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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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April 21, 2008

Dear Mark: Alcohol

By Mark Sisson
70 Comments

Dear Mark,

I keep hearing news stories about how alcohol is good for you, but I wonder how that figures in with the Primal Blueprint. What’s your take? Can I have that beer when I come home from a long hard day at work and not feel guilty?

It’s true that we tend to hear a lot about a given piece of advice publicized again and again with a slightly different spin from varied studies. While researchers will often pursue subjects that are “timely,” I sense the media (popular and even medical journals to some extent) is more the influence in this case.

I think this is a great question, and I’d even call it a tough one. You see, I don’t really support alcohol consumption, but I condone it (and practice it) as a personal “indulgence” within the context of the Primal Blueprint just as I do dark chocolate or cheese.

I’ve read a lot of the studies supporting moderate alcohol consumption. Overall, the presented evidence seems to suggest that 2 ounces a day might reduce the risk of heart disease in the study populations. But we come up against a wall here. What I would love to see but haven’t are reliable studies that compare those who eat healthy, low carb diets and no alcohol with those who eat healthy, low carb diets and include moderate alcohol.

Alcohol thins the blood, which can be of help to those at risk for atherosclerosis. It can partially compensate for other less healthy practices, as evident in the French Paradox, or it can supplement the benefits of relatively healthy (though not ideal) diets like the Mediterranean diet. However, if you’re already eating a healthy, low-carb diet, exercising, and taking fish oil for the blood-thinning benefits, I’m doubtful alcohol would offer as much health advantage, especially when you take into account the drawbacks of alcohol’s carb content.

There’s also evidence that alcohol consumption can raise the risk of certain cancers, particularly breast cancer in women and cancer of the head, neck and esophagus in both genders. And then there’s the more basic consideration that people react differently to alcohol. Some of you have shared in past comments that even the smallest amount of alcohol leaves you feeling lousy. Which is why (among other reasons) I’m not going to strongly suggest one way or the other how you handle this complicated question. Additionally, I’m not going to recommend daily or weekly consumption figures for men or women to you or my readers. Though these guidelines can be used for rough approximations they vary considerably from country to country and, by their very nature, aren’t personalized. There are legitimate, physiological and genetic differences in people’s capacity for alcohol oxidation. Rest assured that you’re not missing out on something you can’t get from an otherwise healthy diet and lifestyle.

Your question involves having a drink at the end of a “long hard day.” Stress is an often overlooked aspect of health. This is especially troublesome considering how rampant stress and anxiety is in modern society. With regards to alcohol, I wouldn’t be surprised if the stress reducing benefits, imagined or real, of a single drink at the end of the day outweigh the negative health effects. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that everyone starts drinking up when things get tough. There are many other ways to deal with stress, and using alcohol as a primary coping mechanism can lead to dependence. But, in my opinion, it may not be so bad if moderate and controlled alcohol consumption is part of your way to relax.

All this said, I’d suggest skipping the beer (which is liquid grain after all) or in the very least not making it your regular drink of choice. Red wine, with its polyphenols and resveratrol, offers more health bang for your carb allotment. Though Grok didn’t belly up to the bar at the end of the day and strict adherence to the Primal Blueprint would suggest abstaining, life is short. As with any indulgence, it’s best to see it as an occasional rather than regular part of your diet. And keep in mind that some forms of alcohol have less ill effect than going from, say 150 to 250 grams of carbs in a day.

How many drinks do you have each week and/or what is your take on alcohol. Hit me up with a comment and keep the questions coming. Thanks, everyone!

williac, gdoolittle, Fred Armitage Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Sensible Vices

Resveratrol and Aging

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70 Comments on "Dear Mark: Alcohol"

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primalman08
primalman08
8 years 5 months ago

I have 6-10 oz of red wine with dinner nearly every night. It is 100% paleo in my head. I am confident that Grok came across fermented berries and enjoyed it just as occassionally modern bears will become intoxicated on wild, fermented grapes.

Grok was a smart animal and probably kept his eyes open for future encounters with fermented berries.

This is my story and I am stickin’ to it.

