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Alcohol Intake and Health Risk

We get asked this question A LOT – especially since Covid started.  The scientific data regarding safe levels of alcohol intake continues to evolve and change.  We are seeing lower and lower levels still being associated with increased risks of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes etc.  These guidelines also vary depending on the country.  Previous guidelines considered “moderate intake” to be safe.

Moderate alcohol intake has been recently defined as:

  • Up to 1 drink per day for women
  • Up to 2 drinks per day for men

One standard drink is usually defined as:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 5 ounces of distilled spirits

It is important to note that drinking more than the recommended limits, or binge drinking (having 4 or more drinks in a single occasion for women, or 5 or more for men) can increase the risk of health problems including liver disease, heart disease, certain cancers, and more.  Additionally, some individuals may have a lower tolerance for alcohol and should limit it or avoid it altogether.

The guidelines have now lowered again. New data released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) says Canadians should consider limiting their alcohol consumption to two drinks or less per week – for both men and women.  The update comes after two years of research, a review of nearly 6,000 peer-reviewed studies and about 1,000 survey submissions from the public. Part of the project was funded by Health Canada.

Worth noting, there have been studies showing some health benefits of alcohol consumption.  Most of these studies predate the new updated guidelines and some of these studies were biased and funded by the alcohol industry.  Psychologically, alcohol can offer the following benefits:

  • Relaxation and stress relief
  • Improved modd and increased sociability
  • Enhanced feelings of pleasure and euphoria
  • Improved confidence and reduced inhibition
  • Heightened sense of bonding with others

Also worth noting is that the Mediterranean diet, which is recognized by the World Health Organization and the United Nations as a healthy and sustainable dietary pattern, includes a “moderate” intake of alcohol, and moderate is defined by the amounts above.  Do some of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet come from alcohol intake, are the benefits from eating a more balanced diet, or is it from the family and community that come together in a supportive environment?  These are difficult parameters to measure in scientific studies!  The take home message: it is Ok to enjoy a couple of drinks per week, do not binge drink, and “less is best”!