Do You Drink too Much Wine—Or Not Enough? How to Balance the Risks & Benefits of Alcohol Consumption

The idea that alcohol might actually be good for us is relatively new. For years, health experts focused only on the long list of ways that alcohol can hurt us: by increasing our risk of heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, and stroke; by contributing to reflux esophagitis, which can lead to a dependence on reflux medications; and by interfering with the nervous system to the detriment of our mood, behavior, and ability to make clear and safe decisions.

The concept that alcohol can actually prevent some of these health problems was first introduced to us in the Lyon Diet Health Study in 1999. This study introduced "The French Paradox," the now-famous concept that French people have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease despite their high consumption of saturated fat. Further inquiry determined that the cause of this was actually alcohol—more specifically, red wine.

In the years since, studies on red wine have shown that decreasing cardiovascular disease isn't all that vino can do. In addition to our list of ways that alcohol can hurt us, we now have a list of ways that red wine can help us. Red wine:

  • Increases our levels of "good" (HDL) cholesterol
    Reduces free-radical damage of blood lipids, in particular "bad" (LDL) cholesterol
    Helps to prevent strokes by inhibiting the formation of blood clots
    Decreases the risk of liver disease and diabetes by lowering triglycerides (the storage form of fats)
    Protects our cell and nuclear membranes and our DNA from free-radical damage, which helps to slow the aging process. This is achieved by the potent antioxidant potential of resveratrol, a phytonutrient found in the grape skin.

So does this mean we can liberally raise our glasses and indulge in the richness of a glass of vino? Not quite. A moderate amount of red wine (about 3 ounces 3 times a week) can be enough to improve our health. If we consume much more than that, the risks of alcohol consumption may outweigh the benefits. For some people, this means drinking a little more wine per week than they're used to; for others, it means drinking much less. When it comes to wine, as with many things in life, moderation is key.

But what about those of us who don't drink wine—or any type of alcohol for that matter? Some of us are strict teetotalers, and others have sulfite or histamine intolerances, which means that drinking red wine causes symptoms like headaches, migraines, difficulty breathing, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and stomach pain, as well as flushing, redness, hives, and changes in body temperature. I advise that these people pass on the glass of wine and enjoy some grapes instead. Eating a modest number of red or black grapes (10¬–15) per day is nearly as beneficial as drinking a little red wine. Some health experts advise against eating sugary fruits like grapes because of their high glycemic index. However, the problem is not the fruit per se, but the simple truth that many of us will eat the whole bunch rather than limit ourselves to a small portion. My advice is to dress a bed of organic greens and cucumber with 10–15 sliced grapes and top with sliced avocado and walnuts. Then drizzle the salad with organic extra-virgin cold-pressed olive oil and a grind of Himalayan salt, and say three cheers. Or freeze your serving of grapes, dip in melted 85% black chocolate, and enjoy the incredible pleasure of this mouthwatering dessert.

Our nutrition expert Peta Cohen has been a clinical nutritionist and metabolic specialist since 1996. Peta specializes in addressing underlying metabolic changes that occur as a result of lifestyle choices and aging to prevent diseases, and deals with root causes of complex and chronic health issues. Her extensive clinical experience and research have led her to share her knowledge at seminars and conferences worldwide. In Peta's posts for the BoomSpot, she shows that great health starts with you and gives practical tips on how to improve it right now.

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