Chrispy
2 years 7 months ago

Completely agree. My horse lives a natural life (as evolution intended) in a big field with all sorts of trees in. Including some apple trees. It’s funny to see them all wobbling around in the autumn when they gobble up the fermenting fallen fruit. I see no reason why Grok wouldn’t do the same, in fact moreso, as his greater intelligence would cause him to actively seek out these “happy time” consumables.

Rory
Rory
8 years 5 months ago

I actually started drinking alcohol for the health benefits. I don’t particularly even like it, but I’ve heard so much about the resveratrol in wine that I figure I needed to add at least a touch to the diet. Recently though I’ve been preparing food with alcohol rather than just drinking it. I find wine tastes better poured over a chicken than sipped from a glass.

Chrispy
2 years 7 months ago

You could alternatively simply eat red grapes and/or take a resveratrol supplement!

Other Donna
Other Donna
8 years 5 months ago
I drink a glass or two of red wine 3-5 times a week. I enjoy drinking. It helps me unwind. But I try not to do it too frequently (i.e. every night). I don’t ever want to end up some day addicted as a result of years of consistent drinking. Your right, Mark. There are upsides and downsides to alcohol. There is no right answer for each and every person. It should be viewed as a sensible vice and fully enjoyed when imbibed. Also, as you seem to allude to, despite the positive health benefits you probably aren’t missing out… Read more »
Sammy
Sammy
8 years 5 months ago

I’m with you primalman08. You gotta love a couple drinks each night. Where are all the anti-alcohol people? I expected to see some comments speaking against the odd bottle of beer or glass of wine.

LindaPM
LindaPM
8 years 5 months ago

Here I am, Sammy. “Alcohol is good for you” is barely supported at best and highly wishful thinking at worst. In my estimation the negatives outnumber the positives, AND who wants to play with fire?… everyone knows SOMEONE that has fought with alcoholism. I’d rather steer clear altogether and not have to worry about it. Besides – it doesn’t taste good too me. This is one taste I would rather NOT acquire.

Jarrell
Jarrell
4 years 9 months ago

But it makes you feel good hah

bill
bill
8 years 5 months ago

The only good thing I have ever heard about alcohol, is that it thins your blood. And I think that, that was in regards to red wine, and of course the antioxidant resveratrol found in red wine. Does alcohol attack white/ red blood cells?

Dave C. - DaveGetsFit
8 years 5 months ago

A few months ago I decided I would try having the class of red wine, and one square of dark chocolate at night. I discovered that I no longer tolerate alcohol very well. That one glass gave me a buzz, and then I would have another, and next thing you know, the box of chocolate was gone!! Scratch that idea. Instead I have a cold beer once in a blue moon.

Thompson
Thompson
8 years 5 months ago

5-7 drinks a week. Mostly wine, sometimes beer.

Craig49
Craig49
8 years 5 months ago

3-5/week

Heather
Heather
8 years 5 months ago
I don’t drink regularly, but when I do it’s never beer or wine (don’t like the taste), it’s always liquor. I know it’s awful for me, but I’ve always been the partying type and one night every 2-3 months is not often enough to worry about. I rarely mix drinks, and if I do it’s with Diet Rite. I tend to stick to shots, either straight up or chased with water. I find it hard to keep track of how much I’ve consumed in mixed drinks (especially if someone else is making them), but I can count how many shots… Read more »
Judy
Judy
8 years 5 months ago

Probably 5-10 drinks a week. Most nights I have one glass of red wine, occasionally a “girly” cocktail (amaretto sour, fuzzy navel) or a fruity margarita at a restaurant (and we only eat at those kinds of places once a month or so). I like the taste, don’t see a problem with it, handle it in moderation, haven’t been good and drunk since before my first son was conceived in 2003.

Yes, some people have problems with alcohol, but some people can’t handle FOOD in moderation, and that’s not enough of a reason to avoid eating food.

JohnSon
JohnSon
8 years 5 months ago

“to’ up”

Thank you, Heather. That is hilarious.

