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Should You Drink for Your Health?

My patients often ask me which type of alcohol is the “healthiest.” And they’re always disappointed in my answer.

There is no “healthy” alcohol.

“But doc,” they say. “Red wine protects your heart” … “Moderate drinking helps you live longer” …

Sure, over the years there have been plenty of positive news stories about the “benefits” of moderate alcohol consumption. They make it sound like an easy way to promote heart health, lower your risk of diabetes, help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s and live a longer lifetime, don’t they?

But despite these potential healthy side effects of moderate drinking, alcohol also comes with some decidedly unhealthy ones. And keep in mind that the World Health Organization specifically states that no level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health.

What’s more, it turns out that many of the health benefits associated with moderate alcohol consumption may be based on flawed research.

Studies on the Benefits of Moderate Drinking are Flawed

When studies compare moderate drinkers with current abstainers (non-drinkers), there is a key factor that many of them don’t take into consideration. A lot of abstainers/non-drinkers are previous drinkers who gave up alcohol at some point in the past.

Let me drive that point home.

Some of the abstainers/non-drinkers involved in these analyses used to drink, perhaps heavily. And they may already have serious health issues related to previous alcohol abuse. In fact, those health problems could be the reason they stopped drinking in the first place.

So when you include formerly heavy drinkers – who already have an elevated risk of poor health and early death – in the abstainer/non-drinker group, it’s going to skew the results. It will automatically make that group appear to be less healthy than if you were only counting people who honestly never indulged in alcohol.

But guess what happens when you only compare “never” drinkers against those who are light, moderate or heavy drinkers?

It changes the numbers drastically. In that case, only people who have less than one drink per week live the longest.

This common error is where we are getting a lot of those exciting reports telling us how good moderate alcohol consumption is for us.

The Dark Side of Alcohol

In addition to all of this flawed data, there are also many damaging health effects associated with drinking.

In particular, even moderate alcohol consumption is associated with the development of certain types of cancer. This includes about a 25% increased risk of breast cancer, a 50% higher chance of esophageal cancer and about a 13% increased risk for colon cancer.

In fact, one and half drinks or less a day account for up to 35% of all alcohol-related cancer deaths.

And if you’re worried about your mental health, it’s important to know that moderate drinkers have about three times the odds of developing hippocampal atrophy compared to non-drinkers.

This is the area of your brain where memories are stored. It’s also the region of the brain where Alzheimer’s strikes first – even before any symptoms appear. So it’s extremely important to your long-term cognitive health.

Now, I don’t want to spoil your fun. And to be entirely honest, I enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage just as much as anyone.

But if you’re drinking a glass of wine or two every day (or any other type of alcohol) for the health benefits alone, then you might as well not drink at all.

You are better off supplementing with about 100 mg. of resveratrol each day, the main polyphenol found in red wine. You can add 25 mg. of pterostilbene (a close cousin to resveratrol) for even greater health benefits.

If you don’t drink and think you’re missing out on some great and phenomenal health benefits, don’t worry about it. You’re not missing out on anything at all.


No level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health. World Health Organization. News Release. Jan 2023.

Stockwell T, et al. Do “Moderate” Drinkers Have Reduced Mortality Risk? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Alcohol Consumption and All-Cause Mortality. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2016 Mar;77(2):185-98.

Park SY, et al. Alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk among women from five ethnic groups with light to moderate intakes: the Multiethnic Cohort Study. Int J Cancer. 2014 Mar 15;134(6):1504-10.

Islami F, et al. Alcohol drinking and esophageal squamous cell carcinoma with focus on light-drinkers and never-smokers: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Cancer. 2011 Nov 15;129(10):2473-84.

Wang Y, et al. A pooled analysis of alcohol intake and colorectal cancer. Int J Clin Exp Med. 2015; 8(5): 6878–6889.

Nelson DE, et al. Alcohol-attributable cancer deaths and years of potential life lost in the United States. Am J Public Health. 2013 Apr;103(4):641-8.

Topiwala A, et al. Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study. BMJ. 2017 Jun 6;357:j2353.