What is Functional Alcohol?
Alcohol has been consumed for thousands of years. Throughout this time, people have argued about its benefits and risks, and that debate continues today. It’s true, though, that alcohol can be both good and bad, and the difference is likely in the amount of alcohol consumed. Functional alcohol refers to various types of alcohol that carry health benefits. For example, moderate drinking has been associated with heart and circulatory benefits and may protect against gallstones and type 2 diabetes.
However, heavy drinking is a major contributor to preventable death, including fatal traffic accidents. Additionally, heavy drinking has been associated with heart and liver damage and an increased risk of breast cancer, depression, and violence. It can interfere with both personal and professional relationships.
How Can Alcohol be Both Beneficial and Harmful?
Alcohol consumption can be both beneficial and harmful due to the active ingredient in alcoholic drinks — ethanol. Ethanol affects various organs in the body, including the brain, heart, stomach, liver, and gallbladder, in different ways. For instance, it affects cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin levels in the blood and impacts inflammation and blood clotting. Additionally, it alters concentration, mood, and body coordination.
Types of Functional Alcohol and Their Health Benefits
There are various types of alcohol that carry health benefits, with red wine topping the list. Red wine has the following health benefits:
- Helps to burn fat — the ellagic acid in red wine helps slow the growth of fat cells and prevent new ones from developing; this also helps boost the metabolism.
- Helps to fight colds — research has found that moderate consumption of red wine reduces the risk of colds by 60%, thanks to antioxidants in red wine.
- Has heart health benefits — this is due to the antioxidants, resveratrol, and anti-inflammatory and pro-angiogenic properties of red wine.
- Helps to boost memory — this is also due to the resveratrol in red wine.
- Helps you live longer — the resveratrol in wine helps to encourage the expression of various longevity genes that help regulate the survival of cells.
- Enhances the effectiveness of vaccines.
- Helps to improve strength, performance, and heart function — this is again due to the resveratrol in red wine.
- Helps to improve sexual function — the antioxidants found in red wine help decrease the risk of erectile dysfunction in men. They also trigger nitric oxide production in the blood, which helps to relax artery walls, increasing the blood flow to the sexual organs in women and enhancing sexual excitement.
And while red wine tops the list, there are also weight loss benefits of white wine. This is due to the phenols found in white wine that have higher antioxidants than red wine, making them the ideal option for weight loss.
Next on the list is beer; opt for darker brews to experience optimal benefits from drinking beer. Moderate beer consumption has the following health benefits:
- Lots of vitamins — beer is full of important B vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, magnesium, and calcium. Darker beers also have high levels of iron, which helps to circulate oxygen better in the body.
- Helps you to recover faster after a workout.
- Helps to protect the brain — the presence of xanthohumol in beer helps protect brain cells. It may also help slow the progression of certain brain diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
- Helps to strengthen your bones — the silicone found in beer helps increase bone density.
- Helps to manage menopause symptoms — this may be due to the chemicals in beer acting as phytoestrogens, helping to control hot flashes and other symptoms associated with menopause.
- Decreases heart attack risk in women.
- Lowers risk of kidney stones.
- Decreases risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Last on the list are distilled spirits, including vodka, rye, rum, and tequila. Moderate spirit consumption has the following health benefits:
- Vodka improves blood circulation — it encourages the development of collateral vessels, which improves the connection between the heart and lungs.
- Tequila can help you lose weight — the agavins (a natural sweetener) in tequila are superior to artificial sweeteners and help you lose weight.
- Decreases muscle soreness after a workout.
- Rye can help soothe a sore throat.
Safe Drinking Guidelines
Before getting into safe drinking tips, it’s important to understand what one drink means. For the purpose of safe drinking guidelines described below, one drink is:
- 12 ounces (341 ml) of 5% beer, cooler, or cider
- 5 ounces (142 ml) of 12% wine
- 1.5 ounces (43 ml) of 40% distilled alcohol (e.g., rum, vodka, rye.)
To reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases over time, women should drink 0-2 drinks per day and consume no more than ten drinks in a week. Men should drink 0-3 drinks per day and consume no more than 15 drinks in a week.
However, as we all know, sometimes you may drink a little more than usual. However, it’s still important to stay within the limits that your body can handle to reduce short-term health risks and injury. Keeping this in mind, women should consume no more than three drinks in a single drinking session, and men should consume no more than four drinks in a single drinking session.
Safe Drinking Tips
If you do drink, here are some tips to help keep you safe:
- Stay within the daily and weekly guideline limits
- Slowly drink your alcoholic beverages
- Drink one non-alcoholic beverage for each alcoholic beverage
- Eat before and during drinking
- Make sure your week includes non-drinking days
There are also times when you should avoid drinking:
- Driving, boating, or using heavy machinery
- Participating in dangerous activities
- Participating in water sports or swimming.
- Living with physical or mental health problems or alcohol dependence
- Taking care of other people (i.e., minors or elderly individuals)
- Taking medications that interact with alcohol
- Making important decisions
And if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to get pregnant, it’s best to avoid alcohol consumption altogether.
While functional alcohol consumption has been found to provide some health benefits, don’t start drinking if you don’t currently drink just because of the possible health benefits. But, if you do drink in moderation and live a healthy lifestyle, you may reap some health benefits from your alcohol consumption. However, if your drinking ever concerns you, or someone around you, it’s best to speak to your doctor as it may be a sign that you’re developing a dependence on alcohol and need to seek help.