Enjoying a pint or two at the end of a stressful week may not sound like a recipe for good health but, according to new research in the European Heart Journal, those who drink moderately may be less likely to experience heart failure than people who completely abstain from alcohol.
This may come as a surprise to teetotalers who believe that abstaining from drinking and being pure with their health is of paramount importance. The study indicates that while there are variables that can affect the risk of heart failure, women who consume 7 drinks or less a week had a 16 per cent lower risk of heart failure compared to those who didn't.
However, just because you enjoy a drink this doesn't mean it's a good idea to go wild and binge on alcohol. Drinking only provides protective benefits within certain limitations and government guidelines. After this point, any potential heart benefits are outweighed by the risk of developing illnesses such as cancer or liver disease.
One way alcohol can be of benefit is that it increases 'good' cholesterol levels in the blood while reducing fatty deposits that can narrow arteries and increase the likelihood of clogging. Alcohol can also prevent blood clots forming that can close off arteries and lead to a heart attack. A little alcohol may lessen the rise of protein produced in the liver, thereby reducing the risk of blood clots or thrombosis.
Red wine, for example, has often been thought of as heart healthy because it contains resveratrol, an antioxidant that can prevent damage to blood vessels while reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, thereby preventing blood clots. Research shows that resveratrol can improve heart function, increasing the body's ability to use insulin, however more research is needed in this area.
Drinking alcohol to excess is a bad idea as it's very toxic for the body. Heavy drinking can lead to high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, stroke and alcoholic cardiomyopathy amongst other health issues. There is also an established link between cancer and alcohol, according to Cancer Research UK, who estimate there are around 13,000 cancer cases in the UK each year caused by alcohol consumption.
More recent reports by BioMed Central found that alcohol can impair the body's ability to fight off viral infections. Alcohol can also impact fertility, making it more difficult for a woman to conceive and lowering a man's sperm quality and quantity.
Alcohol also has a dehydrating effect on the entire body, as it steals hydration and leaves you feeling dry, red and bloated. Drinking alcohol can suppress the production of vasopressin, an anti-diuretic hormone, meaning your kidneys work extra hard to remove any excess water from the system. This means more water is sent to your bladder instead of to organs such as the skin. As skin is the largest organ in the body, when it's dry it's more likely to wrinkle and this can make you look older than you are.
There are benefits and disadvantages to drinking alcohol but if you drink responsibly and enjoy a beverage now and again rather than every night, you can minimize any associated health risks.