It seems like every time you turn around these days you get to hear about another reason that alcohol is bad for you. You need look no further than your drunken uncle asleep on the couch, the latest news from TMZ, or the most recent exploits of Lindsay Lohan to see what alcohol can do to you in the extreme. Beyond that, the health risks of alcohol are well-documented and a little frightening.
If you can look past drunk driving, frightening hookups, questionable judgment, and possible medical problems, there are actually some benefits to alcohol. Perhaps one of the most surprising benefits of alcohol involves breast cancer. There is actually some reason to believe that alcohol can be beneficial in preventing breast cancer.
What studies have been done on breast cancer and alcohol?
According to CNN Health, studies indicate that moderate drinkers have an improved chance of surviving breast cancer. Researchers led by Polly Newcomb of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center tracked nearly 25,000 breast cancer patients over periods averaging 11 years. Surprisingly, the findings indicated that women who had between three and six drinks per week―defined by the survey as moderate drinkers―were 15% less likely to die from breast cancer.
The study also found that women with breast cancer who were moderate drinkers had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. This is particularly interesting because cardiovascular disease has been found to contribute significantly to the mortality rate of those with breast cancer. The study indicated that women with breast cancer who drank moderately were 25% less likely to suffer from heart disease.
The study showed that moderate drinking provided more of the measured health benefits than heavier drinking or not drinking any alcohol at all. There was no clear indication as to how the type of alcohol consumed might affect cancer survival, but some studies indicate that wine is more effective for health.
How does alcohol have an effect on breast cancer?
Dealing with cancer is a traumatic, life-changing experience. One key to managing the disease is to maintain as much normalcy as possible through treatment. If having an occasional drink of alcohol is one of your great pleasures in life, telling you to cut it out altogether during your cancer treatment is probably not going to be very helpful to your recovery.
Stress is a major problem during cancer treatment, and alcohol can help to calm your nerves and temporarily reduce stress, in moderation. This does not mean that you celebrate your breast cancer diagnosis by running out and getting blitzed. In fact, cancer.org specifically recommends against drinking in excess while getting cancer treatment as it can adversely affect your quality of life. In moderation, however, alcohol can be beneficial.
Alcohol, and particularly wine, does contain antioxidants, which we are still learning about as potential cancer preventers. As for the benefits of alcohol in relation to cardiovascular disease, it is related to alcohol’s ability to affect cholesterol. This benefit is not limited to just cancer patients—it seems to apply across the board to moderate drinkers.
What other health benefits might alcohol have?
As mentioned, alcohol, when used in moderation, has a few health benefits that are not directly related to breast cancer. Red wine has the most health benefits of any type of alcohol, but they all have benefits to some degree. Perhaps the most famous benefits of alcohol come from the antioxidants that are believed to raise HDL or “good” cholesterol and lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol. This reduces the clogging of arteries, which in turn has a number of other health benefits.
The cholesterol-lowering effects of moderate alcohol use can reduce your risk of heart disease. The increased HDL cholesterol can help prevent heart disease, reduce the occurrence of gallstones, and improve blood flow to the brain. Studies have actually shown that the improved blood flow to the brain as a result of moderate alcohol use makes people less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other cognitive impairments, according to Livestrong.
Alcohol has been shown by some research to reduce your chance of getting Type 2 diabetes. It is also semi-effective s a sleep aid, although the quality of sleep is questionable. One of the greatest health benefits of alcohol is that it allows us to deal with everyday problems without being forced to choke the life out of the next idiot who interrupts you while you’re trying to relax on your day off, but that’s not really clinically proven yet.
Slowly but surely, it is becoming apparent that we don’t fully understand the substances we put into our bodies. Things that we think are good for us have hidden risks and things that we think are bad for us have unrealized health benefits. The best example of this is alcohol, which gets blamed for basically every stupid decision we make, as well as a host of health problems, but yet it may still be able to help prevent breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and a few other problems. Now if only someone could prove that chocolate prevents hair loss.