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Dear Mark: Alcohol

Posted By Mark Sisson On April 21, 2008 @ 10:42 am In Carbs,Dear Mark,Diet,Health,Nutrition | 54 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 [7] 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 [8], gdoolittle [9], Fred Armitage [10] Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Sensible Vices [11]

Resveratrol and Aging [12]

Subscribe to Mark’s Daily Apple feeds [13]

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