New Science: No Amount of Alcohol Is Healthy

Contrary to popular belief, new scientific research shows that no amount of alcohol is healthy.

Doctor talks with patient about alcohol harm

A growing body of research indicates that no amount of alcohol is healthy, a finding that is contrary to older medical viewpoints that held that some amount of alcohol could be beneficial to one’s health. Given the recent findings, the ideal amount of alcohol people would consume would be none at all, if possible.

What the Findings Show

While the harmful nature of heavy alcohol consumption has for decades been broadly publicized and agreed upon by medical experts, whether or not moderate drinking is healthy or unhealthy has been open for debate. New findings published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism suggest that moderate drinking does not help adults prevent the onset of obesity or diabetes.1

Previously, some medical experts who discussed alcohol and how it affects people made very different claims about it than what today’s experts are saying. “Some research has indicated that moderate drinkers may be less likely to develop obesity or diabetes than non-drinkers and heavy drinkers,” said lead researcher Tianyuan Lu of McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. “However, our study shows that even light-to-moderate alcohol consumption (no more than one standard drink per day) does not protect against obesity and type 2 diabetes in the general population.” McGill’s findings suggest that any alcohol consumption is more likely to produce a net negative result than a positive one.2

People at a bar

To arrive at those findings, McGill and the researchers analyzed the health data of some 409,000 adult men and women in the U.K. Biobank, a large biomedical database for research and scientific analysis. According to McGill’s research paper, people who had more than 14 drinks per week had higher fat mass and a higher risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

However, McGill’s findings also showed that people who drank up to seven drinks per week did not have lower rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes than people in the study group who did not drink at all. While heavy drinking was connected to “…increased measures of obesity (body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, fat mass, etc.) as well as increased risk of type 2 diabetes,” moderate drinking was not associated with any improvements in overall health.3

No Amount of Alcohol Is Safe for One’s Health

Many health organizations and medical experts are shifting away from the viewpoint that some alcohol consumption is healthy. According to a 2023 World Health Organization (WHO) announcement, “When it comes to alcohol consumption, there is no safe amount that does not affect health.”4

In that report, WHO researchers went on to identify the carcinogenic risks of alcohol as being particularly concerning, saying that alcohol poses risks from the first drop and that no amount or quantity of alcohol can be determined as non-carcinogenic or “safe.”

WHO doctors and researchers are concerned that the carcinogenic nature of alcohol is not well known, nor is it broadly publicized. “Although it is well established that alcohol can cause cancer, this fact is still not widely known to the public in most countries,” said Dr. Ferreira-Borges. “We need cancer-related health information messages on labels of alcoholic beverages, following the example of tobacco products; we need empowered and trained health professionals who would feel comfortable to inform their patients about alcohol and cancer risk; and we need overall wide awareness of this topic in countries and communities.”

Alcohol and the Body

Unfortunately, alcohol’s carcinogenic nature is just one of the harmful effects of the substance. As soon as one begins drinking, one exposes all systems of their body to alcohol, all systems of which are harmed by alcohol (increasingly so the more one drinks). For example:5

Patient with a doctor

Alcohol and the brain. In addition to slowing down cognitive function and, over time, changing how the brain looks and works, alcohol puts one at risk for different types of strokes and makes it more likely they may experience early-onset dementia.

Alcohol and the lungs. People who drink alcohol are more likely to contract pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Alcohol and the muscles. Alcohol consumption has been connected to myopathy or a wasting of the muscles.

Alcohol and the pancreas. Drinking alcohol can lead to pancreatitis, which results in dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas. The condition prevents proper digestion and leads to other problems.

Alcohol and the bones. Alcohol consumption leads to reduced bone density and an impairment in the body’s natural ability to repair bone fractures.

Alcohol and the gastrointestinal system. Because alcohol is a toxin, the gastrointestinal system struggles to process it without being harmed by it. Alcohol consumption can lead to several gut-related health issues, including gut leanness, microbial dysbiosis, and colorectal cancer.

Alcohol and the liver. The liver processes alcohol in many ways, bearing the brunt of alcohol’s toxic chemicals. Over time, people who drink may experience several liver diseases like steatosis, steatohepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and alcohol-associated hepatitis.

Alcohol and the oral cavity. Because alcohol comes into contact with the oral cavity, drinkers are at greater risk of oral and esophageal cancer.

Alcohol and the cardiovascular system. People who consume alcohol are at greater risk of cardiac arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, ischemic heart disease, and hypertension.

While these areas of the body are at much greater risk the more alcohol one drinks, there is no “safe” level of drinking in which these areas are not harmed.

The Need for Treatment for Those Who Can’t Stop Drinking

In addition to posing risks to people’s health, alcohol is also very addictive. Many people who drink cannot stop, a clear sign they have become addicted to alcohol. If you know someone who drinks alcohol and cannot stop drinking on their own, please assist them in finding help at a qualified alcohol rehab facility. Please do not wait until their addiction worsens and they cause further damage to their health and future.

Sources Cited:

  1. JCEM. “Dose-dependent Association of Alcohol Consumption With Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes: Mendelian Randomization Analyses.” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2023. ↩︎

  2. USNews. “A Little Drinking Won’t Help Prevent Obesity, Diabetes.” U.S. News, 2023. ↩︎

  3. ScienceDaily. “Light or moderate alcohol consumption does not guard against diabetes, obesity.” Science Daily, 2023. ↩︎

  4. WHO. “No level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health.” World Health Organization, 2023. ↩︎

  5. NIAAA. “Alcohol’s Effect on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023. ↩︎