The People's Perspective on Medicine

What Are the Pros and Cons of Drinking?

Deciding whether drinking alcohol has greater risks or benefits is tricky. Drinkers are more likely to have hypertension, but less likely to break a hip.
Cropped shot of dark skinned female touching glass of red wine with both hands selective focus on drink. Black woman with Afro hairstyle sitting at bar smiling waiting for friend to join her later

Doctors strongly debate the pros and cons of drinking. On the one hand, alcohol abuse causes enormous suffering both for the affected individuals and their families. On the other hand, for years research has hinted that people drinking modest amounts of wine may benefit. Where does the balance lie?

Examining Benefits and Risks of Drinking Alcohol:

Now, scientists have announced both good and bad news when it comes to moderate alcohol consumption. Researchers presented a study at a spring meeting of the American College of Cardiology. They analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The analysis showed that people drinking alcoholic beverages are more likely to have high blood pressure. This risk has long been recognized for heavy drinkers. The current study is the first to establish that people consuming just one to two drinks a day may also be at greater risk for hypertension. Compared to teetotalers, moderate drinkers were about twice as likely to have stage 2 hypertension. That corresponds to blood pressure above 140/90.

Should You Quit?

The lead author of that study suggests that people with hypertension should cut down and eventually quit drinking. On the other hand, a separate two-decades long study of more than 100,000 health professionals provided a different answer. It revealed low to moderate alcohol consumption was linked to a lower risk of hip fractures (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Sept. 2019). Women who preferred red wine appeared to be at the lowest risk.

Neither study proves a cause and effect relationship. Without randomized controlled trials of drinking and its health effects, people need to make up their own minds.

They should assess whether they are able to avoid excessive drinking, which has undisputed hazards. If so, they may consider whether they are more concerned about elevated blood pressure or the potential for hip fracture and adjust their behavior accordingly.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Fung TT et al, "Alcohol intake, specific alcoholic beverages, and risk of hip fractures in postmenopausal women and men age 50 and older." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Sept. 2019.
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I’m pretty sure alcohol drinkers don’t have as many broken hips because we’re too relaxed sitting around.

This seems flawed. So drinkers have a higher rate of hypertension – OK but did they control for other factors? Drinkers are also probably more likely to be smokers, have a bad diet, be sedentary, etc. If you weed out drinkers you may be weeding out fitness freaks. Without a study that shows causation this seems pretty unhelpful.

I am a boomer. I have neck osteoarthritis and myofacial pain syndrome in my neck, head, shoulders, etc. My pain level is roughly a 3-6 daily. It is as if I were wearing a too-tight hat on my head. Weather is a big influence. Despite this, I live an active life walking and dancing. I have made a choice not to take pain medication and instead look forward to two glasses of wine each night. I measure it; I am moderate. It is my take- away moment to relax my muscles. My hunch is that this is less dangerous for me than taking drugs or, at least, I hope so! So far. So good. I would like to hear what others have to say on this topic.

I’d love to see more studies on how much alcohol per week does how much damage or benefit. For instance: my mother would have 1-2 servings per weekend. My consumption is more like 1 every few months. But I would increase that to weekly if I thought it would protect my hips

How does drinking red wine prevent hip fractures ??

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