Is there a benefit to drinking alcohol?

How much alcohol is healthy to consume? How much is harmful?

I wish I had better news to deliver on this one. Trust me, I love a good glass of red wine. But it is quite clear at this point.  The evidence tells us that there are no health benefits to drinking alcohol. The most current literature does not support the use of alcohol to support health in any way.

What’s the risk?

We all know there are risks to drinking excess amounts of alcohol. The risks for drinking heavily are well known (cancer, liver disease, early death). But how much can you have before it becomes a health risk?

The data on this is quite interesting and not well studied because we cannot ethically do randomized control trials with alcohol.

The magic number seems to be 100g per week. Anything over 100g per week is associated with a decrease in lifespan starting at 40 years. For example, in one study, reduction from 196 g per week to 100 g or below per week of ethanol was associated with about 1–2 years of longer life expectancy at age 40 years. The difference in lifespan in those who have 100g and under versus those who consume more is small at age 40. However, this impact grows with age. This number is also impacted by the amount of alcohol consumed. For example, if you drink 150g of alcohol vs 300g of alcohol, there is an increased risk with the 300g.

In research, all-cause mortality is a very difficult number to move with any treatment. With alcohol, we see this number increase with anything over 100g of alcohol per week.

Is 0 alcohol better than 100g?

Probably yes. 100g may be more of an arbitrary number. Much of the research looks at 100g and under vs higher amounts of alcohol consumption. There is not enough data comparing no drinking or drinking less than 50g or occasional drinks vs 100g per week. We see this dose-response increase past 100g, so it’s probably safe to say that zero alcohol is better than 100g.

The issue with striving for no alcohol instead of some, is that abstinence from alcohol is hard and has a high quit rate. So, it may be better to start with ensuring your intake is below 100g per week and stick with that, then, slowly reduce alcohol further. From the research we have, we can confidently say that the less the better with alcohol.

How much is 100g of ethanol?

There is approximately 14g of ethanol per standard drink, this puts us at around 7 drinks per week. A major issue in quantifying intake is drink size. In order to accurately measure how much you are drinking, you can use this calculator

A quick note

It’s important to note that all this data is taken from a population level. There are individuals who live past 100 years who drink regularly there are also individuals whose alcohol tolerance is extremely low, and their body responds much more negatively to alcohol. Women also are less tolerant to the same amount of alcohol when compared to men.

Action item

How many grams of ethanol per week are you consistently drinking? Is it really just on occasions? If so, are you celebrating something almost monthly where you’re drinking excessively? This should be counted into your drinks per week average.

Whatever number you’re at, I encourage you to lower it further. That may be 15 drinks down to 10, that may be 5 drinks down to 3. Lower is better when it comes to alcohol.

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