How Alcohol Can Boost Your Health: A HealthCentral Explainer

ATsai Editor
  • The question of whether knocking back a few drinks every now and then is a good thing is one that can be debated by purists, and ignored by those who just want to have a glass of wine with dinner. But recent research provides scientific evidence that having a glass or two won’t hurt you, and, in fact, could help you.


    Can consuming alcoholic drinks lower your risk of rheumatoid arthritis?

    According to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, the answer is yes, by about 50 percent. Researchers took assessments of 34,141 Swedish women who were born between 1914 and 1948. They surveyed the participants in 1987 and again in 1997.  After adjusting for variables, including age, smoking and dietary habits, the scientists found that women who reported drinking more than three glasses of alcohol per week in that 10-year span proved to be 52 percent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis compared to those who never consumed alcohol.  Researchers defined one standard glass of alcohol as approximately 500 ml of beer, 150 ml of wine or 50 ml of liquor.

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    Researchers say their findings are probably due to alcohol’s ability to reduce the body’s immune response.


    For people who have already been diagnosed with RA, taking certain medications, such as methotrexate and Arava, makes it especially important not to drink at all. Make sure you talk to your doctor about how your medications may affect your ability to drink alcohol.


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    Can alcohol prevent osteoporosis too?

    A similar, but much smaller study was conducted at Oregon State University examining the effects of alcohol on bones. Researchers studied 40 postmenopausal women under age 65 who said they consumed up to two drinks a day for one year prior to the study. The women were then asked to abstain from alcohol for two weeks. When the women stopped drinking, researchers found that their blood levels showed higher levels of biomarkers associated with bone turnover. Bone turnover is a normal process of bone loss and replacement; however, when more bone is lost than replaced, it leads to osteoporosis. Once the women were told to start drinking again, their bone turnover improved after only one day of moderate consumption.


    The findings could be a result of alcohol’s ability to raise estrogen levels, which plays a big role in women’s health. Researchers for this study cautioned women from drinking alcohol to improve their bone health, as there are other risks with drinking alcohol, such as increasing risk of  breast cancer.


    What about stroke?

    Alcohol may even prevent women from stroke, according to a study that came out earlier  this year. The study looked at 83,578 female nurses, who were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and were assessed every four years from 1980 to 2006. Researchers found that light-to-moderate drinkers had a 17 percent to 21 percent lower risk of stroke than non-drinkers.  Light-to-moderate drinking was averaged at up to 15 grams of alcohol per day, which is about one drink per day. However, the risk of stroke increased for women who drank over 38 g or approximately 3 drinks per day.


    But doesn’t alcohol cause weight gain?

    With all the empty calories associated with alcohol consumption, weight gain seems a plausible outcome. However, findings from a 2010 study, which looked at data from 19,220 women in the US, age 39 and over, found that light-to-moderate alcohol drinkers gained less weight and were less likely to become overweight or obese compared to non-drinkers.


    At the start of the study, the women filled in a questionnaire about their daily alcohol consumption, and then filled in a questionnaire about their weight each year for the next 13 years.  They found that women who drank between 15 and 30 grams of alcohol per day had the lowest risk of becoming overweight, which was approximately 30 percent lower than the non-drinkers.

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    Can alcohol make you happier?

    According to a June study, people who consume alcohol in moderation have the highest quality of life measures.  Researchers looked at 5,404 Canadians over 50 years old and assessed their health quality of life with the Health Utilities Index Mark 3 (HUI3).  Participants were assessed for follow-up, and found that in the first four years, approximately 34 percent reduced their alcohol intake. Those who reduced alcohol intake showed the greatest reduction in health quality of life compared to those who drank moderately on a regular basis. Moderate drinking was considered no more than 14 drinks per week, with no more than three per day for women and four per day for men.


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    Can moderate drinking protect against dementia?

    A 2011 analysis of 143 studies has found that moderate social drinking significantly reduces risk of dementia and cognitive impairment. Researchers looked at studies dating back to 1977, which included more than 365,000 participants, and found that moderate drinkers were 23 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Moderate drinking was considered a maximum of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.


    In addition, researchers found that wine was more beneficial than beer or liquor, and heavy drinking was associated with a higher risk of dementia, though it was not statistically significant. Researchers hypothesize that the beneficial effects of alcohol on raising HDL cholesterol could improve blood flow to the brain and boost brain metabolism.  Another theory is that small amounts of alcohol put stress on brain cells, in effect, toughening them up to help them cope with major stresses that could cause dementia.



    Petra Rattue. (2012, July 11). "Four Drinks A Week May Keep Rheumatoid Arthritis Away." Medical News Today. Retrieved from


    Carrie Gann (2012, July 11). “To Your Health: Moderate Alcohol Confers Some Benefits, Some Harms for Women’s Health.” ABC News. Retrieved from


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    Boston University Medical Center. (2012, March 19). "Association Between Moderate Drinking And Lower Risk Of Stroke In Women." Medical News Today. Retrieved from


    Catharine Paddock, PhD. (2010, March 9). "Light To Moderate Drinking Linked To Less Weight Gain In Middle Aged Women." Medical News Today. Retrieved from


    Grace Rattue. (2012, June 29). "Moderate Drinking Superior To Abstaining In Quality Of Life Scores." Medical News Today. Retrieved from


    Jim Ritter. (2011, August 18). "Protective Effect Of Moderate Drinking For Alzheimer's And Cognitive Impairment." Medical News Today. Retrieved from

Published On: July 24, 2012