The health benefits of happy hour

I get a lot of questions from patients and readers about alcohol. And, believe it or not, alcohol is included in my New Hamptons Health Miracle. In fact, I believe alcohol has significant health benefits. But people are usually flabbergasted when I tell them that I DON’T recommend red wine.

Red wine has certainly gotten the lion’s share of the accolades when it comes to any health benefits associated with alcohol. But the fact is, in moderation, any alcohol imparts a health benefit.

And the reason I recommend spirits is because they contain less sugar than wine/champagne or beer. And since alcohol is metabolized by the body before any food you eat, this is an important consideration for anyone with diabetes, pre-diabetes, or who is overweight.

But the key with alcohol–like so many other things–is moderation. There’s a “u”-shaped curve when it comes to the benefits of alcohol.

Those who don’t drink at all and those who drink more than moderately are at the highest risk for all-cause mortality. Those in the middle who drink moderately are at the lowest risk. “Moderate” drinking is defined as two drinks per day for women and five for men.

But, once again, those drinks don’t have to be glasses of wine. And a brand new study will hopefully put that misconception to rest once and for all.

Researchers recruited 67 men with a high cardiovascular risk and randomly assigned them to consume red wine (30g alcohol per day), non-alcoholic red wine, and gin (30g alcohol/d) for four weeks.

The researchers found that both of the alcohol interventions (red wine and gin) improved good HDL cholesterol levels, compared to the non-alcoholic red wine group. Which indicated that these benefits were related to alcohol. Not to the resveratrol (and other polyphenols) red wine is so famous for containing.

Not that resveratrol is a bad thing. In fact, it offers a number of potential health benefits. It acts as an anti-fungal, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetes, and anti-Alzheimer’s agent–just to name a few.

But given red wine’s sugar content, you’re better off getting resveratrol from a supplement, and getting the health benefits of alcohol from spirits.

“Effects of red wine polyphenols and alcohol on glucose metabolism and the lipid profile: A randomized clinical trial.” Clinical Nutrition 2012; Sept 3 (epub ahead of print)