I periodically point out the benefits of moderation in all things–and that includes the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. In fact, a major, new meta-analysis found that even men and women with high blood pressure who drink moderately live longer than their teetotaler peers do.
These new findings go against the conventional advice doled out by many doctors. But when you apply a little common sense–instead of promoting a politically correct, pet theory–the findings make perfect sense.
Of course, research consistently shows you don’t want to drink too much or too little alcohol. There is a “goldilocks amount.” And I’ll tell you about that in just a moment.
But first, let’s back up and look at the bigger picture…
Why does drinking a moderate amount of alcohol seem to benefit health and longevity?
Reductionists in the mainstream and the natural products worlds want to find the single “magic bullet.” For example, some experts point to the “anti-oxidant” resveratrol found in red wine.
But there are two big problems with that idea.
First, the research was never really there to show resveratrol was the single substance that could account for all these benefits. In fact, I recently reported that dozens of studies on resveratrol were fraudulent. Plus, chances are, you’d have to go through the better part of a wine barrel to obtain an “active dose” of resveratrol. Obviously, this practice would be quite dangerous in other respects.
Second, we know drinking virtually any kind of alcoholic beverage extols health benefits. And most kinds of alcohol contain no resveratrol at all.
Considering these factors, it is evident we should look instead at how moderate alcohol reduces stress. It is recognized that stress plays a huge factor in the development of chronic diseases–including heart disease, cancer, and now diabetes. So, of course, anything that reduces stress reduces your risk of these diseases.
In the past, however, researchers attempted to link drinking alcohol to a higher risk of high blood pressure. I never really understood how. Alcohol causes smaller blood vessels to dilate, which lowers resistance to blood flow and should lower blood pressure. It also provides more blood flow to peripheral muscles and nerves. That’s why people with lifelong diabetes report improved feeling and sensation in their fingers and toes by having a glass of wine with lunch and dinner.
We should also consider the relaxing, “mind-body” effects of alcohol on blood pressure and the central nervous system. Other studies have suggested that alcohol might improve heart rate variability or prevent atherosclerosis to account for the benefits.
According to the new meta-analysis, having one or two drinks per day does appear to protect men and women with high blood pressure from heart disease and death.
This new meta-analysis combines data from nine previous studies. It involved nearly 400,000 people with high blood pressure. And it included data on men and women who consumed different types of alcohol. Including wine, beer and spirits.
Researchers divided participants in to four groups:
- Never drinkers
- Drinkers of 8-10 grams of alcohol per day
- Drinkers of 10-20 grams per day
- Drinkers of more than 20-30 grams per day
(A five-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce bottle of beer, and a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor each contain about 14 grams of alcohol.)
Overall, cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks, strokes and other negative outcomes went down as alcohol consumption increased in these ranges.
In terms of overall mortality, the risk was lowest among those who drank between 8 to 10 grams per day. Those who achieve this “goldilocks amount,” lowered their risk of dying by about 18 percent.
Risk was not as low for those who did not drink at all and for those who drank more than 10 grams per day. (Note: This study included very few heavy drinkers. Many studies have shown that health benefits of alcohol disappear for heavy or binge drinkers.)
Remember, this study involved men and women who already had high blood pressure. In the general population and among people with normal blood pressure, the beneficial effects of moderate alcohol are even more pronounced.
One to two drinks daily appears to be the right amount to lower heart disease and mortality–whether or not you already have high blood pressure. Of course, doctors will keep seeking “magic bullets” to explain this finding. And prohibitionists will keep trying to discount all the scientific data. But the only factor I can see to account for all these effects is the stress-reduction benefit of moderate alcohol consumption. So relax…and enjoy. But only in moderation.
- “Association Between Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and All-Cause Mortality in Patients With Hypertension: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies,” Mayo Clinic Proceedings September 2014; 89(9): 1201–1210