Proceed with caution
What happens to your body if you drink a small amount every day? This is one of those “maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t” conundrums public health experts wrestle with. Basically, if you don’t drink you probably shouldn’t start for any possible health benefits. But if you have a glass of wine a day or less (but not more – especially if you’re a woman), there may be some benefits (and risks) to your moderate imbibing. Check out the possibilities below.
You might have better gut health
A 2019 study in the journal Gastroenterology found that people who drank red wine had a greater diversity of good bacteria in their guts compared with people who did not drink red wine. The researchers did not see the same effect with white wine or other types of alcohol, according to the study of more than 900 female twins. Having more diverse bacteria (and a greater proportion of some types rather than others) is thought to help with food digestion, immune function, and weight management. An unhealthy balance of gut bacteria has been linked to weight gain and susceptibility to several diseases. In the study, the red wine drinkers were also less likely to be obese and had lower levels of LDL cholesterol than those who didn’t drink it. And it didn’t need to be a daily drink. The researchers found that drinking red wine even once every two weeks was enough to see the effect.
You might have better heart health
A 2017 review in Circulation suggests that the ethanol and polyphenols in wine can together help protect against chronic cardiovascular diseases, mostly heart disease. And the antioxidant resveratrol might help with the heart-boosting benefits of a nightly glass of wine – especially red varietals. The tannins contained in red wine, procyanidins, are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to a report published in the Canadian Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “The antioxidants in wine increase heart-healthy HDL cholesterol as well as keeping the immune system strong,” says Dr Kristine Arthur. “HDL helps to prevent ‘bad’ plaque build-up in the arteries, which can also help prevent heart attacks and strokes.”
But moderation is key. “Chronic and excessive alcohol intake is associated with weakening of the heart, medically termed as cardiomyopathy and heart failure, says Dr Adrienne Youdim.
You might have stronger bones
Researchers have found that heavy drinking seems to be linked to osteoporosis (a thinning and weakening of the bones); however, studies have found that bones can be stronger in menopausal women who have about one drink per day on average. A 2017 study in PLoS One supports the conclusion that light drinking is associated with better bone density in postmenopausal women. “They have increased bone turnover, a sign of bone remodelling, which helps to build new bone and prevent bone loss,” says Dr Arthur. But, she also points out, “Alcohol can affect the absorption of calcium in the stomach, which can over time affect the ability to build strong bones.” The most important thing to know is that regular physical activity plays a critical role in keeping bones strong and healthy.
Your brain might stay sharper longer
It’s true that brain function can decline as you age. But moderate alcohol intake – for example, by drinking one glass of wine at night – may be associated with a slower decline. An analysis involving nearly 1500 people that was published in 2014 in the journal Clinical Nutrition found that people 65 or older who enjoyed alcoholic beverages in light-to-moderate amounts, particularly wine, had a greater brain volume that non-drinkers. While total brain volume isn’t exactly the same as cognitive function, and the study can’t prove alcohol was the reason for the finding, the brain is known to atrophy with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, so a greater total brain volume is a good sign.
You might have poorer sleep quality
Many people might feel like a nightly glass of wine helps them fall sleep more easily. However, drinking alcohol before bed is associated with more slow-wave sleep patterns, known as delta activity – a deep sleep that allows for memory formation and learning. During this time, alpha activity, which is another type of brain pattern, is also turned on. Alpha and delta activity in the brain together may inhibit restorative sleep.
You might affect your mental health
The relationship with alcohol and mood can be complicated, and may vary depending on how much you drink and your own personal factors. You’re probably already familiar with the warm and happy sensation that sipping wine can often bring. This has to do with the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and opioid peptides that can be released when you drink alcohol. But additionally, wine may help keep the blues away for some people but not others. A Swedish study published in 2019 in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica found that light and moderate drinkers were at reduced risk of developing depression compared to both heavier drinkers and non-drinkers.
However, skipping out on that daily glass of wine may actually improve your overall mental well-being. A 2019 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found women who quit alcohol reported better mental well-being than lifetime abstainers.
You might have a higher risk of breast cancer
While alcohol use, in general, is actually associated with increased risk for numerous cancers (including reproductive cancers), it’s possible that wine, specifically, has protective benefits. “The resveratrol in red wine does have anti-cancer properties, so this makes it a better option if you’re going to drink alcohol,” says Dr Arthur. Studies have shown that drinking red wine moderately could reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer when compared to women who did not drink wine. However, the Cancer Council of Australia notes that experts having more than ten standard drinks a week can raise your risk of breast and other types of cancers. A 2006 meta-analysis in Cancer Causes & Control found women who drank alcohol had an 11 per cent higher likelihood than non-drinkers to get breast cancer. Your best bet – as always – is to practice moderation.
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