Alcohol: tonic or toxin

Alcohol is part of most people’s normal lives. In moderation, it is not an issue and may even confer health benefits for some. However, as alcohol becomes more problematic, health risks – especially for men – increase. While it is commonly known that the liver is affected by alcohol, many other health issues may can develop with higher-than-moderate alcohol use. Mental, physical, and sexual disorders in many men can be directly linked to the abuse of alcohol. But is that the whole story?



Alcohol is a CNS depressant. While people may think it helps make them the life of the party or helps to deal with hardship making life more manageable alcohol actually causes the body to slow. When alcohol in excess is used for sleep it leads to fragmented, poor quality sleep.  Disinhibition may lead to greater aggression and poor impulse control which can lead to violence, physical altercations and involvement in risky sexual behaviors. Men are more likely than women to commit suicide when alcohol is consumed.  And obviously, for those at risk alcohol dependence can occur. At least 23% of men report binge drinking at a rate of 5 times a month and eight drinks per occurrence. 4.5% of men –  vs 2.5% of women – are likely to meet criteria for alcohol dependence.


Alcohol-related cancers are more common in men: cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon. Other health issues associated with higher alcohol consumption include heart disease, stroke, liver disease, bleeding disorders, digestive problems, and dementia.  Falls and repetitive brain trauma are common in alcoholics. Significant vitamin deficiencies such as critical B vitamins and magnesium are more common in chronic drinkers.  Alcohol even in moderate amounts can interact dangerously with medications including acetaminophen, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, painkillers, and sedatives.


Alcohol also influences sexual health. Excessive use of alcohol can actually decrease testicular function and reduce his ability to produce the male hormone Testosterone. This can lead to infertility, lower sex drive, impotence, shrunken testicles and loss of manliness secondary to hormone-related features (such as chest and facial hair, strength and muscularity). In other words, excess alcohol is emasculating.

Big Picture Problems

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and others:

  • 18.2 million Americans meet standard criteria for alcohol abuse or alcoholism. (19)
  • Alcohol plays a role in one in three cases of violent crime. (20)
  • More than 16,000 people die each year in automobile accidents in which alcohol is involved. (21)
  • Alcohol abuse costs more than $185 billion dollars a year. (22)



Leverage alcohol use

The social and psychological benefits of alcohol can’t be ignored. Neither can its use in modern American social life. Alcohol can be enjoyed responsibly and can contribute to a healthy lifestyle. It has properties of both health tonic and a poison.  Moderate alcohol has been linked to better cholesterol values and artery health. It raises HDL, the good cholesterol, which is heart protective. Moderate alcohol has been linked to better insulin function decreasing risk of diabetes. It has also been linked to changes in clotting factors decreasing the formation of small clots in arteries ultimately decreasing the risk of most common types of stroke. (5,6)

(excerpts from The Nutrition Source – Harvard School of Public Health) (3)

More than 100 prospective studies show an inverse association between moderate drinking and risk of heart attack, ischemic (clot-caused) stroke, peripheral vascular disease, sudden cardiac death, and death from all cardiovascular causes. (4) The effect is fairly consistent, corresponding to a 25 percent to 40 percent reduction in risk.

What you drink doesn’t seem to be nearly as important as how you drink. Having seven drinks on a Saturday night and then not drinking the rest of the week isn’t at all the equivalent of having one drink a day. The weekly total may be the same, but the health implications aren’t. Among participants in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, consumption of alcohol on at least three or four days a week was inversely associated with the risk for myocardial infarction. 

In some studies, the term “moderate drinking” refers to less than one drink per day, while in others it means three or four drinks per day. Exactly what constitutes “a drink” is also fairly fluid. In fact, even among alcohol researchers, there’s no universally accepted standard drink definition. (2)

In the U.S., one drink is usually considered to be 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of spirits (hard liquor such as gin or whiskey). (3) Each delivers about 12 to 14 grams of alcohol.

The definition of moderate drinking is something of a balancing act. Moderate drinking sits at the point at which the health benefits of alcohol clearly outweigh the risks.

The latest consensus places this point at no more than one to two drinks per day for men, and no more than one drink per day for women. This is the definition used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, (3) and is widely used in the United States.

Age alters risk to benefit ratio:


  • For a 30-year-old man, the increased risk of alcohol-related accidents outweighs the possible heart-related benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.
  • For a 60-year-old man, a drink a day may offer protection against heart disease that is likely to outweigh potential harm (assuming he isn’t prone to alcoholism).


If you don’t drink you can get similar benefits with exercise (beginning to exercise or boosting the intensity and duration of your activity) or healthier eating. If you are a man with no history of alcoholism who is at moderate to high risk for heart disease, a daily alcoholic drink could reduce that risk. Moderate drinking might be especially beneficial if you have low HDL that just won’t budge upward with diet and exercise.

So if you are inclined to enjoy a glass of wine leverage its health benefits by consuming it with 1.5 oz. of dark chocolate, after a HIIT workout (you do 3 times weekly) or after an infrared sauna and with a healthy meal.

To learn more about the art of living and aging in optimal health, contact the experts at Baza Medical at

Link to Harvard article:


  1. Koppes LL, Dekker JM, Hendriks HF, Bouter LM, Heine RJ. Moderate alcohol consumption lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes: ameta–analysis of prospective observational studies. Diabetes Care. 2005; 28:719–25.
  2. Solomon CG, Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, et al. Moderate alcohol consumption and risk of coronary heart disease among women with type 2 diabetes mellitus.Circulation. 2000; 102:494–99.
  3. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2005. U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  4. Kloner RA, Rezkalla SH. To drink or not to drink? That is the question. Circulation. 2007; 116:1306–17.
  5. Goldberg IJ, Mosca L, Piano MR, Fisher EA. AHA Science Advisory: Wine and your heart: a science advisory for healthcare professionals from the Nutrition Committee, Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, and Council on Cardiovascular Nursing of the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2001; 103:472–5.

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