The holiday season offers more office and neighborhood parties, family get togethers, and community events than any other time of year. If you’re one of the many Boomers living in party central, you’ve most likely asked the question: “Is drinking harmful or beneficial and how much is good/bad for me?” How many times have we heard that the French eat plenty of high fat foods, but have much lower risk for heart disease than we Americans, due to the antioxidant benefits of red wine? Well, the bad news for those of us Boomers who imbibe is – it may not be the wine!
Here are the results of my research on this topic:
The Mayo clinic cautions that moderate alcohol use may be of most benefit only if you’re an older adult male or if you have existing risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol. If you’re a middle-aged or younger adult, some evidence shows that even moderate alcohol use may cause more harm than good. In fact, if you’re a woman and drink alcohol, studies have shown a higher risk of breast cancer associated with alcohol use. Docs at the Mayo Clinic recommend taking other steps to get your cardiovascular benefit, like eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits that contain your antioxidants and exercising regularly, for example. The good Docs Mercola and Weill both agree with Mayo. Both say that consuming large amounts of alcohol raises insulin levels, which is bad news for your body. And our favorite TV doctor, Oz, states that youth comes in a bottle filled with Olive Oil, not wine!
Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, an internist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, was the lead author of a New England Journal of Medicine study examining the roles of drinking patterns and heart disease. They found, after 12 years of follow-up, that men who consumed alcohol between three and seven days a week, considered moderate drinking, had fewer heart attacks than men who drank once a week. The study also found, that even heavy drinking did not increase the risk of heart disease. More study is needed, but these results suggest that the benefit might not have anything to do with alcohol consumption, but rather engaging is social activities.
What I did find was that it’s difficult to put together any single piece of evidence on benefits or risks of moderate drinking because of the many different study results. The potential risks and benefits vary greatly depending on a person’s health history, their age, sex and family history.
There was one study which discovered a serious risk that I must share with you though, and it’s not related to the benefits or risks of alcohol consumption, but rather mixing alcohol and Tylenol. According to recent University of Southern California research, when you drink, alcohol is broken down into harmless components by your liver. However, while the liver is busy doing its job on the alcohol, it is vulnerable to serious damage by acetaminophen. People who drink heavily – “heavily” being three mixed drinks, a six-pack of beer, or a liter of wine on a near-daily basis – should skip the Tylenol (or generic acetaminophen) tablets! I was surprised to find that the FDA currently recommends that anyone consuming more than three alcoholic beverages per day should not take acetaminophen or other over-the-counter pain medications.
So, it looks like we Baby Boomers should stick to one glass of wine (or less) with dinner once in a while for now. My brother Joe’s favorite saying is “everything in moderation!” and I guess he’s right on this topic.
Best of Health,