Health Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol may have some heart-healthy benefits, but excess drinking can lead to weight gain and put you at greater risk for additional health problems.

Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol (one serving for women; two servings for men) per day may offer some heart-healthy benefits. For example, moderate drinking can reduce your risk of coronary artery disease, as well as the risk of death from heart disease. It can also increase your HDL “good” cholesterol.

All alcohol seems to have some benefit, but thanks to the nutrient density of grapes (especially their deep-colored skins), red wine offers extra antioxidants, including resveratrol.

It’s important to understand that the positive research linking alcohol consumption and improved heart health is based on moderate, appropriate drinking. If you drink heavily (up and beyond the recommended daily dose) you will increase your risk of disease, including high blood pressure, and high triglycerides. If you currently have high triglycerides, even small amounts of alcohol can elevate them further. Therefore, people with high triglycerides should avoid alcohol altogether or imbibe only on special occasions.

Alcohol provides empty calories, and can contribute to weight gain. However, there are some tricks you can take advantage of if you want to cut out some of the calories. First, alternate alcoholic beverages with a noncaloric, nonalcoholic drink (a glass of water, seltzer, or club soda). Second, watch out for sugary mixers — added fruit juices, sodas, sour mixes, and simple syrups that can top off your glass with a whole lot of extra calories. And finally, know when to stop. Alcohol can lower your inhibitions, which means you may find yourself eating or drinking more than you wanted to. For the sake of your health (and your weight), be vigilant about limiting your alcohol intake.

Heavy drinking can weaken bones and raise your risk of osteoporosis. Alcohol consumption may also increase the risk of cataracts, especially in smokers. Since alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to clear uric acid, drinking — especially beer — raises the risk of gout. And don’t think you can use alcohol to help fight insomnia. A couple of drinks may make you sleepy initially, but alcohol will end up causing poor quality sleep, often characterized by repeated awakenings during the night.

Drinking alcohol can also affect women’s PMS symptoms. For example, it may increase breast tenderness. It may also lower blood sugar, which is likely to worsen mood symptoms.

Alcohol, especially beer, red wine, sherry, and vermouth may be a migraine trigger. Alcohol can also trigger IBS symptoms in some people.


Beer | Brandy | Champagne | Gin | Red Wine | Rum | Sherry | Tequila | Vermouth | Vodka | Whiskey | White Wine

Beer
Heavy intake of beer, like other alcoholic beverages, can pack on the pounds (it’s called a beer belly for good reason!), increase already high triglycerides, and interfere with sleep. It is best to limit beer and other alcoholic beverages, especially if you are trying to lose weight, have type 2 diabetes or gout, or experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). That said, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and boost HDL (good) cholesterol. If you don't already drink, don't start, and if you do, limit your intake to one drink per day for women (a 12-ounce beer is considered one drink) or two per day for men. You can save calories by switching from regular beer (150 to 200 calories per 12-ounce serving) to light beer (around 100 calories per 12-ounce serving).

Brandy
Brandy is a spirit produced by distilling wine and is generally consumed straight as an after-dinner drink. Like other alcoholic drinks, brandy can increase already high triglycerides and interfere with sleep. It is best to limit brandy and other alcoholic beverages, especially if you are trying to lose weight, have type 2 diabetes or gout, or experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). That said, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and boost HDL (good) cholesterol. If you don't already drink, don't start, and if you do, limit your intake to one drink per day for women or two per day for men. A 1.5-ounce shot of brandy (about 100 calories) is considered one drink.

Champagne
Champagne is generally reserved for special occasions; however, imbibing too much bubbly can hinder weight loss, increase already high triglycerides, and interfere with sleep. It is best to limit champagne and other alcoholic beverages, especially if you are trying to lose weight, have type 2 diabetes or gout, or experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). That said, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and boost HDL (good) cholesterol. If you don't already drink, don't start, and if you do, limit your intake to one drink per day for women or two per day for men. A five-ounce glass of champagne or wine (about 120 calories) is considered one drink.

Gin
Gin is a hard alcohol that is often combined with high-calorie, sugary mixers like fruit juice or soda. Drinking gin and mixed gin drinks can pack on the pounds, increase already high triglycerides, and interfere with sleep. It is best to limit gin and other alcoholic beverages, especially if you are trying to lose weight, have type 2 diabetes or gout, or experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). That said, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and boost HDL (good) cholesterol. If you don't already drink, don't start, and if you do, limit your intake to one drink per day for women or two per day for men. A 1.5-ounce shot of gin (about 100 calories) is considered one drink.

