Alcohol: Pros and Cons

Alcohol - is it good for you or bad for you?  Does it protect your heart or endanger it?  Well, the answer to those questions require more than just a simple "yes" or "no"The overwhelming consensus is that alcohol, one or two drinks per day, is heart-protective. And since heart disease is the number one killer of us males, this has often put alcohol center stage as a healthy addition to a fit lifestyle.

How does it do its cardiovascular magic?  Alcohol, again in doses of one or two drinks per day, raises HDL levels, [1] which is cardioprotective and can even stimulate erection-producing Nitric Oxide. It also seems to stabilize arterial plaques and somewhat reduce their formation as well. [15] Alcohol, in moderation of course, also thins the blood and reduces clotting and, of course, it is clotting that can contribute to MI's (heart attacks). This also helps explain how several studies have also found that moderate alchohol consumption reduces the risk for stroke which are the results of clots. [8][9]

Alcohol has also other good properties as well.  Red wine, for example, has been found to be significantly protective of Prostate Cancer. A 2010 study found that moderate drinking was able to significantly protect the brain. [12]  Other cross-gender studies have shown the same thing. [13] [14]

So moderate alcohol consumption is a no-brainer, right?  As is often the case, the story is much more complex. Alcohol produces toxins and carcinogens, increases the risk for certain cancers and lowers levels of many critical nutrients and antioxidants.

The truth is that there is an alternative:  a Low Fat Diet.  A Low Fat Diet, such as the Ornish Diet, is so heart protective that it actually reverses arterial plaque. As I have pointed out, cultures and people that have maintained cholesterol below 150 for a substantial portion of their life have virtually no heart disease. In addition, Low Fat Diet also looks very protective against prostate cancer as well.

HANGOVER:  What about if you go overboard and drink more than 1-2 drinks?  It turns out that there is some research showing which foods are actual Legitimate Hangover Aids and Cures.

Seven Dangers of Alcohol

  1. Weight Gain. Alcohol adds calories quickly.  One 12 oz. beer is about 120 calories and 6 oz of wine is about the same. Consumption of more than 1 or 2 drinks per day will lead most people to put on weight, which increases one's risk of heart disease, increases estrogen and many other nasty things for males that I outline here. And keep in mind that alcohol adds all these calories with relatively little nutritional value.  The one exception to this is probably red wine, which is loaded with strong antioxidant phytochemcials such as resveretrol.
  2. Testosterone.  Alcohol can deplete zinc slightly and a zinc deficiency can lead to lower testosterone levels. However, I know of no study that shows moderate drinking leads to lower testosterone levels.  See my link on Testosterone and Alcohol for more details. (But zinc is definitely a Powerful Sex Mineral.
  3. Estrogen. One pathway that our livers use to detoxify alcohol is called the cytochrome P450 enzymatic system.  Unfortunately, the P450 system is used for other important functions including the breakdown of estrogen.  This means that consumption of alchohol results in increased estrogen, which, for males, can be very bad news.  The aging process generally leaves us guys with increasing amounts of estrogen anyway:  the last thing we need is more.  Estrogen is linked, among other things, with significant prostate cancer risk. Again, this does not seem to be a significant issue for male, moderate drinkers. (CAUTION:  This is a potential issue for females, however, as even moderate drinking has been shown to increase breast cancer risk.)
  4. GI Cancers. There is strong evidence that alcohol increases cancer risk everywhere it "touches", i.e. in the mouth, throat/esophagus, colon and rectum in addition to the liver.  One study [2] found after studying Italians, who are known for drinking significant amounts of wine, that "this study thus indicates that in the Italian population characterized by frequent wine consumption, wine is the beverage most strongly related to the risk of laryngeal cancer". Many studies have shown that alchohol consumption leads to increased risk of intestinal cancer, some at levels as low as one or two drinks per day. [3] One key pathway by which alcohol can stimulate cancer is through the hotly researched EMT pathway. [6] This is bad news indeed, because it means that alcohol can literally turn on cancer cells and accelerate their progression.
  5. Skin Cancer. Several studies have shown an increased risk of basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, with alcohol consumption. [7]
  6. Blood Pressure. Alcohol, at least beyond some threshhold which is probably around three drinks for most individuals, increases blood pressure. [4] Again, this is not an issue for moderate drinkers.
  7. Lung, Prostate and Liver Cancer.  The extra estrogen burden of alcohol is apparently hard on the prostate according to one study. [16] The same study found that it is increases risks for the two "Big L" cancers, liver and lung, as well.  
  8. DNA/Cellular Damage and Carcinogens. Acetaldehyde, a metabolite that occurs in the body when alcohol is broken down, causes Fetal Alchohol Syndrome symptoms in one study of rat embryos. [5] Scientists discovered that it could cause "histologically characterized by marked cellular death" and "malformations" similar to those produced in Fetal Alcohol syndrome.  There is also evidence that acetaldehyde can damage DNA.
  9. [10]
  10. Glutathione and Vitamin C.  Two of the body's key antioxidants are glutathione and Vitamin C.  Alcohol consumption lowers levels of both of these key protective agents. In the case of glutathione, this occurs because it binds to carcinogens and toxins produced by alcohol in order to protect the body. Alcohol also leads to increased urinary excretion of Vitamin C. [11]


1) Diabetologia, Oct 2004,(47)10:1760-1767(8)

2) Eur J Cancer Prev,Feb 2006,15(1):69-73

3) Ann Intern Med,Apr 2004,20;140(8):603-13

4) Hypertension. 2005;45:851-852

5) Alcohol, Jan 2001,23(1):35-9

6) Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, Published Online: 23 Oct 2009, "Alcohol Stimulates Activation of Snail, Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Signaling, and Biomarkers of Epithelial�Mesenchymal Transition in Colon and Breast Cancer Cells"

7) Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, Dec 2003, 12:1540-1543, "Risk of Basal Cell Carcinoma in Relation to Alcohol Intake and Smoking"

8) NEJM, 319:267-273, Aug 4 1988, "A prospective study of moderate alcohol consumption and the risk of coronary disease and stroke in women"

9) JAMA, Feb 5 2003, 289(5):579-588, "Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Stroke"

10) Nucleic Acids Res, 2005, 33(11):3513-20, "Polyamines stimulate the formation of mutagenic 1,N2-propanodeoxyguanosine adducts from acetaldehyde"

11) Alcohol and Alcoholism, 21(1):81-84, "ALCOHOL ENHANCES VITAMIN C EXCRETION IN THE URINE"

12) N Engl J Med 2005; 352:245-253, "Effects of Moderate Alcohol Consumption on Cognitive Function in Women"

13) Age and Ageing, 2007, 36(3):256-261, "Moderate alcohol consumption in older adults is associated with better cognition and well-being than abstinence"

14) British Medical Journal, 2004, 329:538-539, "Daily Alcohol in Your 40�s Increases Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment" (NOTE: Authors found that moderate drinking improved cognition and more than that lowered it.)


16) Cancer Detection and Prevention, 2009, 32(5):352-362, "Lifetime consumption of alcoholic beverages and risk of 13 types of cancer in men: Results from a case�control study in Montreal"