Alcohol has been ingested for thousands of years during celebrations and spiritual ceremonies, used in cooking, employed as an antiseptic and analgesic, and used in botanical tinctures to enhance their medicinal properties.
However, modern day use has more and more people turning to alcohol for it's sedative effects to cope with anxiety and stress and to "let loose."
Alcohol can actually be used as medicine when combined with certain plants, extracted properly and given at correct dosages for a particular condition. Botanical tinctures made with medicinal herbs and an alcoholic base can be healing. People have used plants as medicines for centuries, it's a science and art to treat effectively and safely.
While not as therapeutic, an alcoholic drink may actually be healthy for you in moderation. Depending on your health status, the concentration of alcohol and what it's mixed with, a moderate amount of alcohol can benefit a healthy body in various ways.
1. Coolers and Alcopops (Per 12 oz/341 ml serving)
Sparkling grape juice (less than 0.1 per cent alcohol), wine coolers (four to seven per cent alcohol), and wine breezers/ alcopops (four to seven per cent alcohol) are made by combining wine or liquor, sugar and fruit juice to a carbonated beverage. There is little if no nutrient value, and the high sugar content makes coolers a poor alcoholic choice.
The phosphoric acid content from soda pop and carbonated beverages can displace calcium absorption into bone and decrease bone mineral density (Supplee). People with heart conditions, diabetes or osteoporosis should avoid these types of alcoholic beverages.
2. Beer (Per 12 oz/341 ml serving)
Lager (four to five per cent alcohol), stout (five to 10 per cent alcohol), brown ale (four to six per cent alcohol) and porter (four to five per cent alcohol) are all types of beer.
Beer can contain significant amounts of magnesium, selenium, potassium, phosphorus, biotin, folic acid and B vitamins. Typically the darker the brew, the more nutrient-dense it is. Meladoidins are natural antioxidants formed when barley or malt is heated. Hops also contains flavonoid antioxidants (i.e. Xanthohumol) that has been shown to help prevent cancer.
Beer in moderation (one or two glasses per day) can reduce heart disease, high homocysteine levels, menopausal hot flashes, osteoporosis and potential kidney stones. However, people with Celiac disease and gout should avoid wheat-based beers.
The yeast in beer eats the broken down sugars from starches (i.e. germinated cereal grains, malted barley), produces alcohol and is combined with hops (a plant with phytoestrogen properties) to make beer.
An interesting fact is that the alcohol content of beers is limited by the yeast at 10 per cent alcohol by volume, however ice extractions can increase alcohol concentrations up to 32 per cent.
3. Wine (Per 5 oz/140 ml serving)
Wine is among the most common and frequently enjoyed alcoholic beverages around the world. The art of making wine involves a longer fermentation process than beer because the yeast needs more time to eat up the sugar in grapes and convert it to alcohol. White wine uses only the juice of grapes, while red wine includes the skin and seeds.
Table wine (eight to 14 per cent alcohol), Shiraz (10 to 14 per cent alcohol), rose (10.5 per cent alcohol), medium white (10.7 per cent alcohol), dry white (10 to 12 per cent alcohol), Cabernet (11 to 14 per cent alcohol), barley wine (10-15%), and Pinot Noir (11 to 14 per cent alcohol) are among the most popular.
Interestingly, wine contains less minerals and B vitamins than beer. Compared to white wine, red contains more potassium, iron and antioxidants (reservatrol from the skin of grapes). Pinot Noir has the highest concentration of reservatrol per serving, and is best absorbed with a meal.
One to two glasses of wine per day can be helpful for prevention of cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, and even cancer. However, people with tannin allergies or sensitivities (i.e. alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme deficiencies) should avoid drinking wine and other similar alcoholic beverages.
4.Liquor and Spirits (Per 1.5 oz/ 43 ml serving)
Distillation separates the water from the alcohol, resulting in liquors with alcohol concentrations greater than 20 per cent.
There are a great variety of liquors with unique flavors and ingredients. The most common are:
- Vodka (35 to 50 per cent alcohol): Ninety-six per cent pure spirit diluted to roughly 40 per cent, made from wheat or potato.
- Gin (37.5 per cent alcohol): Re-distilled or infused vodka with juniper and other botanical flavours.