Red Wine
By no means is this an endorsement to start imbibing if you don’t drink — however, moderate amounts of red wine may be beneficial if you have heart disease because it contains alcohol and antioxidants that provide a heart-healthy boost. (Big caveat: If you have high triglycerides or gout, alcohol in general is contraindicated and should be a rare treat.) You may need to avoid or limit red wine if you suffer from migraines, experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or have type 2 Diabetes. A five-ounce glass of wine (about 120 calories) is considered one drink.

Rum
Rum is a hard alcohol that is often combined with other beverages and liquors to make mixed drinks. Drinking rum and other alcoholic beverages can pack on the pounds (especially when combined with soda or other high-calorie, sugary mixers), increase already high triglycerides, and interfere with sleep. It is best to limit rum and other alcoholic beverages, especially if you are trying to lose weight, have type 2 diabetes or gout, or experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). That said, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and boost HDL (good) cholesterol. If you don't already drink, don't start, and if you do, limit your intake to one drink per day for women or two per day for men. A 1.5-ounce shot of rum (about 100 calories) is considered one drink.

Sherry
Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes and is generally enjoyed as an after-dinner drink or used in cooking. Like other alcoholic drinks, sherry can increase already high triglycerides and interfere with sleep. It is best to limit sherry and other alcoholic beverages, especially if you are trying to lose weight, have type 2 diabetes or gout, or experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). That said, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and boost HDL (good) cholesterol. If you don't already drink, don't start, and if you do, limit your intake to one drink per day for women or two per day for men. A typical after-dinner drink is three to four ounces and 125 to 170 calories.

Tequila
Tequila is a hard alcohol that is often mixed with other drinks or consumed straight up. Either way, it can pack on the pounds (especially when combined with high-calorie, sugary mixers), increase already high triglycerides, and interfere with sleep. It is best to limit tequila and other alcoholic beverages, especially if you are trying to lose weight, have type 2 diabetes or gout, or experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). That said, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and boost HDL (good) cholesterol. If you don't already drink, don't start, and if you do, limit your intake to one drink per day for women or two per day for men. A 1.5-ounce shot of tequila (about 100 calories) is considered one drink.

Vermouth
Vermouth is a fortified wine that is an ingredient in many cocktails, including martinis, and sometimes used for cooking. Vermouth-containing cocktails can pack on the pounds, increase already high triglycerides, and interfere with sleep. It is best to limit alcoholic beverages, especially if you are trying to lose weight, have type 2 diabetes or gout, or experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). That said, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and boost HDL (good) cholesterol. If you don't already drink, don't start, and if you do, limit your intake to one drink per day for women or two per day for men. Vermouth is typically not served on its own; it’s most often used as an ingredient in mixed drinks and contributes 30 to 50 calories per ounce.

Vodka
Vodka is a very common alcoholic drink that is often combined with high-calorie, sugary mixers like soda and fruit juice. Drinking straight vodka or mixed vodka drinks can pack on the pounds, increase already high triglycerides, and interfere with sleep. It is best to limit vodka and other alcoholic beverages, especially if you are trying to lose weight, have type 2 diabetes or gout, or experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). That said, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and boost HDL (good) cholesterol. If you don't already drink, don't start, and if you do, limit your intake to one drink per day for women or two per day for men. A 1.5-ounce shot of vodka (about 100 calories) is considered one drink.

Whiskey
Whiskey is a hard alcohol that is distilled from fermented grains. It is commonly consumed straight up or on ice but may also be mixed with other drinks. Either way, it can pack on the pounds (especially when combined with soda or other high-calorie, sugary mixers), increase already high triglycerides, and interfere with sleep. It is best to limit whiskey and other alcoholic beverages, especially if you are trying to lose weight, have type 2 diabetes or gout, or experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). That said, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and boost HDL (good) cholesterol. If you don't already drink, don't start, and if you do, limit your intake to one drink per day for women or two per day for men. A 1.5-ounce shot of whiskey (about 100 calories) is considered one drink.

White Wine
Heavy intake of white wine, like other alcoholic beverages, can pack on the pounds, increase already high triglycerides, and interfere with sleep. It is best to limit white wine and other alcoholic beverages, especially if you are trying to lose weight, have type 2 diabetes or gout, or experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). That said, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and boost HDL (good) cholesterol. If you don't already drink, don't start, and if you do, limit your intake to one drink per day for women or two per day for men. A five-ounce glass of wine (about 120 calories) is considered one drink.