"Stop drinking alcohol."
That's the advice from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction ("CCSA"). According to a report last week, "Drinking alcohol, even a small amount, is damaging to everyone"...
The news made headlines within hours of the report being published. The official recommendation is to abstain from all alcohol... But if you can't help yourself, limit your consumption to two drinks per week.
You might be thinking this is total nonsense. And we completely agree. Longtime readers know we're fans of drinking in moderation to enjoy the health benefits. So my team combed through the report and all of the studies used to determine this "zero to two drinks" rule.
The first thing to point out is that this report didn't just look at the potential physical harm that alcohol consumption can cause to your body (like heart and liver damage, for example)... It also discussed the risks of alcohol consumption related to mental health, how it inhibits your ability to perform functions like driving, and its dangers to fetuses in pregnant mothers.
While drunk driving and fetal alcohol syndrome are undeniable risks, we're going to focus on the physical health aspect today – and explain why you shouldn't listen to the Canadian nannies.
The Canadian report claims that alcohol increases your risk of cancer, heart disease, and liver disease. And that's true... when you're not drinking in moderation.
One study published in 2007 in the European Journal of Public Health – which the report from Canada cited – looked at breast-cancer risk in nearly 18,000 Danish nurses. Researchers found that women who drank 22 to 27 drinks per week (or an average of about four drinks per day) had around double the risk of breast cancer as women who only drank one to three drinks per week.
And a 2018 study published in the Lancet analyzed drinking in high-income countries (like the U.K., U.S., and Germany). The researchers found that higher alcohol intake leads to a higher risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and heart attack. According to the analysis, drinking more than 100 grams of alcohol per week (about six or seven drinks per week) decreased a 40-year-old's lifespan by up to two years.
Those are just two of the studies from the CCSA's report. But here's the problem with the Canadian government's new "zero to two drinks" recommendation... It's far too extreme.
Yes, it's clear that drinking too much is bad for you. But I'd also bet someone who's consuming two dozen drinks per week has other health problems that may overshadow the risks that drinking presents on its own.
For example, in the Dutch nurses study, it's important to note that nursing is a high-stress job that often involves working irregular and long shifts. Stress is a key contributor to inflammation, which can lead to cancer, heart disease, cognitive diseases, and more.
I've said it before, and I will keep saying it: These diseases are multifactorial. Many things increase your risk. So don't let the headlines about this new recommendation in Canada scare you off the occasional indulgence.
What's more, we've written for years that low alcohol consumption has health benefits...
For example, whiskey raises "good" cholesterol and helps protect your brain against Alzheimer's disease.
Specifically, one type of good cholesterol whiskey increases is high-density lipoprotein ("HDL"). HDLs help prevent the cells in your blood-vessel walls from dying. When inflammation damages the cells, they're at risk of dying off. Instead, HDLs facilitate their repair.
Moreover, we need cholesterol to protect our brains. In fact, higher levels of HDLs have been associated with a reduced number of damaging plaques that form during Alzheimer's disease. (There's even some research out there suggesting HDLs actively protect the brain from developing Alzheimer's disease at all.)
I've written even more about my own favorite alcoholic beverage: wine.
Wine contains an abundance of a type of antioxidant known as polyphenol. Polyphenols are the most prevalent antioxidant in our diets – with more than 8,000 identified varieties – because they're found in many different fruits and plants.
As antioxidants, polyphenols neutralize free radicals. They also battle inflammation, which is a major cause of illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and heart disease. And like whiskey, wine raises your good cholesterol.
Beer contains polyphenols as well, making it another excellent choice for consumption.
But it also contains B vitamins, potassium, calcium, thiamine, iron, and zinc, all thanks to the cereal grains and yeast that were used to make it. And while the amounts of these nutrients are modest in beer compared with what you would get from eating fruits and vegetables – who says you can't do both?
The B vitamins in beer help your body repair DNA and keep your skin healthy (vitamin B3), and they support your nervous system and play a role in cellular-energy production (vitamin B6).
Studies have shown that low to moderate beer consumption – meaning one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men – can lower a person's risk of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.
So if you're the kind of person who likes to indulge in a glass of alcohol a few nights a week, you can do it guilt-free. However, as I've said already, moderation is key. Overindulging in alcohol does have significant risks, like raising your chance of having a stroke, developing Alzheimer's, or having heart failure.
The Canadian nanny state probably knows this distinction between excessive drinking and moderate drinking, but it doesn't trust its citizens with the nuance. Decide for yourself if you can safely have more than two glasses of wine in a week without spiraling to more than two dozen.
I'll close with a note of caution... If you don't already drink, these health benefits don't mean you have to start. If you do what I do and follow a Mediterranean-style diet, you'll get all the benefits of alcohol without the risks.
What We're Reading...
- More on the incredible benefits of my favorite diet.
- Something different: The new problem at the U.S.-Mexico border... egg smuggling.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
January 26, 2023