Dieting and Drinking Alcoholic Beverages (cont.)
What About the Health Benefits?
The research on alcohol and wine offers drinkers a mixed bag of health benefits. People who limit alcohol have a lower risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and bone loss, (women also having a lower risk of breast cancer). But moderate drinking helps lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
So, while alcohol, particularly red wine, has been shown to have some protective effects for some cancers and heart disease, these studies were applied to moderate amounts of alcohol. And many health benefits are nullified once obesity enters the picture.
Following are some of the pros and cons to alcohol and health:
Alcohol's Health Pros
A natural chemical found in red wine, cancer researchers have identified resveratrol as one of the more promising anti-cancer food chemicals. Because its highest concentrations are in grapes and grape products, eating grapes (especially red or purple), or drinking 100% grape juice is a great way to boost your resveratrol. Nuts, red wine, and raisins also contain the chemical.
Resveratrol seems to work in three ways: by blocking the action of cancer-causing agents, inhibiting the development and growth of tumors, and causing precancerous cells to revert to normal cells.
Recent animal studies suggest that resveratrol, red wine, or even dealcoholized red wine improve the function of the cells that line the heart, and heart-disease risk is reduced.
Flavonoids -- found in berries, purple grapes, red wine, and green tea -- are strong antioxidants with assorted proposed heart-protective effects. Studies have shown that eating flavonoid-rich food often is associated with reduced risk of heart disease.
Test tube studies revealed that alkylamines give a boost to some of the most important immune cells that fight germs and possibly cancer. Alkylamines, mainly found in tea, are also found in smaller amounts in mushrooms, apples, and wine.
Alcohol's Health Cons
A recent test tube study suggested that resveratrol may block the arterial benefits of estrogen in postmenopausal women. More research is needed before anything definitive can be said.
- Empty Calories
Alcoholic beverages provide mostly empty calories and, if the calories are in excess to your body's energy needs, can encourage excess body fat and obesity.
- Excessive alcohol can increase your risk of cancer
Limiting the amount you drink to less than one serving a day for women (a drink is a can of beer, a glass of wine, or a shot of hard liquor) can help reduce your breast and colon cancer risks and possibly other cancers as well. Eating your daily-recommended intake of folate seems to be vital for women at higher risk of developing breast cancer due to imbibing in alcohol -- even one drink a day.
Originally published June 6, 2003.
Medically updated Oct. 15, 2004
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