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When it comes to health prescriptions, is there anything more controversial than alcohol consumption? It seems that every few months a new study hits the press, either praising the health merits of booze or telling you why it’s ruining your life (or at the very least, your liver).
About 64 percent of the American population consumes alcohol, a number that’s held steady since the first alcohol-related Gallup poll in 1939. What has changed? We’re drinking more and more often, and some analysts think that’s due in part to a perceived notion that alcohol is good for us. Which might be true.
But if you follow the science, things aren’t so cut and dry. On one day liquor’s making you fat (so many calories!), the next it’s keeping you thin (drinkers eat less dessert!). It may be causing your depression or it could be your biggest stress buster. For the longest time conventional wisdom seemed to say that it all came back to moderation. But then this past August a new study blew the lid off of that theory too, concluding that even heavy drinkers outlive non-drinkers.
Don’t believe us? Click through the slideshow above see this and other shocking, and totally contradictory, studies about America’s favorite poison. Just in time for the holidays.
Drinking may increase cancer risk.
While the relationship between alcohol and cancer is a controversial one, the International Agency for Research on Cancer actually classifies alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen. That can’t be good. It’s been linked to everything from breast to prostate to stomach cancer, and while higher consumption is generally associated with higher risk, for women even moderate drinking has come under fire.
Most recently one study showed a meaningful correlation between drinking, especially binge drinking—defined as five or more drinks in one “drinking episode”—and an elevated risk in men for the very dangerous pancreatic cancer. To be thoroughly confused, click “Next” above.
Heavy drinkers outlive nondrinkers.
Say what? While it’s not news to anyone at this point that moderate drinkers—that’s one to three drinks a day, and no more than seven a week—have the longest life span, this past August a paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research revealed that even binge drinkers were outliving the sober set (PDF). But, as reported by Time, unlike previous studies that had reached somewhat similar conclusions, this one spanned 20 years and seemed to account for every thinkable variable: “socioeconomic status, level of physical activity, number of close friends, quality of social support” and more. One theory for the confounding findings is that alcohol reduces stress, and we all need that, right?
Alcohol shrinks your brain.
Not the most shocking statement given how some people act after a few, it’s nonetheless a surprise to see it backed by science. This study conducted at the Boston University School of Public Health in 2008, was actually looking to see if alcohol prevented against brain shrinkage, which apparently is a normal (though unfortunate) part of the aging process. They found quite the opposite: Alcohol consumption seemed to accelerate shrinkage and, once again, it was worse for women than for men. While only heavy-drinking males were affected, in women, the moderate ones were too. The sorta good news is that the size differences, while measurable, between the brains of the abstainers, the former drinkers, and the current drinkers were all very small.
Steady moderate drinking keeps you thin.
Anybody who’s ever been on a diet knows that alcohol comes with a pretty heavy calorie count. How is it then that moderate drinkers are thinner than non-drinkers? A study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston that tracked 20,000 women aged 30 and over, for more than a decade, found that the moderate drinkers (especially those who drank red wine), were much less likely to gain weight than the non-drinkers. In fact, the non-drinkers gained the most weight of all the women. But before you get too excited…
Irregular heavy drinkers weigh the most.
Unlike the previous study, this one from the American Journal of Epidemiology looked at the relationship between alcohol and Body Mass Index in both men and women. It concluded that drinking patterns—more than overall amounts—played the biggest role when it came to body weight. Those who drank a little bit (as in one glass) the most frequently (every day) were the leanest over all. Those who drank the least frequently but in the largest quantities, i.e. the very occasional binge drinkers, were the heaviest.
Have you noticed any patterns between drinking and weight?