When it comes to how it affects health, there is almost nothing more controversial than alcohol. Some studies show that moderate occasional consumption can have cardiovascular, emotional, and mental benefits. Others flatly refute this, saying alcohol makes depression worse, impacts mental health, is bad for the heart, and causes cancer.
For example, a couple of recent studies produced conflicting results on the impact of alcohol. One found that alcohol lowers the risk of mortality for older Americans, thereby extending life. This echoes other studies that have shown it can benefit the heart, mind, and mood, while another study showed it can be dangerous for mental health. Both studies simultaneously re-enforce and refute previous research. So, what gives?
Like most things, the effects of alcohol are largely individualized. For example, if you eat a healthy diet and exercise while indulging in a daily glass of wine or a few drinks on special occasions, it may have benefits. These benefits can include lower blood pressure and perhaps a longer life. If the alcohol is enjoyed in the company of friends and enhances the experience, it can even benefit mental health and lower the risk of depression.
On the other hand, a moderate or occasional drinker who does not have a healthy lifestyle or nutrient-dense diet may not experience the same benefit. Alcohol may promote further inflammation, raise blood pressure, or enhance depression. This is especially true if alcohol is not used to celebrate or enjoy life, but rather as a form of coping.
Therefore, it’s wise to take many of the findings about alcohol with a grain of salt. Rather, look at your life to see how alcohol might be impacting you. Are you eating a healthy diet and getting exercise every day? Do you drink to chat and have fun with family and friends, or are you drinking to deal with life’s daily stresses? All of this may play a role in how alcohol influences your health.
And remember, all the potential benefits are thrown out the window if you’re a heavy drinker. They are typically experienced by those who drink moderately—one per day for women and up to two for men—or occasionally, who drink once or less per week, up to three drinks.
Likely, there will never be a consensus on the health risks/benefits of drinking in advanced age. So, take a look at your life, how and why you drink, and determine whether it’s helping or hurting you.