Does Alcohol Supplement a Healthy Diet?

Healthy Woman DrinkingYou know what they say: “An apple martini a day keeps the doctor away.” Or maybe that was something else. Anyway, the debate about alcohol has raged for years in terms of what part it plays in your overall health and whether or not it has benefits that outweigh some of its inherent problems.

Over the years, alcohol has been used for everything from a cold remedy to a sleep aid. It has been given to children on cold winter mornings before school and it has been touted by health experts as being a preventative for some diseases. The bottom line is that alcohol does have benefits when used in moderation, but it has dangers as well.

What’s the deal with red wine?

Red wine is generally considered to be the healthiest type of alcohol, with many possible benefits when used in moderation. According to the Mayo Clinic, red wine contains antioxidants, which may help increase levels of good cholesterol in the body. The antioxidants are believed to line the blood vessels and protect them.

One particular antioxidant in red wine that seems especially beneficial is resveratrol. Resveratrol is believed to reduce bad cholesterol, protect blood vessels, and reduce the likelihood of blood clots. Resveratrol is one of those substances that appears to only be beneficial if taken through food and drink—while there are supplements, the resveratrol cannot be absorbed properly from them.

Is alcohol an effective sleep aid?

Anybody who has ever gone out on a Friday night after a rough work week knows just how much a few glasses of alcohol can help you get to sleep. It is undeniable—alcohol will help you get to sleep quickly. Even better, alcohol will often put you into a deep sleep more quickly; the kind of deep, healing sleep that allows your buddies to paint a moustache, devil horns, and “For a good time call…” on you while you are blissfully unaware.

All this sounds great, right? Well, there is a downside, too, as detailed in an article in Runner’s World. Alcohol tends to make you go right from light sleep to deep sleep, completely skipping over REM sleep, a sleep state that helps clear the mind, improving memory and concentration. Also, sleep benefits from alcohol do not last all night, so you may find that in the second half of the night you are waking up and not enjoying the same quality of sleep.

Is alcohol an effective painkiller?

Remember the old cowboy movies where the dentist would give the patient a shot of whiskey before pulling the tooth? Well, it didn’t work as well as novocaine, but it actually did work, to some extent. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, making it hard for the brain to receive various information from the body, including important messages like “Ouch, that hurts” or “Some jerk just yanked out your 2nd molar with a pair of rusty pliers!”

As painkillers go, alcohol is certainly not the most effective available, and the reason has to do with tolerance. While two ibuprofen tablets will probably help you deal with most normal aches and pains, you might need quite a bit of alcohol to get the same effect, especially if you tend to drink regularly. The more you drink, the higher your tolerance, which means it will take more alcohol to get the pain-killing effects.

Perhaps the biggest problem with using alcohol as a painkiller is that it doesn’t mix well with other painkillers. If you don’t get the effect you desire from alcohol, you’re going to be tempted to take something else, and the compounded effects could be quite serious―perhaps even life-threatening.

How much alcohol is too much?

Moderation is clearly the key when it comes to drinking alcohol as part of a healthy diet. Most health agencies would define moderate alcohol use for women as an average of one drink each day and for men as two drinks a day—more than that would begin to be counterproductive for health reasons. For these purposes, a drink is considered to be 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, one can or bottle of beer (12 ounces), or five ounces of wine.

Most health authorities are in agreement that you shouldn’t start drinking to improve your health if you don’t drink already because the dangers far outweigh the benefits. Excessive drinking leads to a number of problems, including an increased chance of high blood pressure, liver damage, high cholesterol, obesity, and a weakened heart muscle.

The impaired judgement that comes with drinking too much can lead you to drive while intoxicated or fall in love with a park bench. In short, one or two drinks may be healthy, 12 or 15 will cause problems.

Used in moderation, alcohol can be part of a healthy diet. Red wine in particular has a number of health benefits. Even other types of alcohol have some value as a painkiller or sleep aid, but other products may be more effective. Alcohol will probably never be sold in the nutritional supplement section of the drug store, but it does have its uses.