Wine is good for the heart. Beer is good for kidney stones. Brandy is good for coughs and colds. Whiskey can reduce inflammation and bad cholesterol. Rum keeps the body warm. We’ve all come across such “home remedies” and often end up using them as excuses for drinking alcohol. One of the most popular is the consumption of brandy during winters. Sometimes even the youngest are given a teaspoon of warm water to help with coughs and colds.
But do these alcoholic remedies work? Is there a good alcohol? Dr. Deepak Namjoshi, Founder and Director of Criticare Asia Hospital and Research Centre, says, “Various anecdotal stories are circulating about the health benefits of alcohol. These stories are not backed by scientific research. Gullible individuals and people in the alcohol industry have always supported the consumption of alcohol under various pretexts. Alcohol has a high incidence of addiction and true liver toxicity in addition to harmful effects on various parts of the body. Therefore, the consumption of alcohol is not medically recommended.
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Dr Pravin Kahale, Consultant, Cardiology, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai, assists Dr Namjoshi. “When it comes to coughs and colds, rather than getting better, alcohol can make these conditions worse. On the one hand, while increased blood flow can increase congestion, on the other hand, it can reduce the formation of mucus.There are no scientific studies to say that it can help in the disease.
What gives rise to the idea that certain types of alcohol are good for your health is the presence of certain compounds that can be beneficial to the body. For example, polyphenols are present in red wine and beer. They help prevent blood clots, reduce the risk of heart disease and lower blood sugar. But it is important to note that polyphenols are also present in significant amounts in fruits like blueberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, spices like cloves, star anise, peppermint, cocoa powder, flaxseeds and walnuts as well.
Likewise, having grapes can be a healthier alternative to wines which also contain alcohol and therefore might not be as healthy as grapes. Grapes are known to be good sources of potassium which helps lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. Grapes are also rich in vitamin E, which means they are good for hair and skin and can also prevent acne. They may also help with inflammation and weight loss, among other benefits.
Beer, for example, is said to be good for memory and thinking ability, to fight heart disease and diabetes and to prevent heart failure. However, moderate amounts are advised for the same. Benefits can also be obtained with a healthy lifestyle, regular exercise and meditation. For example, thinking skills and memory power can be improved by getting enough sleep, learning something new, being physically active and, according to Harvard Heath Publishing, foods such as green vegetables, fish fat, berries, tea and coffee, and nuts.
Studies also suggest that whiskey may be beneficial as it lowers bad cholesterol and blood fats. However, a healthier alternative for lowering bad cholesterol might be to increase your intake of soluble fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, whey protein, and exercise. Experts also suggest having whiskey on the rocks, rather than watering it down as it tastes better.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the national public health agency of the United States, the short-term risks associated with alcohol consumption include miscarriage, alcohol poisoning, sexual behaviors risk and violence, while the long-term impact could be high blood pressure, weakened immune system, social problems, alcohol use disorders, memory problems, etc.
The CDC also suggests that alcohol consumption has a different impact on women. “Although men are more likely to drink alcohol and consume greater amounts of it, biological differences in body structure and chemistry lead most women to drink more alcohol and put on more time to metabolize it.After drinking the same amount of alcohol, women tend to have higher blood alcohol levels than men, and the immediate effects of alcohol generally occur faster and last longer in women than men. These differences make women more susceptible to the long-term negative health effects of alcohol than men,” the CDC states in an article titled, Excessive alcohol consumption is a risk for women’s health.
Dr Kahale adds: “When it comes to the heart, we are dealing with a diabetes pandemic. Alcohol consumption increases calories and is a risk factor for many types of cancers such as throat cancer, esophageal cancer, and colon cancer. It also causes heart failure, high blood pressure, and direct toxins to the heart and liver. We see many cases of alcoholic patients with complete liver damage due to cirrhosis of the liver and heart problems such as dilated cardiomyopathy. Small studies show that wine has good polyphenols and is good for blood vessels, but overall there is a risk with alcohol. I would say drinking alcohol is never good for the heart. Wine contains chemicals that are also present in grapes and fruit. So we have to increase the consumption of that rather than saying that the wine has a good component and therefore, let’s increase the consumption of that.
If alcohol is ever to be consumed, not for health benefits but for recreation, experts say it should be done in moderation rather than regular and excessive amounts. Alcohol, the experts add, should also never be treated as a drug in some cases and prescribed drugs should be considered the preferred options.
Dr Aditya S Chowti, Senior Consultant Internal Medicine, Fortis Hospital, Cunningham Road, Bengaluru, says: “There is no such thing as good alcohol. We have always seen people suffer from the ill effects of alcohol. Any excess is harmful to health, just like alcohol. There has been speculation that certain types of alcohol may be good for your health, such as red wine containing resveratrol. which may have some beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system. Other than that, there is no such thing as good alcohol and it should not be encouraged for health.