How Alcohol Affects Your Heart, Liver, Weight and Cancer Risk

For most people, the past month has been filled with holiday cocktails, sparkling champagne and an abundance of red wine. Now, as many of us begin to feel our willpower weakening over Dry January, the question arises: can alcohol be good for you?

There is no doubt that drinking alcohol carries risks. Notes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that alcohol consumption is associated with a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, cancer, car accidents, violence and more.

But according to the most recent guidelines from the US Department of Health, it is considered safe for men to drink up to two drinks per day and for women up to one drink per day. There is also evidence that red wine can be good for your heartand studies have even shown that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with longevity.

Still, it’s worth asking: when these guidelines suggest these numbers are “safe”, what exactly are they envisioning?

Whether booze can be good for you is a complicated question, experts say, so buckle up and prepare to forgo those “half-bottle-of-wine” parties for good. Below, we look at how alcohol can affect your heart, weight, liver, and cancer risk.

How Alcohol Affects Your Heart

First things first: is alcohol good for the heart? It’s a question cardiologist Dr Don Pham is asked all the time.

“The short answer to that question is we’re really not sure,” he told HuffPost in an email. “This belief stems from the ‘French Paradox’, where observations from the 1990s showed that the population there had a lower risk of dying from heart disease despite similar consumption of saturated fat, blood pressure and smoking.”

A key difference, Pham explained, is that the French consumed more red wine, which suggested a possible association between alcohol and heart health. But “in reality, it’s unclear if there’s a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the two,” or if there are “other factors involved, such as a healthier lifestyle or less stress.” resulting from more social interactions”.

Then there’s all about red wine specifically for improving heart health. Can resveratrol, the antioxidant it contains, really improve your heart health?

“Some studies suggest a reduction in your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes by raising your ‘good’ cholesterol levels,” Pham said. “Resveratrol is a red wine antioxidant found in the skin of grapes that may reduce inflammation and blood clotting” — although the data is “mixed,” he said, “with more research needed “.

What we know for sure is that you want to avoid heavy drinking.

“The American Heart Association recommends that if you drink, moderation is key,” Pham said. “That equates to one drink a day for women and one to two for men. Heavy drinking is defined as four or more drinks in two hours for women and five or more drinks for men.

How alcohol affects your weight

If you’re looking to lose weight, it’s especially important to watch out for alcohol consumption, according to a dietitian. Maggie Michalczyk.

“Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. This, coupled with the fact that many alcoholic beverages contain added sweeteners and sugar, increases the amount of calories in many commonly consumed alcoholic beverages,” she said.

A sweet cocktail (or three) can add more calories than you think.

Marianna Massey via Getty Images

A sweet cocktail (or three) can add more calories than you think.

Additionally, alcohol is primarily metabolized in the liver, where fats are also metabolized.

“Alcohol slows the metabolism of fat and fat stores, which in turn can lead to weight gain,” Michalczyk explained. “Drinking also leads to hangovers for most of us, which impacts many aspects of a healthy lifestyle like quality of sleep and desire to exercise and healthy food choices the next day This can create a negative cycle that does not support a healthy lifestyle.

Although Michalczyk is aware of the potential health benefits of red wine, she believes the true benefits of alcohol have more to do with the pleasure it can bring.

“Alcohol can be fun and festive, just like food – mixology can be an art form,” she said. “I believe balanced and intentional use is the best approach to drinking.”

How Alcohol Affects Your Liver

As stated above, alcohol is metabolized in the liver and unfortunately adverse effects can be associated with it.

“Drinking more than the recommended daily amounts for men and women or excessive alcohol consumption may cause harm [to] your liver, leading to diseases like fatty liver disease and cirrhosis,” dietitian Jen Scheinman said.

“Excessive alcohol consumption may also increase your risk of liver cancer,” she noted. “In fact, a to study showed that just three drinks a day is enough to increase your risk of liver cancer. Since your liver helps process and eliminate alcohol from your body, if you already have liver disease, it’s best to avoid it altogether.

How alcohol affects your cancer risk

In addition to increasing your risk of liver cancer, drinking alcohol also increases your risk of developing other types of cancer.

“There are several ways alcohol can impact your cancer risk,” Scheinman said. “First, the breakdown of alcohol in your body produces acetaldehyde, which is a toxic chemical that can damage your DNA and cause cancer. Alcohol can also cause oxidative stress inside the body, which further damages the cells.

Additionally, she says, alcohol can affect the absorption of important nutrients like B vitamins and vitamins C and E. “Low levels of many vitamins and antioxidants are associated with a higher risk of cancer,” a noted Scheinman. “Alcohol can also raise levels of hormones like estrogen, which can increase the risk of breast cancer.”

So do you need to quit alcohol altogether? If you’re generally healthy, you certainly don’t have to, although you’d be hard pressed to find a health expert who would suggest drinking alcohol for to improve your health.

If you are going to drink, Studies show that taking breaks from alcohol can benefit your overall health. And it’s always important to consume alcohol in moderation, no matter what type you drink.

Need help with a substance use disorder or mental health issues? In the United States, call 800-662-HELP (4357) for SAMHSA National Helpline.

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