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Can Alcohol Really Protect Your Heart?

Posted by: Dr. Mercola
December 10 2009

 

alcohol, wine, resveratrol, heart disease, heart healthA study has suggested that drinking alcohol every day may cut the risk of heart disease in men by more than a third. But the research has come under fire from scientists who say the study is flawed and should not encourage anyone to drink more.

The controversial study found that men who drank moderate, high and very high levels of alcohol had a lower risk of coronary heart disease.

Heavy drinking can damage organs and lead to early death. According to the World Health Organization, 76 million of the estimated 2 billion people in the world who drink alcohol suffer ill health as a result, and alcohol causes around 1.8 million deaths every year.


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Dr. Mercola's Comments:
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I think this is a good example of bad science. And by that I mean, it’s not wise to ignore the big picture when it comes to health. Because, despite being widely promoted as healthy in small quantities (especially red wine), the health risks of alcoholic drinks outweigh the benefits.

Alcohol is simply not good for you, in any quantity, in the long run.

This study, however, takes the “healthy drinking” advice to a whole new level. They actually concluded that those who drank in excess of 90 grams of alcohol a day – any type of alcohol – reduced their risk of heart disease by an average of 50 percent. (No significant effect was seen in women.)

90 grams of alcohol, mind you, equates to around a dozen mixed drinks a day… or just over a bottle of wine daily. It is hard to believe that any responsible professional could provide this recommendation as the negative ramifications of this type of heavy drinking will clearly outweigh any perceived heart disease reduction there might be.

Personally, I’m inclined to agree with those who point out the flaws in this study. Something does not add up, and I certainly hope this piece of research does not end up being used as justification to continue indulging in a dangerous and health-damaging habit.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), alcohol consumption causes around 1.8 million premature deaths each year, and anyone who believes that you can be healthy and chug up to a dozen drinks a day is fooling themselves.

The Many Dangers of Alcohol

Alcohol is a neurotoxin that can poison your brain. It can also disrupt your hormonal balance. For example, consuming large amounts of wine or other alcoholic beverages will increase your insulin levels, which will eventually have a negative impact on your health.

In addition to that, excessive drinking can contribute to several types of cancer, including cancer of the:

  • Mouth, larynx and esophagus
  • Liver
  • Colon
  • Breast
  • Pancreas
  • Lungs

Also, if you drink too much you’ll have to deal with hangover symptoms, which are caused by acetaldehyde, a chemical that alcohol breaks down into. This chemical has toxic effects on many tissues and organs in your body, and it can also cause mental and emotional disturbances.

Other health problems caused by alcohol, which definitely detract from any claims of health benefits, include:

Reduces your body’s ability to handle stress -- Alcohol exposure can result in abnormally low levels of your key stress hormone, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). CRF is produced by your hypothalamus and helps trigger your body's reaction to stress.

Rats exposed to a stressor, such as an injected toxin or light electric shock, have shown a blunted stress response -- a reduced reaction in their hormonal and nervous systems -- if they were first exposed to alcohol.

An impaired stress response is believed to affect several body systems, including the ability of your immune system to fight infection, and of brain cells to learn and remember.

Increases your allergic reactions – According to scientists in Spain, there’s a link between moderate alcohol consumption and an increase in antibodies found at high levels in people prone to develop allergies.

These antibodies, known as IgE antibodies, cause allergic symptoms by overreacting to generally harmless substances inhaled from the air such as pollen, mold or animal dander.

Therefore, if you drink moderate amounts of alcohol you are more likely to develop an allergic reaction to something.

Where Do the Benefits of Alcohol Consumption Come From Then?

With all these damaging influences, it may seem odd that low alcohol consumption is widely accepted as having health benefits.

One of the main keys to account for this discrepancy is likely one specific ingredient: resveratrol.

This powerful antioxidant found in grape skins, and hence red wine, belongs to a family of compounds known as polyphenols, which combat damaging free radicals in your body.

Resveratrol can lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol while raising "good" HDL cholesterol, and can decrease the production of a protein that plays a major role in your development of heart disease.

Interestingly, the study above did not just measure red wine consumption, but all types of alcoholic beverages, so resveratrol cannot fully explain the alleged benefits found. However, I still believe there are flaws in the self reporting of the study that led to an incorrect conclusion.

That said, resveratrol is generally believed to be the beneficial ingredient that gives red wine its health benefits – when consumed in moderation; about a glass or two a day.

I, however, still believe that even low consumption of red wine can do more harm than good, simply because of its alcohol content. Fortunately, you can still get the benefits of resveratrol without the alcohol.

The Health Benefits of Resveratrol

Resveratrol is unique among antioxidants because it can cross the blood-brain barrier to help protect your brain and nervous system, and studies show that its benefits are wide reaching, including:

  • Protecting your cells from free radical damage
  • Inhibiting the spread of cancer, especially prostate cancer
  • Lowering your blood pressure
  • Keeping your heart healthy and improving elasticity in your blood vessels
  • Normalizing your anti-inflammatory response
  • Helping to prevent Alzheimer’s disease

Because resveratrol appears to be so effective at warding off many diseases associated with aging, it is often referred to as a “fountain of youth” that can extend lifespan.

Resveratrol actually appears to produce many benefits similar to exercise, including lowering insulin levels, which is a key to fighting disease and staying young. Naturally, I do NOT suggest you replace exercise with resveratrol. But I do suspect it can be a powerful addition to exercise, and I personally take resveratrol because of this belief.

If you are interested in trying out some resveratrol for yourself, there are numerous products already on the market. Just be sure to look for one made from muscadine grapes that uses WHOLE grape skins and seeds, as this is where many of the benefits are concentrated.

Do You Drink Too Much?

Most alcohol misuse and abuse stems from deep emotional challenges. Addressing these issues at a deep level is imperative to avoid the negative health consequences--both physical and mental--that inevitably result from excessive drinking.

Meridian Tapping Techniques (MTT) is an energy psychology tool that can help resolve these types of underlying problems. This psychological acupressure technique is routinely used in my clinic and it works better than any other traditional or alternative method I am currently aware of.

However, if you try the technique yourself and find that you are not improving, consider consulting a trained MTT therapist to facilitate the process. You can find a list of qualified MTT practitioners near you at this link. For more information, feel free to review Pat Carrington’s site TappingCentral.



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