colds
This winter, you won’t find many doctors prescribing the traditional hot toddy — which combines hot tea, whiskey, honey, and lemon — to combat the common cold or flu.
But they should!
It’s actually a time-tested home remedy. My uncle used to swear that drinking a full glass of whiskey whenever he had a cold or flu helped him wake up the next day completely cured.
Scientists aren’t exactly sure how or why this method works, but it likely involves those immune-boosting antioxidants I mentioned earlier.
As you now know, whiskey also dilates the blood vessels and acts as a decongestant of sorts. This makes it easier for your mucus membranes to move the infection out of your body.
Whiskey also has antibacterial and antiviral properties.
So, this holiday season, keep some whiskey on hand for all your festive celebrations. You should also keep some around long after the holidays for when you or someone in your household comes down with a cold or flu.
Enjoy this flavorful, basic recipe for a traditional hot toddy, which also includes some natural healing spices:
Traditional Hot Toddy
- 2 ounces of boiling water
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 ½ ounce of whiskey
- 3 whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 slice of lemon
- 1 pinch of nutmeg
- Pour the boiling water into a mug with whiskey and honey.
- Add in the cloves, cinnamon stick, and lemon.
- Let steep for five minutes for flavors to mingle.
- Add a pinch of nutmeg before serving.
So, there you have it. A perfect example of what “toasting to your health” is all about.
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“Alcohol consumption and risk of dementia: 23-year follow-up of Whitehall II cohort study,” BMJ 2018;362:k2927