Keenan
8 years 5 months ago
If I’m not mistaken alcohol (of all types, not just wine) acts as an oxidative buffer and also reduces the GI of accompanying food. There should be nothing wrong with having a couple drinks here and there as long as your not drinking carb-laden beer or mixed drinks and you have a respect and awareness for the drug. One thing I have noticed is that sense adopting the paleo diet a few years ago, my tolerance has *plummeted*. I feel the pleasant effects of alcohol after a drink or two, when the same effect used to take many more than… Read more »
Ryan Denner
8 years 5 months ago

lately, geeze – almost a glass of wine/day during the week (thanks to work!). and I am even training for an Ironman (my one and only, Mark!). I easily justify it because of the antioxidants 🙂

JC
JC
8 years 5 months ago

I have a couple of 150ml glasses of wine every night, some times a bit more, compared to the amounts in the comments that’s more than the average marksdailyapple reader, that about 31g alcohol, i would say that’s probably the maximum amount that you can drink & still make an argument that it supports a healthy lifestyle, how much do you drink Mark?

Joe Matasic
Joe Matasic
8 years 5 months ago
Heather: No, you’re certainly not the only one who like to get “to’ up.” My favorite line from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Meatwad: “Where’s my whiskey at? I’m goin’ get to’ up!” Keenan & Heather: Not sure its the diet that causes you to get drunk faster. You may be just drinking less overall or “bingeing” (according the the health nazis) less often. I switched pretty completely to a paleo/atkins diet over 4 years ago. Though I kept drinking Jack Daniels like normal (and I used to drink a lot) and still took my normal amount to get “to’ up.”… Read more »
Brandon
Brandon
3 years 3 days ago

I say ‘get after it!’ Lol

Mark Levin
Mark Levin
8 years 5 months ago

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the stress reducing benefits, imagined or real, of a single drink at the end of the day outweigh the negative health effects.”

Stress is almost ignored as a cause of heart disease and stroke with few exceptions, Malcom Kendrick of the Great Cholesterol Con and Dean Ornish come to mind (How’s that for opposite ends of the low fat spectrum?).

Nancy S
8 years 5 months ago

Now that I live in Italy, I have a glass of wine, red more often than white, 4 or 5 times a week. I will be so sad when we move back stateside and the same bottle of wine costs 3 times as much!

Bere alla salute di uno!

Mike Drew
Mike Drew
8 years 5 months ago
I’ve only recently developed a taste for wine, so, every now and again, I’ll have a glass or two in the evening. I much prefer a beer to a glass of wine. Since I live in PA, I’m most often stuck by beer by the case, as it can only be purchased in six packs in bars (which is expensive), and it’s not sold at grocery stores, convenience stores, or gas stations. That means that, when I feel like a beer, I drive to the beer distributor, where they only sell kegs and cases. When I buy a case, I’ll… Read more »
Linda
Linda
5 years 1 month ago

fyi – it is documented that 7 alcoholic drinks (beer) is harmful to men under 60 years old. For women, it is 5. If you drink wine, drink less than that number – more alcohol in the drink. Yes, alcohol is bad for you.

Nancy Rose
Nancy Rose
8 years 5 months ago

Mark Levin beat me to the comment I was writing up. Malcom Kendrick, in “The Great Cholesterol Con” makes it clear he believes that moderate alcohol consumption is good because of the calming effects it has on the nervous system, thereby keeping cortisol levels low. He asserts that the cortisol produced by our bodies as a response to stress is a major contributor to the formation of arterial plaques that can eventually lead to heart attacks. The book is an interesting read, I highly recommend it.

