Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
21 Apr

Dear Mark: Alcohol

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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You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. 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

    parlain wrote on December 8th, 2011
  2. 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.

    ErinRose wrote on January 22nd, 2012
  3. 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!

    Ali wrote on February 22nd, 2012
    • meh Good try at justifying a habit best broken.
      Alcohol-calorie,physical/mental health costs.
      Two words: Beer belly

      LC wrote on February 22nd, 2012
  4. I am an IPA man. Love the flavor, it is the best drink as far as I am concerned. It is my greatest temptation. I may have to start brewing a non-alcoholic version.

    Jason wrote on July 5th, 2012
  5. Today I was released from another little stint of incarceration, just two weeks. I used what little money I had to buy two beers. I’m not feeling on top of the world or anything, but I don’t regret the purchase. The music I’m listening to right now just seems to be meant for the moment.
    I started drinking (well, started drinking to get drunk rather than to see how alcoholic beverages taste at 13 years old and loved alcohol. By 15 I didn’t like at as much for some reason, maybe because I “replaced” it with other indulgences, and I’d sort of hate on it (including in the comment section of this website), saying that it was a terrible brain and liver destroying substance (oh what a hippocrate I was – I was on a semi-synthetic opiate deriviative for – bit of an exaggeration (but not too much) – 5 years nonstop). This last year or so I’ve gotten back into alcohol, drinking it responsibly, I think. The red whine I used to say was a bad idea is now one of my favourite drinks. In fact I think I might get a bottle (or two, or three .. or something along those lines) tomorrow when my welfare check for the month is supposed to be ready for pick up. It will make a great refresher for the marathon+ hiking trip back to the place I most consider my hometown. Cheese will be included too, and luckily I was arrested with about 120 grams of dark chocolate, which disappeared quickly after I walked out of the jail.

    Animanarchy wrote on August 9th, 2012
    • As an afterthought, I think besides being a bit enjoyable alcohol might actually make me act nicer, or at least make me try to act nicer. Silliness can easily occur as a side effect though, and that could be interpreted differently depending on who you are.

      Animanarchy wrote on August 9th, 2012
  6. Wine with meals adds a healthy balance to a good meal. I don’t believe alcohol is detrimental to one’s health unless it’s immoderately used. Good beer is good for one also, but generally not the junk that’s made in the states (also served too cold). Distilled liquor is bad stuff and although I like everything from scotch to gin to campari and ouzo, I drink it only occassionly. Where I live their are too many retired folks with nothing to do in the PM so they over imbibe every evening of whatever cocktails suit their fancy their fancy. It soon becomes the main part of their dinner. Their skin soon develops that ashen, dried out look. As for any habit, the ancient Greeks said it best, meiden agan.

    Bob wrote on August 23rd, 2012
  7. I have a few glasses of red wine every night with dinner. It’s what I look forward to at the end of the day.

    jacalore wrote on February 11th, 2013
  8. Hi,

    Where would Primal man get his alcohol drinks?

    Pip Power wrote on February 18th, 2013
    • He would bury some yams in the ground and dig them up a few months later.

      That would, I think, produce a beer-like alcohol which is discouraged in PB guidelines. It’s interesting to note that things like wine require a higher degree of processing/technology and thus probably were never tasted by paleolithic man.

      Ben wrote on February 18th, 2013
  9. I have enjoyed a glass of dry red wine (4 oz.) quite often throughout my life until a year or two ago (many intervals such as pregnancy or illness when I didn’t drink at all during those past 40 years), but quite often the daily 4 oz. Loved its relaxation effect and healthy bowel side effects. Other Health factors have resulted in intestinal issues within the past two years. One such one is small intestine bacterial overgrowth: as shown by bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation. This study says even a drink a day could cause this issue. FYI

    mary wrote on May 11th, 2013
  10. I have to say Mark, i think alcohol is certainly a poison which i why i never consume, ever. I’ve just stumbled onto this site and way of thinking, i agree with most of it. I try not to consumer anything that could be addicting. No alcohol, no caffeine (where it is not naturally found like some plants), no coffee or tea, etc. I feel so much better no consuming these things. Yes, alcohol makes you feel good for a short period of time if you are responsible, but it is just too risky.

    The hardest thing for me is sugar. i was addicted and didn’t even know it until i went on an involuntary cleanse (stomach ulcers from spicey foods) causing me to eat only oatmeal for 4 weeks. I craved sugar so bad and was cranky for about 2-3 weeks, but afterwards it became easy.

    russ wrote on May 14th, 2013
    • Spicy food doesn’t cause ulcers. The Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria causes most ulcers. Spicy food can actually HELP ulcers…

      Marc wrote on December 8th, 2013

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