More women are getting into the trend of alcohol drinking- adults and teenagers alike. But no matter what the age, at some point this bad habit has to come to a complete halt, especially during pregnancy in order to avoid Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Definitely, alcohol is one of the most potent teratogens (a substance that can cause fetal birth defects). In the early years, the affected child typically manifests with hyperactivity and persistent irritability. This is followed by developmental delay and growth deficiency. Above all, alcohol is one of the most recognizable causes of mental retardation in the United States.

On the other hand, outside pregnancy matters, it is startling to know that alcohol has been gaining recognition due to its health benefits. Experts believe that ethanol in alcoholic beverages like wines, beers, and other drinks is the major player in conferring healthful effects to the body. Drinking alcohol has long been recognized by researchers to have beneficial effects to one’s health. Here is how alcohol can be beneficial:

• An extensive body of scientific data has shown that light to moderate consumption of alcohol confers cardiovascular protection by improving insulin sensitivity and elevation of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (also known as the good cholesterol). It reduces the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), ischemic stroke, and dementia. In the INTER-HEART study, involving 27,000 patients from 52 countries, it has found out that men who were already following a healthy lifestyle and consuming light to moderate alcohol had 40-50% decreased risk for heart attack. [1] On the contrary, excessive alcohol intake or binge drinking are toxic to the heart and over-all health of the person.

• Some studies have also shown that individuals who consume alcohol in moderation on a daily basis have less abdominal obesity than do non drinkers.

• Light to moderate alcohol intake has anti-inflammatory effects. Most diseases start with simple inflammation of the organ that has expanded and extended its course. With alcohol having an anti-inflammatory action, many researchers believe that it can potentially deter progression of diseases.

Simply put, alcohol drinking confers cardiovascular protection, prevents insulin resistance, elevates good cholesterol, lessens abdominal obesity and prevents progression of inflammatory diseases.

Because these health effects are nonselective, non pregnant women who used to drink can take advantage of these health benefits too. Though there is one thing that must be emphasized, and that is these health effects of ethanol largely depend on the amount of alcohol consumed and the pattern of drinking. Alcohol is most cardio-protective if taken on a daily basis, preferably before or during a meal, and at a light to moderate consumption.

By light to moderate consumption, it means you only have to take in up to 1 drink daily (for women), and 1 to 2 drinks daily (for men). One drink should approximately contain 13 to 15 g ethanol, which is roughly equivalent to 12 oz beer, 5 oz wine, 1.5 oz 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz 100-proof spirits.

Despite the health benefits that alcohol can give to an individual, alcohol is not universally prescribed as a health enhancer due to the lack of randomized outcome data and tools for predicting susceptibility of an individual to drinking problem. Alcohol drinking is a slippery slope that many individuals (including women) most likely end up as heavy drinkers. Hence, the American Heart Association’s latest guideline is not to start drinking alcohol just to take advantage of these health benefits if you are a nondrinker to start with.

Reference:
1) O’ Keefe, James, et.al. (2007). Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/562474_1