Category Archives: Alcohol

CDC’s Definition Of A Heavy Drinker

CNN just put up this graphic of the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) definition of a heavy drinker.  These are the levels above which there is scientific evidence for harm.


CDC says a “drink” is:

  • 12-ounces of beer (5% alcohol content)
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
  • 5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)
  • 1.5-ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey)

The graphic made a world of difference. It seems so low.

Study: Drinking Alcohol Every Day Can Shorten Life


The source for this photo,, says that in Japan, drinking can be a social obligation.

Here’s another study that addresses, not just amount of alcohol consumed, but frequency … how many days a week one drinks at all.  It’s much bigger than the one I just posted. It analyzed data from 88,746 men and women from Japan and found the same thing, that drinking alcohol every day can shorten life:

Patterns Of Alcohol Drinking And All-Cause Mortality: Results From A Large-Scale Population-Based Cohort Study In Japan, American Journal of Epidemiology, May 2007

The deleterious effects of alcohol seem to be mitigated by abstaining for a few days a week. The Japanese call this a “liver holiday,” which “is considered important for general health and for maintaining the metabolic function of the liver.”

This study defined a heavy drinker as someone who consumed more than 300 grams of ethanol a week. I had to run the numbers to understand that:

  • 5 ounces of wine at 12% alcohol is 0.6 ounces or about 17 grams ethanol.
  • 12 ounces of beer at 6% alcohol is 0.72 ounces or about 20 grams ethanol.

300 grams works out to 2.5 glasses of wine a day (a small glass: 5 ounces) or 2 glasses of beer a day (12 ounces). If you drank this amount or more, you were considered a heavy drinker.

However, in the US, a heavy drinker (from the US Cancer Prevention Study) was someone who consumed more than 30 g of alcohol per day, so more than 9 ounces of wine (a little less than 2 glasses) or 1.5 beers.

“The highest hazard ratios [were] observed among those consuming ≥450 g of alcohol 5–7 days per week.”

That about 3.5 small (5oz) glasses of wine or 3 (12oz) beers a day. That was the riskiest.

“The increased risk of all-cause mortality associated with frequency of alcohol intake was seen among heavy drinkers only (≥300 g alcohol/week).”

That’s telling. It says that if you drank less than 2 drinks a day, you didn’t experience increased risk, in this study at least.

This following bit is interesting … The researchers found that most of these alcohol-related deaths were from cancer. What’s the mechanism? The NIH says that the body first…

“… metabolizes alcohol to acetaldehyde, a highly toxic substance and known carcinogen. Then, in a second step, acetaldehyde is further metabolized down to another, less active byproduct called acetate, which then is broken down into water and carbon dioxide for easy elimination.”

So, the more you drink, and the more often you drink, the more you expose your tissues (especially liver, pancreas, and brain) to acetaldehyde, “a known carcinogen.”

I imagine that future guidelines for alcohol consumption in the US will address frequency as well as amount, incorporating “three alcohol-free days a week” into the “1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men” advice. … As long as the wine, beer, and spirits lobbies don’t nip it.

Drinking Alcohol More Than Twice A Week Increases Stroke Risk Threefold

AlcoholAndStroke3To be honest, I’d never heard of that recommendation in my prior post to have 3 alcohol-free days a week, if you regularly drink alcohol.

Here’s where it came from:

The Evidence Base For Alcohol Guidelines, UK Parliament: Science and Technology Committee, October 2011

“32. The government guidelines should recognise that hazardous drinking has two components: frequency of drinking and amount of drinking. To ignore either of these components is scientifically unjustified. A very simple addition would remedy this problem namely a recommendation that to remain within safe limits of alcohol consumption that people have three alcohol-free days a week.”

I’ve read more studies in recent years that tie strokes and certain cancers to alcohol consumption, but guidelines continued to state you could drink daily as long as it was in moderation, that’s 1 drink a day for women, 2 drinks a day for men.

Looking around, I stumbled upon this:

The Frequency Of Alcohol Consumption Is Associated With The Stroke Mortality, Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, 8 March 2014

They followed 2609 Finnish men for over 20 years. They found:

“Conclusion: This study shows a strong association between the frequency of alcohol consumption and stroke mortality, independent of total amount of alcohol consumption. The risk of stroke death was the highest among men who consumed alcohol greater than 2.5 times per week.”

