No doubt that it is safe for most people to drink small amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, and have moderate amounts of alcohol, more occasionally. But how much is a safe amount?
Alcoholism and other substance abuse issues certainly run in families, and people who know about this in their own family are wisely advised to avoid alcohol, or keenly monitor their drinking patterns. Some families have a history of certain diseases which alcohol can exacerbate, so the same caution is due here as well. But what about people without high risk factors? For years medical studies have shown some small benefits of drinking wine, a few other studies showed small benefits from small amounts of any kind of alcohol. And we all know of family members or community members who had a drink every day, and lived well past 100.
For any person, too much alcohol at once can affect the brain, as such
(source of image unknown; corrections requested)
But a growing number of studies are showing that that for many people, there are increased health risks at lower levels of alcohol consumption that once thought. For instance:
Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study
Higher alcohol consumption over the 30 year follow-up was associated with increased odds of hippocampal atrophy in a dose dependent fashion. While those consuming over 30 units a week were at the highest risk compared with abstainers, even those drinking moderately (14-21 units/week) had three times the odds of right sided hippocampal atrophy. There was no protective effect of light drinking (1-<7 units/week) over abstinence. Higher alcohol use was also associated with differences in corpus callosum microstructure and faster decline in lexical fluency. No association was found with cross sectional cognitive performance or longitudinal changes in semantic fluency or word recall…. Alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, is associated with adverse brain outcomes including hippocampal atrophy. These results support the recent reduction in alcohol guidance in the UK and question the current limits recommended in the US.
When reading such studies, we first ask, what is a “unit” of alcohol? In the UK we find this definition:
1 unit of alcohol = 10 millilitres (8 grams) of pure alcohol.
Typical drinks may contain 1–3 units of alcohol.
A ten ounce beer (300 ml) at 3.5% ABV contains about one unit;
A medium glass (175 ml) of 12% ABV wine has two units of alcohol
A small glass (50 ml) of sherry or port (20% ABV) contains about one unit.
Most whisky is 40% ABV.
In England, a single pub measure (25 ml) of whisky contains one unit.
A typical American miniature bottle is 50 ml -> 2 units.
A typical American pour at a bar is 2 ounces -> 60 ml -> 2.4 units
Possible health benefits of moderate whiskey consumption
“There are small amounts of sugar in all whiskies. Scottish whiskies have some sugars dissolved from the oak cask and often some from optional caramel colouring (E150a). Total amount of sugars is quite low, usually well below 1 g/l, but in certain cases it is quite possible to reach a few grams per liter. The sweet aromas of whisky matured in refill bourbon or new oak casks mostly come from sweet aromatic vanillin and fruity esters, not from the sugars. However, sugars can have a significant role in the case of casks previously used for sweet wine or sweetened spirit….”
“Whiskey is among the most diet-friendly alcoholic drinks there is, at least in terms of a calorie-to-booze ratio. A one and a half ounce shot of 86 proof whiskey contains just 105 calories. One 12-ounce bottle of craft beer that contains about the same amount of alcohol? You’re looking at double the calories….”
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