Wine and Well-Being
With studies serving up mixed information, how should you feel about drinking to your health?

Photo: Rita Juliana

As the weather warms up, wedding season kicks off with a celebratory spattering of bridal showers and bachelor/bachelorette parties, which means a lot of toasts to the happy couple even before the reception and honeymoon. Highly publicized studies recently have highlighted the bright side of drinking, from heart health to lower weight and anti-aging benefits. But alcohol also comes with decades of warnings about the not-so-glamorous side effects. Injuries and fatalities from alcohol-related auto accidents are climbing steadily across the United States, especially in celebratory young adults. So are we supposed to think?

First, let’s assemble the facts. A correlation does exist between reduced effects of aging and red wine’s resveratrol. It also offers a definite protective antioxidant benefit. In men and women, all kinds of alcohol raise levels of HDL (the good cholesterol), decrease the risk of stroke and lower blood pressure.

Fewer young women who drink become obese in later life, and this could be more than a mere correlation. In a study just published by the Archives of Internal Medicine, even when exercise, diet and smoking behaviors were comparable, moderate drinkers gained a third as much weight as nondrinkers over time. However, when the women drank more than two drinks a day, the benefits were lost. A different study discovered that for already overweight men, drinkers suffered from almost twice as much liver damage.

The term “beer belly” is a misnomer however, as scientists last year claimed that genetics, not drinking, is responsible for where we gain weight. Still, at 7 calories per gram, alcohol can up your calorie count quickly. Light beers, wine and spirits are the most suit- and gown-friendly options compared to frozen cocktails, such as daiquiris and piña coladas, which pack 200 to 300 more calories a piece.

So is it worth it?

Photo: Ben Earwicker/Garrison Photography

Limited drinking decreases the risk of dementia, gallstones, heart disease, and some kinds of stroke and diabetes. Moderate drinkers also sleep better, exercise more and weigh less than teetotalers. Contrariwise, regular heavy drinking disrupts circadian rhythms and interferes with healthy routines. The organs hit hardest by alcohol are the liver, pancreas, brain and intestines. Cancer of the breasts, larynx and a few other systems is more common in drinkers, so if you have other increased risk factors, it’s better to go without.

Ultimately, whether or not a person benefits depends on their ability to restrict drinking to a relatively small daily amount. What is this ideal “moderate” amount of drinking? There’s no universally accepted standard. Harvard University and the USDA consider the ideal amount of moderate drinking for health benefits one drink a day for women and two for men. The U.K. Department of Health advises its citizens to respect a weekly drinking limit of 14-21 units for women, and 21-28 for men.

The good news is, there’s no reason to forgo celebrating with a few drinks. You can even rest assured that it could help you live a longer, happier life together if done responsibly.

Keep in mind that mixing substances can go terribly wrong. Alcohol acts as a CNS depressant and seems to combine exponentially with benzodiazepines, barbituates and opioids (like hydrocodone), counters beta blockers’ action in the body, and can lead to severe alcohol poisoning when mixed with SSRIs. If you have a tendency to overdo it or make bad choices, talk to your fiancé(e) and doctor about handling the temptation. No matter what health source you check, you won’t uncover any endorsement of binge drinking. So drink to your health together, but just remember you’re tying the knot, not tying one on.