Can alcohol ever be healthy?

With all of the recent publicity surrounding the Neknominate fad, it seems that popular culture has forgotten that a night of drinking doesn’t have to end in a trip to hospital. In fact, if moderation is exercised, consuming some types of alcohol can reportedly have health benefits.


The media is well known for its inability to report consistently on the helpful and harmful effects of drinking. One moment, it seems that your nan’s nightly glass of sherry might be the elixir of life, and the next it’s a miracle that the old lush is still alive. However, the results of scientific studies on the matter are about as conclusive as press coverage suggests.

In an article published by the BBC in 2009, (aptly titled, “Alcohol: Is it really good for you?”), Professor Valerie Beral of Oxford University was not optimistic, saying, “It’s an absolute myth that red wine is good for you.” The piece then went on to state that the high levels of alcohol in red wine effectively negate any of the positive effects that its antioxidant content could provide.

To make matters more complicated, an article published by the Daily Express that same year said that scientists recommend “sipping” red wine to reap its antioxidant benefits. Resveratrol – red wine’s alleged cancer-fighting wonder compound – is best absorbed through the mouth. Therefore, a slow sip and a swish around is the best method of ingestion.

The scientists responsible for the study cited in the Express had nothing but high praise for resveratrol. Dr. Lindsay Brown of the University of Queensland, Brisbane, said that, in addition to warding off cancer, the compound is also capable of “reducing age-related diseases such as inflammation, reversing diabetes and obesity, and many more.”

Unfortunately, red wine appears to be the only type of alcohol that contains such a favourable ingredient. Which is not to say that other types of alcohol can’t be utilized in order to ease physical suffering. Whiskey and honey has long been used as a home remedy to ease coughs, though there appears to be little scientific proof of its efficacy.

Ultimately, it is going to be difficult to get any team of researchers to wholly endorse the consumption of alcohol for medicinal purposes. The reality is, drinking alcohol is not terribly healthy, but in a culture in which it is also a common social event, preaching abstinence is going to be ineffective.

In an article titled “Healthy living: how to live longer,” published by BBC Science in 2013, it was reported that social isolation is a “hidden killer” among the elderly. It is believed that people with strong and active social support networks tend to live longer overall. Surely, if connecting with friends and loved ones also includes chatting over a pint, the benefits of drinking will outweigh the health risks.

However, it might be best to forgo guzzling a similar quantity of pure vodka and raw eggs while being filmed, even if your mates assure you that you will be an Internet celebrity.


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January 2022
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