- Tequila (40 to 50 per cent alcohol): a type of mezcal spirit from Mexico made from blue agave.
- Brandy (Cognac and Armagnac, 42 per cent alcohol): Distilled from grapes and other sweet fruit (eight to 12 per cent).
- Rum (37 to 57 per cent alcohol): Made from cane sugar or molasses during refining process.
- Whiskey (40 to 60 per cent alcohol): Made from fermented grains (barley, wheat, corn).
Surprisingly, liquors (or spirits) are virtually devoid of nutrients. Matured spirits such as whiskey and brandy contain phenolics, which are derived from the wooden barrels they are matured in and are potentially helpful in heart disease prevention.
Liquors are not highly recommended, as they are often mixed with soda, juice or energy drinks that are negative for the body. Consume spirits occasionally or at a maximum of five non-mixed drinks per week.
People with Celiac disease should avoid wheat-based liquor, and those with tannin allergies or sensitivities should avoid grape-based liquor.
5. Champagne and Sparkling Wine
Did you know that Champagne is a type sparkling wine made from the grapes grown in the Champagne region of France?
Sparkling wine contains eight to 12 per cent alcohol per serving and is made from wine. A second fermentation process of wine occurs in the bottle, trapping carbon dioxide byproducts to produce the bubbles.
The antioxidants (i.e. polyphenols) in red wine can be found in sparkling wine with slightly less sugar content, which makes it potentially beneficial for lowering blood pressure, heart disease and cancer prevention.
However, sparkling wine is also highly acidic and can cause breakdown of tooth enamel and exacerbate digestive conditions. For this reason, sparkling wine is reserved for the occasional celebration and should be avoided by people with tannin allergies or sensitivities.
If you drink a glass or two of red wine with dinner you are probably doing your body a great service.
But recognizing when you are relying on alcohol to escape from your issues is key to getting the proper help for a health body and mind.
Enjoy alcohol by knowing your limits.
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In a study at the University of Calabria, Italy, the resveratrol compound was also found to block the cancer-fuelling effects of the female hormone oestrogen, as well as inhibiting the growth of breast cancer cells that have become hormone resistant.
In a conflicting study at Harvard University it was found that women who drink just four small glasses of wine a week increase their risk of developing breast cancer by 15%, while those who drank up to four units a day were 50% more likely to develop breast cancer.
A recent study by Spanish researchers found that the alcohol in red wine and the grapes themselves may both be beneficial for the heart. The study analysed the levels of chemicals affecting inflammation and plaque on artery walls of 67 men after they drank red wine, red wine without alcohol, and gin. When the man drank the alcoholic red wine and gin, levels of chemicals that reduce inflammation increased, and when the men drank the non-alcoholic red wine, levels of chemicals that reduce plaque increased.
A study by the Centre For Addiction And Mental Health, found that while there is a positive link between alcohol use and ischaemic heart disease, it cannot be assumed for all drinkers, even for those who have a limited intake. Dr Juergen Rehm, director of social and epidemiological research at CAMH, said: "It's complicated. "We see substantial variation across studies, in particular for an average consumption of one to two drinks a day."
Research at Quebec's Universite Laval in Canada, found that chemicals found in red wine called polyphenols can block production of free radical molecules, which can damage gum tissue, it was reported by the BBC. However, dentists warn there are other risks associated with drinking wine, and people should not think it was good for their teeth.
A study at the Institute of Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen found that people who drink wine weekly or monthly are two times less likely to develop dementia. However, study author, Thomas Truelsen, MD, PhD, emphasised that "These results don't mean that people should start drinking wine or drink more wine than they usually do."
A year-long Spanish study or 4,000 volunteers found that drinking wine - especially red - can prevent people developing colds. Professor Ron Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University said the results may be due to the antioxidant properties of red wine.
Researchers from the University of Santiago de Compestela in Spain found that drinking red wine may help to ward off lung cancer. They found each glass a day reduced the risk of lung cancer by 13% compared to non-drinkers. But Cancer Research UK case doubt on the findings, warning excess drinking increases the risk of other cancers, it was reported by the BBC.
Follow Dr. Alison Chen, ND on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrAlisonChenND