Drinking and health

It is safe for most people to drink small amounts of alcohol ,on a regular basis, and have moderate amounts of alcohol more occasionally. But how much is safe?

Alcoholism and other substance abuse issues run in families. People who know about this are advised to avoid alcohol, or keenly monitor their drinking patterns. Some families have a history of certain diseases which alcohol can exacerbate, so the same caution is due here.  But what about people without high risk factors? For years medical studies have shown small benefits of drinking wine; a few other studies showed small benefits from small amounts of any kind of alcohol. And we all know of folks who had a drink every day, and lived well past 100.

Yet for any person, too much alcohol at once can affect the brain, as shown here:
(source of image unknown; corrections requested)

alcohol and the brain

Some new studies are showing that that for many people, there are increased health risks at lower levels of alcohol consumption that once thought. For instance:

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Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study

Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline, BMJ June 2017

Higher alcohol consumption over the 30 year follow-up was associated with increased odds of hippocampal atrophy in a dose dependent fashion. While those consuming over 30 units a week were at the highest risk compared with abstainers, even those drinking moderately (14-21 units/week) had three times the odds of right sided hippocampal atrophy. There was no protective effect of light drinking (1-<7 units/week) over abstinence. Higher alcohol use was also associated with differences in corpus callosum microstructure and faster decline in lexical fluency. No association was found with cross sectional cognitive performance or longitudinal changes in semantic fluency or word recall…. Alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, is associated with adverse brain outcomes including hippocampal atrophy. These results support the recent reduction in alcohol guidance in the UK and question the current limits recommended in the US.

When reading such studies, we first ask, what is a “unit” of alcohol? In the UK we find this definition:

1 unit of alcohol = 10 millilitres (8 grams) of pure alcohol.

Typical drinks may contain 1–3 units of alcohol.

A ten ounce beer (300 ml) at 3.5% ABV contains about one unit;

A medium glass (175 ml) of 12% ABV wine has two units of alcohol

A small glass (50 ml) of sherry or port (20% ABV) contains about one unit.

Most whisky is 40% ABV.
In England, a single pub measure (25 ml) of whisky contains one unit.

A typical American miniature bottle is 50 ml -> 2 units.

A typical American pour at a bar is 2 ounces -> 60 ml -> 2.4 units

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Possible health benefits of moderate whiskey consumption

Older adults who consume alcohol moderately on a regular basis are more likely to live to the age of 85 without dementia or other cognitive impairments than non-drinkers, according to a University of California San Diego School of Medicine-led study. For White Middle Class, Moderate Drinking Is Linked to Cognitive Health in Old Age. UC San Diego Health

coolmaterial.com Possible health benefits of whiskey

Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits. Harvard Univ School of Public Health

moderate alcohol usage and increased antioxidant intake decrease the risk of coronary heart disease. Eur Journal of Clin Nutr

Odds of dementia are lower among adults who consumed moderate alcohol, rather than none at all. Journal of the American Medical Association

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