Kevin Burnett
Kevin Burnett
8 years 5 months ago
Hardly ever drink – last time was in March I believe. Used to drink beer quite a bit, but cut that out for various reasons over the years so that now I might have a couple of drinks every few months at most. I feel that drinking slows me down and my perception that it’s not healthy is so strong that the “mental” damage it does to me far outweighs the physical. It’s like eating dark chocolate. I would never do that. Ever. I hear about the health benefits, but my perception of candy being bad, and the fact that… Read more »
John La Puma
8 years 5 months ago
C’ent anni!- ‘May you live one hundred years’ … which I believe is possible with a glass or two of wine and a healthy lifestyle. I usually have a glass of red wine with my meal every night, and local, organic or homemade is usually my glass of choice. Organic wines often have significantly higher levels of polyphenols than non-organic wines. Wine is also better with a meal that has protein in it, as the protein appears to improve the bioavailability (absorption) of polyphenols. The polyphenol quercetin improves the bioavailability of resveratrol, the touted longevity compound found primarily in grape… Read more »
Heather
Heather
8 years 5 months ago
Thanks JohnSon & Joe, I was a little worried that maybe I really would be the only person here who did… That’s one of my favorite Meatwad lines, too. Also fond of “You wanna take the Meat Bridge? It’s right here.” You may be right about my tolerance dropping with increased time between drinking. I hadn’t thought about it, but the past year has been a lot busier for us and we have gone quite a bit longer between going to parties. (Usually involves a trip out of state, our town is lame.) I drink almost exclusively at parties, with… Read more »
Doug K
8 years 5 months ago

watching for the decreased tolerance to alcohol is key to keeping it healthy..
when I was racing-fit, I was a cheap date, one beer would put me on my ear 😉
but in the offseason I’d have a beer before dinner, then two, then three, which got alarming.
now have 1-2 glasses of wine, or a single beer on hot summer days. My kids keep me honest on this. I think the stress-relief factor is significant. Running after work is better for stress relief, but usually have kid-sport/music commitments after work these days.

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[…] Dear Mark: How Does Alcohol Figure in to the Primal Blueprint? […]

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7 years 9 months ago

[…] Dear Mark: How Does Alcohol Figure in to the Primal Blueprint? […]

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[…] 69. Ditch alcohol […]

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[…] fish oil is a great supplement. But, as Peter of Hyperlipid cautions, diets high in sucrose or alcohol can increase the load on your liver when paired with high dose fish oil supplementation. I know […]

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[…] there are some legitimate scientific reasons to enjoy alcohol in moderation. Alcohol as a blood thinner enhances vascular health, and the phenolic content (potent antioxidants) can […]

Aaron Curl
6 years 9 months ago

I look at it like this: I eat very well and exercise regularly. In fact, at 35 I am in the best overall health I have ever been in. About once a month I drink because I feel I deserve it! I probably drink too many at one time but oh well. Its my only release to an otherwise strict eating and exercise schedule.

Roman
Roman
6 years 6 months ago
I believe that alcohol in moderate and controlled consumption is beneficiary. Definitely a glass of red dry wine a day is a good thing. I drink a beer or two from time to time as I love the taste of the beer, but then I have to watch that I get some exercise to burn the carbs right away. I am 220 pound average guy (some musle some fat) and I consider overdoing alcohol with as little as 4-5 glasses/units in a session. The effect I feel are similar to any other oxidation activity (i.e. eating a lot of sugar/carbohydrates,… Read more »
Roman
Roman
3 years 7 months ago
It’s funny to watch gaining back your hormonal balance after you start to follow primal. I started in 2008, wrote the comment in 2010. And now, after 5 years of primal I can say that: It’s not what you do to counter-effect the impact of alcohol on you body. It’s what you do to gain/preserve the hormonal balance in your body to avoid the excess of carbs whatever healthy they may be presented 🙂 Now I cannot agree more with Mark’s comment “And keep in mind that some forms of alcohol have less ill effect than going from, say 150… Read more »
Roman
Roman
6 years 6 months ago

Fat/protein may help you to decrease the immediate effect of large alcohol consumption, but I believe that the liver has to take the extra load anyway as there is no muscle movement in the pub 🙂 and the recovery is also somewhat longer.

This is not a recipe to get out of the overhang. If you get there you are on your own.

Roman
Roman
6 years 6 months ago

Drinking of large quantities of alcohol is simply wrong. Everybody should try to find their mechanisms to avoid that.

However, putting aside addiction thing, eating a box of ice cream may be as bad as drinking a bottle of wine or a six pack…

Casey Rafter
Casey Rafter
6 years 5 months ago

Has anyone experienced an increase in the rate of liver rejuvenation (no hangover)? At least from what I have read, saturated fat is a key component for proper liver function. Switching your caloric intake from high-carb/low-fat to high-fats/low-carbs may drastically reduce the load on the garbage man of the organs. I’ll experiment and get back to everyone.

