Feeling guilty about your roommate’s wine nights or going to grab a couple beers? Don’t.

While we’re all under the impression that a glass or two of red wine has moderate health benefits, research shows that consuming 1-4 drinks of any form of alcohol has health benefits.

Yes, you heard that right: 1-4 drinks of any form of alcohol is associated with reductions in coronary artery disease and overall mortality. Specifically, we’re talking about 1-2 drinks for women and 2-4 for men.

alcohol consumption

Photo courtesy of gigabiting.com

Do not go out and binge based on this statement. Binge drinking (although fun) still is, and always will be, unhealthy.

In 2007, a meta-analysis of 34 studies published by the American Heart Association shows the surprising relationship between alcohol and health.

There’s a J-shaped curve (sometime called U-shaped curve) in the mortality rate due to alcohol consumption. Those who never drink, on average, have a slightly higher mortality rate. The rate goes down with moderate drinking, and then back up and higher on the high-consumption end. Get it? Hint: it forms a J.

alcohol consumption

Photo courtesy of the American Heart Association Journal

How can this be true?

  • Alcohol raised HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol that protects your heart. In a study looking at this specifically, volunteers who consumed 1 glass of red wine daily had a statistically significant reduction in cardiovascular disease risk factors.
  • Alcohol also decreases inflammation, making it easier for the heart to do its job.
  • Alcohol prevents blood platelet clotting, which is good because clots can get stuck on the artery walls causing it more difficult for blood flow.

Wine does have a slight edge over other forms of alcohol, followed by hard liquor, then beer. The effects of the different types are still comparable though. Careful with the mixers though – sugars are still not healthy.

This conclusion has been shown in multiple studies, starting with a Baltimore study in the 1920’s. Since then, these findings have been replicated consistently in Chicago, Albany, Yugoslavia, Puerto Rico, Finland, New Zealand, Massachusetts, Japan, Australia, Trinidad, San Francisco, and men that were followed for 12 years by the American Cancer Society. These are just the studies I found before I decided I found enough and don’t need to list anymore.

alcohol consumption

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Amadeus on Creative Commons

If you do not drink now, you’re okay. The mortality rate is still low for you, and there are much worse effects if you over-consume.

To be fair, a lot of institutions can’t agree on healthy alcohol recommendations, because historically, research has been mixed. For example, there is a different study that correlated alcohol consumption with an increased risk breast cancer. Most importantly, everyone agrees that binge-drinking is never healthy.

Harvard has published an in-depth discussion of the risk and benefits of alcohol consumption.

If you enjoy a good happy hour, a nightly beer, or drinking games over the presidential debates, rejoice. You were always doing it for your health anyway right?

Gif courtesy of giphy.com

To learn more specific details, look at the meta-analysis by the American Heart Association.