Men who drank alcohol more than twice a week had an over 3-fold risk of dying from a stroke compared to men who drank no alcohol.  And that doesn’t include people who had a non-fatal stroke. 3-fold! That is an incredible statistic. And that is irrespective of the amount of alcohol consumed! Plus, they adjusted for things like high blood pressure, smoking, weight, and diabetes. That means the increased risk wasn’t, for example, a result of high blood pressure … something alcohol can cause.


The Good And Bad Of Drinking Alcohol


What’s a drink?

There’s a more likely compound in wine that might be reducing imbibers’ risk for heart attack other than resveratrol (recently found to be a dud). It’s the ethanol. Ethanol causes platelets in blood to be less sticky. You might say alcohol “thins the blood.”

This cross-sectional study found exactly that:

Alcohol Consumption and Platelet Activation and Aggregation Among Women and Men: The Framingham Offspring Study, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, October 2005

Lead author Kenneth Mukamal:

“We found that among both men and women, an intake of three to six drinks per week or more was linked to lower levels of stickiness measured by aggregability. Alcohol intake was [also] linked to lower levels of platelet activation. Together, these findings … identify moderate drinking as a potential blood thinner.”

However, that same blood thinning effect increases the risk for stroke from bleeding (hemorrhagic). Alcohol also increases the risk for a clotting (ischemic) stroke. Alcohol also:

  • Increases the risk for various cancers, especially breast cancer, liver cancer, and cancers of the digestive tract.
  • Increases the risk for cognitive diseases like dementia and alcohol-related brain damage.
  • Increases the risk for insulin resistance and diabetes.
  • Increases the risk for osteoporosis.
  • Raises blood pressure.
  • Raises cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Contributes to atherosclerosis.
  • Causes fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.
  • Causes inflammation of the pancreas.
  • Causes dehydration.
  • Reduces night vision.
  • Causes sleep apnea.
  • Causes increased wakefulness and insomnia at night.

Alcohol is one of those foods that really should be consumed in moderation. The CDC says “moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.” A drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer (see photo above).

It’s also advised that regular drinkers should have 3 alcohol-free days each week.

People following a Paleo diet have a step up here. Beer, wine, and other fermented beverages containing alcohol are not part of a Paleo diet.

Study Finds: Resveratrol Is A Dud


I’m showing a photo of peanuts because their resveratrol concentrations are comparable to those in red wine. Says the USDA. Even though every single media outlet is coupling news of this study with a photo of red wine … and saying things like “But now a new study has us all wondering if we should put that glass of red wine down!” It said nothing of the kind. You could have reported on this study and not even mentioned red wine. (There are other, better reasons to put down the wine … alcohol increases risk for stroke and breast cancer. If you want resveratrol, eat the grape.)

A new study just threw water on the notion that compounds called resveratrols can reduce the chances you’ll get heart disease, cancer, suffer from inflammatory diseases, or die premturely. Resveratrol is found in the skins of red grapes (and so, in red wine), blueberries (probably the skins), peanuts (probably the red skins), and dark chocolate.

Here’s the study:
Resveratrol Levels And All-Cause Mortality In Older Community-Dwelling Adults, JAMA Internal Medicine, 12 May 2014

Here’s the press release:
Resveratrol in Red Wine, Chocolate, Grapes Not Associated With Improved Health, 12 May 2014

Participants were a group of 783 men and women, 65 or older, from two Italian villages near Tuscany (lucky!). They ate their normal diet. The researchers checked their urine for break-down products of resveratrol. Those that had the most didn’t fare any differently than those that had the least.

“Conclusion: In older community-dwelling adults, total urinary resveratrol metabolite concentration was not associated with inflammatory markers, cardiovascular disease, or cancer or predictive of all-cause mortality.”

The only thing you can say from this study is that one compound – resveratrol – consumed in foods, does not reduce disease risk or help you live longer. It says nothing about red wine in general, or about blueberries or peanuts or chocolate or any other resveratrol-containing foods, or about any compounds, like polyphenols, in any other food.

This study falls under the heading of nutritionism … an assumption that a food’s worth can be defined by the sum of its individual components. First of all, we don’t know all the components in foods.  Even if we did, we don’t know how they interact with each other, or with our own body chemistry.  Michael Pollan put it well when he said that food’s nutritional value is “more than the sum of its parts.”

We’re not going to live longer or healthier because of one molecule in a handful of foods.  That’s, like, magic. You have to look at the whole diet.