What are the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption?

Jill A. Grimes, MD
Family Medicine
There is medical evidence that small amounts of alcohol can be beneficial for different aspects of our health. Now, the key words here are small amount and beneficial. When you pour your own glass of wine, for example, chances are that it may not be that small 4-ounce glass that doctors recommend. Evidence  supports that small amounts of alcohol decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes via anti-inflammatory and anti-blood clotting effects.

A new study shows that people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who drank alcohol on 10 or more days per month had less severe symptoms of their arthritis than people with rheumatoid arthritis who drank alcohol on fewer than 10 days per month. Doctors are not sure why more alcohol reduced arthritis symptoms, but possibly because of the role that alcohol plays in suppressing the immune system (and RA is basically a result of the body's immune system over-reacting).

Keep in mind that this study is not suggesting people with RA need to drink heavily, but simply that patients who report drinking alcohol fewer than 10 days per month reported more pain.
Neal Spruce
Neal Spruce on behalf of dotFIT
Moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with the following health benefits: reduced risk of heart attack and stroke; increases HDL (good cholesterol) and reduces blood clotting, which is probably the reason for a reduction on heart attacks and strokes. Additionally, just recently moderate alcohol consumption was connected to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, gallstones and cognitive decline. Moderate alcohol consumption is considered 2 drinks/day for men; 1 for women. One drink contains 14 grams of alcohol meaning: one 12oz beer (5% alcohol), one 5oz glass of wine (12%) and one 1.5 oz of hard liquor (40% or 80 proof) are each one drink. It does appear that alcohol itself, and not the source, is responsible for the benefits. The down side is that moderate drinking was recently associated with increased risk of breast cancer in women. Additionally, it can lead to excessive drinking that is not only extremely detrimental to YOUR health but also to the health of people around you. So keep it moderate or don’t drink*. All this said, moderate drinking appears to be part of a healthy diet.

*Although high consumption of alcohol (2-3 times more than moderate) was still associated with a reduction in heart disease, drinking more than 2-4 drinks daily dramatically increases the risks of consuming more, which not only will negate any benefits, but will also lead to disease and danger to others.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
An analysis of the health habits of almost ninety thousand female nurses found that those who drank three or more drinks a week (equivalent to one half to one drink a day) had a 40 percent lower rate of nonfatal heart attacks and arterial disease than those who did not. A study on mostly male health professionals and two other corresponding studies on men found similar results. These studies also indicated there was an ideal range of alcohol consumption. Women who had one half to one drink a day and men who had one or two drinks a day were at lower risk of coronary and arterial aging, yet did not have a higher risk of aging from immune aging, liver disease or cancers, or accidents -- the events that higher alcohol intake can contribute to. Individuals who drank less than the moderate drinkers were also at higher risk of cardiovascular diseases. Those in the low-to-moderate drinking range had the longest life expectancy, the fewest health problems, and the youngest RealAge (physiologic age) at any calendar.
Randolph P. Martin, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
It probably has to do with substances called flavonoids. Alcohol clearly in moderation has been shown to increase the good cholesterol or the HDL, decrease the stickiness of the blood platelets little substances in the blood that promote clotting -- and clotting is at the root of heart attacks and strokes. Alcohol also appears to decrease blood vessel inflammation. It is a powerful antioxidant and may dilate the blood vessels.
Moderate alcohol use -- meaning one to two drinks a day -- can lower the risk of heart failure and heart attack, prevent strokes, improve bone density and prevent osteoporosis. Wine in particular can slow the onset of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia; beer may increase the risk of these conditions. More than moderate alcohol use can put your health at risk, however. For instance, it can increase high blood pressure, ulcers and the risk of cancer in the breast, liver, mouth, esophagus and larynx.

Continue Learning about Alcohol & Health

How Much Wine Is Too Much?
How Much Wine Is Too Much?
Reaching for a glass of wine at the end of the day? You’re not alone. According to the Wine Institute, Americans drank 949 million gallons of wine in ...
Read More
What is low-risk drinking?
Low-risk drinking is defined as drinking within the recommended limits published by the National Ins...
More Answers
Can drinking alcohol cause vitamin deficiencies?
Dariush Mozaffarian, MDDariush Mozaffarian, MD
Heavy drinking is known to cause folic acid deficiency. And even moderate drinking -- about one drin...
More Answers
Is Binge Drinking Serious?
Is Binge Drinking Serious?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.