According to the Chicago Tribune St. Patricks Day, March 17th, is the biggest drinking holiday of the year.  Whether that is true for you or not it is important to realize that alcohol is like anything else we put into our body.  So here are some facts about our old friend, the good, the bad and the ugly.

There are thousands of studies on the effects of alcohol on our body and like many topics related to health there are a lot of conflicting results.  I will talk a little about the health benefits of alcohol because there are alot of studies that show there are some health benefits. But let’s set some ground rules first.  1) I am not telling you to start drinking because its healthy, I am just presenting the results of some studies that show some health benefits. 2) All the studies that show health benefits are based on moderate drinking, that is no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink for women.  Keep in mind this is based on serving size not drinks. 3) Just because it’s listed as a benefit of alcohol doesn’t mean it’s not a benefit of something else, there is alway another option.

Let start with the heart, a study by Harvard University found moderate consumption can raise your good cholesterol, providing greater protection against heart disease.  It has also been shown to act as a blood thinner (similar to aspirin) this can improve blood clotting factors, helping to prevent to formation of small blood clots that can lead to heart attacks and the most common strokes . The flip side is it comes with a higher risk of bleeding strokes.  Alcohol consumption can also have many negative side effects on the heart and circulatory system. It can interact with anticoagulants and other heart medications so please speak to your doctor about any drug interactions. Excessive alcohol has been linked to cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke.

Moderate consumption can help with weight loss and reduce the risk of diabetes through improved insulin sensitivity.  This has particularly been shown with the Mediterranean Diet with small amounts of alcohol (preferably wine) consumed during meals.  However, alcohol itself has 7 calories per gram and can contribute to weight gain if not factored into caloric intake, excessive drinking is also linked to hypoglycemia(low blood sugar).

Moderate consumption has been shown to reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction, while  excessive consumption can cause it. Excessive drinking has also been linked to other sexual and reproductive health problems.  Heavy drinking can stop menstruation, cause infertility, increase your chance of miscarriage, premature delivery and stillbirth.  Moderate consumption has been shown to reduce risk of dementia but heavy drinking can contribute to the development of dementia.

There is a really ugly side of alcohol abuse.  It is linked to many diseases from the ones listed above to cirrhosis, cancer, diabetes, gum disease, ulcers, pancreatitis, osteoporosis and many others.  The worst is that fatalities from drinking and driving are always on the rise.

I’m not trying to tell you to drink or not to drink.  I just want to present you with the information.  Everything we put into our body has its effect on our health and wellness.  As always I encourage you to make good choices at least most of the time, but never obsess about it.