Which Alcoholic Drink is Healthier?

August 16, 2017

 

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse reported that more than half of Americans drink alcohol (56% to be precise). That's more than 154 million Americans that are drinking alcohol at least once a month. [1] According to the annual IWSR US Beverage Alcohol Report, consumption of wine and liquor increased in the last year, especially for whisky, tequila, and cognac. [2] With a huge variety of drinks in the US, including beer, ciders, vodka, gin, and whisky, the number one reported drink in the US is spirits, with consumption of 178,407,250 cases per year. The leading drinks are vodka and rum. [3]

 

How much alcohol do Americans drink?

According to Philip J. Cook, "alcohol abuse remains our leading ‘drug’ problem”. Cook, the author of 'Paying the Tab,' is a scholar with over 40 years of experience as a teacher and researcher at Duke University. Cook's research is mostly based on the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) published by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Based on this research, Cook reports that top 10 percent of American drinkers, 24 million adults over age 18, consume on average 74 alcoholic drinks per week. [4] That's more than 10 drinks a day! According to an article published in the Washington Post, 30 percent of American adults consume one alcoholic drink a day and 20 percent drink two. [5]

 

Which alcoholic drink is better for your health?

Looking at the research, there are many studies that associate moderate consumption of alcohol with decreased risk for cardiovascular diseases. However, these many studies do not take into account the type of beverage consumed. [6] Looking at health benefits, the most contributing factor in alcoholic drinks are the polyphenols, an organic compound that is abundant in all plants, vegetables, and fruits. There are many types of polyphenols, such as quercetin and tannins. Among their roles is to protect the integrity of cells. In our body, they have a powerful antioxidant effect that reduces inflammation and the risk of diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, or brain dysfunction. The most important food sources are fruit and vegetables, green tea, black tea, red wine, coffee, chocolate, olives, extra virgin olive oil, herbs and spices, nuts, and algae.

 

Polyphenols are especially abundant in wine, since it is made from fermented grapes. A study conducted in 2012 showed that moderate consumption of wine (one to two glasses a day) is associated with decreased incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD), hypertension, diabetes, and certain types of cancer, including colon, basal cell, ovarian, and prostate carcinoma. [7] Beer, also containing polyphenols, was found to be associated with a reduction of cardiovascular diseases, but significantly lower than wine. [6] The massive amount of research on the effect of alcohol on our health, shows that if you were to drink to reap health benefits, it should be wine, due to the antioxidant content.

 

The toxic effect of alcoholic beverages

Reading about the wonderful benefits of drinking wine (especially red wine) could encourage you to have a little wine with dinner or if you already drink wine, it might comfort you to think that you are enjoying a healthy habit. However, the amount of wine you drink is VERY important. While drinking a glass of wine a day might be very beneficial, studies found that drinking more than three glasses a day can actually be damaging to our health. A study published at the American Journal of Therapeutics showed that three or more drinks per day may increase the risk of heart disease, hypertension, stroke, obesity, hypertriglyceridemia, breast cancer, neurodegeneration, depressive disorders, weakening of bones, suicide and injuries. [8] The researches recommended no more than two drinks a day for men and no more than one for women.

 

It is important to mention that wine (or any alcoholic beverage) must not be consumed by pregnant women, children, anybody with liver disease, people who suffer from migraines, or in combination with medications.  

 

Chemicals and toxins in alcoholic drinks

There are many reports of contaminants in wines that pose potential health risks, including pesticide and fungicide, acetic acid, bacteria, lead, fungi and mycotoxins such as ochratoxin A. According to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, the use of pesticides increased from 158 million pounds in 2009 to 187 million pounds in 2012. Crops that are sprayed with the greatest amount of pesticides are almond, wine grape, table and raisin grape, strawberry, and processing tomato. [9] A study published in 2013 showed that exposure to pesticide increased the risk of chronic diseases, genetic damages, epigenetic modifications, endocrine disruption, mitochondrial dysfunction, and oxidative stress. Evidence was found that pesticides are associated with chronic diseases like respiratory problems, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiovascular disease such as atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease, chronic nephropathies, autoimmune diseases like systemic lupus erythematous and rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

 

Other compounds heavily used on crops are oils, such as petroleum based oil, which are mostly used to produce fuel for your car. Petrolium oil was classified as class A and B carcinogenic and are defined as "known to cause cancer.” California Pesticides Database shows that millions of these harmful chemicals are used on crops. 

 

It is important to remember that in the making of conventional wine, beer, and other alcoholic drinks, hundreds of chemicals are being used on the crops and in the production of the bottled drink. Organic product, on the other hand, does not allow the use of chemicals known to be harmful to humans or the environment. [11] Next time you are shopping for alcohol, look for wine marked free of contaminants certified organic.

 

References:

  1. Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse.

  2. ISWR.com US Beverage Alcohol Review. Retrieved from https://www.theiwsr.com/iwsr_US_BAR.html

  3. Forbes. What The World Drinks. Retrieved online from https://www.forbes.com/2008/12/23/vodka-scotch-spirits-forbeslife-cx_ea_1223spirits_slide_4.html

  4. Cook PJ. Paying the tab: the costs and benefits of alcohol control. Princeton: Princeton University Press; 2016.

  5. Christopher Ingraham. Think you drink a lot? This chart will tell you. The Washington Post. September 2014. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/09/25/think-you-drink-a-lot-this-chart-will-tell-you/?utm_term=.44826b8dfd35

  6. Gemma Chiva-Blanch, Sara Arranz, Rosa M. Lamuela-Raventos, Ramon Estruch; Effects of Wine, Alcohol and Polyphenols on Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors: Evidences from Human Studies, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 48, Issue 3, 1 May 2013, Pages 270–277.

  7. Sara Arranz, Gemma Chiva-Blanch, Palmira Valderas-Martínez, Alex Medina-Remón, Rosa M. Lamuela-Raventós, and Ramón Estruch. Wine, Beer, Alcohol and Polyphenols on Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer. Nutrients 2012, 4(7), 759-781; doi:10.3390/nu4070759

  8. Saremi A,  Arora R. The cardiovascular implications of alcohol and red wine, Am J Ther , 2008, vol. 15 (pg. 265-77)

  9. California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Summary of Pesticide Use Report Data – 2013. Retrieved from http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/pur/pur13rep/13sum.htm

  10. Sara Mostafalou, Mohammad Abdollahi, Pesticides and human chronic diseases: Evidences, mechanisms, and perspectives, Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, Volume 268, Issue 2, 2013, Pages 157-177, ISSN 0041-008X, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.taap.2013.01.025.

  11. National Organic Program (NOP). ELECTRONIC CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS. Retireived from https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=&SID=0677f3a05a6ad260bed229aa58b24845&n=7y3.1.1.9.32&r=PART&ty=HTML#se7.3.205_1201

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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