What Alcohol Can Help
• Heart disease. Moderate drinking cuts the risk for heart attacks by 30 to 50 percent.
Alcohol raises HDL cholesterol — the good kind — by about 12 percent, makes blood less likely to clot, and has other heart-friendly qualities. Any type of alcohol helps, but some research suggests that wine protects the heart better than beer and liquor. That may be because wine, particularly red varieties, contains a potent antioxidant called resveratrol.
• Strokes. Researchers have also found that up to two drinks per day may slash in half the risk for ischemic strokes, the most common type, which occur when arteries that feed blood to the brain become blocked.
• Diabetes. People who drink small amounts of alcohol are more likely to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, research suggests. A Harvard study found that men who had one or two drinks per day cut their risk for type 2 diabetes by 36 percent.
• Dementia. Compared with abstainers, people who drink alcohol are 34 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and nearly 50 percent less likely to be diagnosed with other forms of dementia, such as those caused by diseased blood vessels. It’s not clear why drinking guards against dementia, though it may be alcohol’s capacity to maintain healthy blood flow to the brain.
What Alcohol Can Cause
• Liver disease. Between 10 and 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis, a serious condition caused as healthy liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue.
• Cancer. Drinking alcohol has been linked to many forms of this disease, including cancers of the mouth, throat, liver, colon, rectum, and, in women, breast. As for the latter, a 2009 study determined that alcohol abuse may be responsible for up to 11 percent of all breast cancer cases.
• Obesity. Wonder where beer bellies come from? Each can of ale or lager contains about 150 calories. A glass of Cabernet will set you back 127 calories.
• High blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, cutting back on booze could produce a small but significant drop of 2 to 4 mm Hg systolic (the top number) and 1 to 2 mm Hg diastolic (the bottom number).