Alcohol’s Overhyped Health Benefits – Tufts

Drinking too much alcohol is clearly bad for health, but is drinking a moderate amount beneficial? The jury is out.

Some people feel a drink at the end of a tough day helps them unwind and relax. Others may see a daily glass of red wine as a way to boost heart health. This kind of moderate drinking has been associated in some studies with positive health effects, but cause-and-effect evidence is lacking, and alcohol carries serious risks to health and safety. Understanding the science behind the risks and benefits of alcohol consumption can help us make informed decisions about our drinking.

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Red wine is often singled out for potential health benefits. It contains bioactive compounds called polyphenols which have been associated with cardiovascular health. It is important to recognize that all of the potentially beneficial compounds in red wine are also found in other foods and beverages. For example, flavonoids, which account for over 85 percent of the polyphenols in red wine, are common in many vegetables, seeds, nuts, spices, and herbs. Resveratrol, a much-hyped compound being studied for health benefits, is found in grape skins and wine, but also in more than 70 other plant species, including berries, peanuts, and cocoa.

The detrimental effects of excess alcohol intake on heart health are well documented. Drinking a lot over a long time or binge drinking can damage the heart, causing problems including stretching of the heart muscle (cardiomyo-pathy), irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), high blood pressure, and stroke. The potential benefits of red wine drinking, particularly in excess, may therefore be outweighed by potential risks, especially since the beneficial compounds in the wine are easily available from other dietary sources.

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