Snowleopard
Snowleopard
4 years 2 months ago
I am not “primal” yet, but heading that way without knowing what primal was. In the last few years i have transitioned to mostly certified organic for purchased food, including beer and wine. More than half of our food is now fresh from our organic garden, vacuum packed here and frozen, or home canned. We raise our own chickens, geese and goats for meat and eggs. One change (among many) i have noticed is that i don’t have hangovers or get tipsy from drinking an extra glass or two of beer or wine anymore. I am unwilling to go much… Read more »
frank
frank
6 years 5 months ago

Hello All!

For me its Belgian wheat beers! They have health advantages! Hoegradenn! I also enjoy Cognac just like Napoleon!!

stacey
6 years 3 months ago

I used to drink about 1-2(sometimes 3, eep!) glasses of wine each night, but now to cut back on spending, I am going to try and only drink on the weekends (just 1 glass of wine on sat or sun) Alcohol gets expensive, especially if you like good expensive sipping tequila! I do think moderation is key, and occasionally I fall into the “habit” of it all. I think it will be good for our wallet and health to only enjoy drinks on the weekend.

Rick
Rick
6 years 3 months ago
I ran across some useful info about wine and calories at http://www.wineintro.com/basics/health/ . Generally wine only has between 1-2 grams of carbs per serving in red AND white so carb content is really negligible. There’s no protein or fat so the other factor is calories from alcohol. I didn’t know this before, but there’s a wide disparity in alcohol content between different wines. I’ve seen as low as 7% and up as high as 14.5%. This is important because since there is 7 calories per gram of alcohol, there could be a lot more calories in one wine vs. another.… Read more »
Frank
Frank
6 years 18 days ago

I am preparing for Oktoberfest here in Munich. After not drinking any alcohol for the past 6 months, it’s going to be interesting. I think I can make this exception, drink moderately, enjoy the ambiance, and then return afterwards to my occasional beer.

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[…] Mark Sisson Robb Wolf Whole9 […]

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[…] if you’re too lazy to check out that link, here’s what Mark Sisson has to say about alcohol: I’d suggest skipping the beer (which is liquid grain after all) or in the very least not making […]

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[…] Marks Daily Apple on alcohol  […]

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[…] Mark Sisson from Marks Daily Apple did a great job breaking down the question: Is alcohol good for you?  The response can be found here. […]

parlain
parlain
4 years 9 months ago

I drink a sixpack of cooper’s sparkling ale(5.8% alcohol) every second night, or a whole bottle of australian shiraz, i am convinced that combined with a low carb/high fat/high protein diet it is very helpful and in no way see it as ‘wrong’ at all….Im 35, still fight amateur boxing matches once a year and lift crazy heavy weights everyday, i have blood pressure of and 18 year old and minimal bodyfat… i love it, and i wouldn’t stop for anyone or anything

ErinRose
ErinRose
4 years 8 months ago

What about that cream stout or porter beers? When blue Moon celebrating I will split a pitcher with a cum but am curious how unreasonable that really is? Is that like drinking one or two loaves of bread? But it really is enjoyable you are lifted I attribute that to the high b vitamin content of the Dark beers.

Ali
Ali
4 years 7 months ago

I DEFINITELY think alcohol is paleo! Traditional cultures all over the world have their own ways of making booze, whether or not they’re agrarian. Plus, humans have a natural taste for ethanol, like in very ripe fruit – it’s got calories and is antimicrobial.

Of course it should be consumed in a healthy way, but I think responsible drinking is helpful, even if your diet is healthy already- most of our ancestors were enjoying alcohol long before processed carbohydrates came on the scene!

LC
LC
4 years 7 months ago

meh Good try at justifying a habit best broken.
Alcohol-calorie,physical/mental health costs.
Two words: Beer belly

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[…] gluten-free alcohol guidance I like Mark’s Daily Apple’s take on it.  Please note that most beer is NOT gluten free, but I have been able to find and enjoy Redbridge […]

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