Spirits of Memorial Day

You’ve probably heard that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has many health benefits. Most research I’ve seen has focused on wine. It’s now well accepted that red wine can help your heart. But other alcoholic beverages have health benefits, too.

Red wine has been the subject of more studies than any other alcoholic beverage. We have known about polyphenols for several years. But wine’s health benefits occur through more than one mode of action.

Several studies show moderate alcohol consumption through red wine fights cancer. A new case study looked at 500 people, 250 who had new cases of colorectal cancer and 250 people from the community. It found that 12-35 grams of alcohol each day reduced the likelihood of cancer by 65% for men and 60% for women. High alcohol intake (more than 48 grams a day) more than tripled the likelihood of cancer.1

Then there’s resveratrol, the now widely known compound that can turn on your longevity genes, helps fight cancer, too, and acts as an antioxidant.

Studies also show that red wine blocks a compound thought to be a key factor in heart disease and high blood pressure called endothelein-1. This chemical makes blood vessels constrict and increases heart attack risk. One study found red wine both with and without alcohol inhibits the formation of endothelein-1.2

Antioxidants in wine also reduce the formation of plaque in blood vessels. Other studies have found that wine dilates blood vessels. Still others suggest wine stops blood from inappropriate clotting.

Wine is not the only alcoholic drink to show considerable aid to heart health. A recent study found moderate amounts of beer lowered the chance of heart disease by up to 41% compared to non-drinkers.3

The New England Journal of Medication published a study that examined beer and the risk of stroke. They found that light to moderate beer drinking decreases the risk of having a stroke by 20%.

The yeast in beer is rich in vitamins. Beer provides a bounty of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 has been linked to heart health as well. Beer can increase vitamin B6 in blood plasma by 30%.

Other studies have been done which do not discriminate between types of alcoholic beverages. Any form of alcohol has been shown to be useful. In one analysis of other studies, researchers found 10 studies that showed the risk of heart disease was significantly lower with moderate wine drinking, four studies that found the same was true for beer, and four for spirits.4

The Physician’s Health Study found that men who have 5 to 6 drinks a week had 20% lower risk of death than those who didn’t drink at all. Those who consumed alcohol daily had a 40% decrease in the risk of coronary artery disease. But men who drank more than twice a day had a higher risk of death.

The Cardiovascular Health Study showed the association between alcohol and your risk of stroke. The study followed 3,660 people over 65, for 2 years. MRI scans checked blood clots in the patients’ brains. People who drank between one and six alcoholic drinks per week had a lower incidence of stroke and brain abnormalities compared to those that drank none at all.5

So whether you’re commemorating a friend or loved one who served our country, or having a get-together with friends and family this Memorial Day, if you like to have a drink or two, enjoy it without worry.

  • If you enjoy beer, I recommend the low-carb variety. Each new low-carb brew seems to outperform the last, in terms of flavor and fullness. They all have full-bodied taste but have the lowest carbs, as these are the specially formulated low-carb brews. You can find some European imports that will top off at 30 grams of carbs.
  • If you like wine, the muscadine wines have the most resveratrol. But remember, any red wine in moderation gives you the benefits. My favorite is Pisco, the distilled wine spirit from Peru. It’s hard to get in the States, but there are some places in Napa where you can get it. There’s a great website about Pisco called piscomall.com. I also like the site wine-searcher.com because you can search by country or vintage.
  • The key must be moderation. In all of the studies that list benefits from alcoholic beverages, only moderate drinkers profited. By moderation, I mean one or two per day. This matters much more than the type of alcohol you chose.
  • If you currently do not drink alcohol, don’t think you should start now. There are other ways to protect your heart and lower your risk of cancer. In that case, I would recommend 50 mg of the ubiquinol form of CoQ10, and 50 mg of trans-resveratrol every day.

1. Kontou N, Psaltopoulou T, Soupos N, Polychronopoulos E, Xinopoulos D, Linos A, Panagiotakos D. "Alcohol consumption and colorectal cancer in a mediterranean population: a case-control study." Dis Colon Rectum. 2012 Jun;55(6):703-10.

2. Kiviniemi T, Saraste A, Lehtimäki T, Toikka J, Saraste M, Raitakari O, Hartiala J, Viikari J, Koskenvuo J. "Decreased endothelin-1 levels after acute consumption of red wine and de-alcoholized red wine." Atherosclerosis. 2010 Jul;211(1):283-6.

3.Costanzo S, Di Castelnuovo A, Donati MB, Iacoviello L, de Gaetano G. "Wine, beer or spirit drinking in relation to fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events: a meta-analysis." Eur J Epidemiol. 2011 Nov;26(11):833-50.

4.Rimm E, Klatsky A, Grobbee D, Stampfer M. "Review of moderate alcohol consumption and reduced risk of coronary heart disease: is the effect due to beer, wine, or spirits?." BMJ 1996;312:731

5.Mukamal K, Longstreth W, Mittleman M, Crum R, Siscovick D. "Alcohol consumption and subclinical findings on magnetic resonance imaging of the brain in older adults." Stroke. 2001 Sep;32(9):1939-46.