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I recently was reading this inforgrafics about excessive alcohol use. It is written:

No one should begin drinking or drink more frequently based on potential health benefits

I am surprised. Is there any potential health benefits of drinking alcohol?

To check this information, I made a little research and found this article of the Medical Daily: 7 Health Benefits Of Drinking Alcohol. Apparently, a moderate alcohol consumption (no more than 2 drinks a day for a men) can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, lengthen the life, decrease the chances of demantia and diabetes, ...

But, for all of these facts, only one study is provided. So, I want to know if it is a well established fact that alcohol can have positive effects on health. And, if so, what is the corresponding dose to get these benefits?

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    $\begingroup$ After a quick googling - should be relevant: Piano. 2017. Alcohol’s Effects on the Cardiovascular System. Alcohol Res. (a review). See e.g. “The associations between drinking and CV diseases such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral arterial disease, and cardiomyopathy have been studied extensively and are outlined in this review. [...] Low-to-moderate alcohol use may mitigate certain mechanisms such as risk and hemostatic factors affecting atherosclerosis and inflammation $\endgroup$ Dec 25, 2019 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ The classic j shaped curve associated with alcohol consumption is discussed in this answer $\endgroup$
    – De Novo
    Dec 25, 2019 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ Based on your comment to @Willk I think this question (and the title in particular) would benefit from you editing it to be more focused. As currently written their answer seems like a valid answer as would an answer that focused on how alcohol can reduce spoilage. $\endgroup$
    – tyersome
    Dec 27, 2019 at 0:51
  • $\begingroup$ Alcohol can be used as a disinfectant, and can preserve water. I ate a bad egg in a Dehli restaurant in 97 and vomited for 8 days and survived on rehydration salts. On the 8th day, I went to buy a bottle a Gin, 30% alcohol or something, and I had a good dose of it straight. it must have gone through my body pretty vigorously because after the gin, a coal colored flegm came out the other way and within 24 hours of drinking the Gin i was 100% fine. perhaps it was even salmonella considering it was an egg. $\endgroup$ Jan 19, 2021 at 18:40

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Different studies result in different answers, but in general there seems to be a small beneficial health effect of small amounts of alcohol. An example study is The association of lifetime alcohol use with mortality and cancer risk in older adults: A cohort study. The results are summarised in this figure:

the association between average lifetime alcohol intake and overall mortality

From this image we can see that it appears that less than four drinks a day is accosiated with a reduced risk of death, this effect being mostly cardiovascular related.

All these studies are observational studies rather than controlled studies. This always leaves the possibility that what is being observed is correlation but not causality.

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Alcohol has caloric value.

First worlders today have a wealth of high calorie food choices which make the caloric value of alcoholic drinks either irrelevant or detrimental. But it was not always this way. In circumstances where other caloric sources were limited or unpalatable, alcohol supplied calories needed to supply the energy demand of workers. Persons working energy-intensive jobs (such as field labor or factory work) have historically supplemented calories from food with calories from ethanol. The below excerpt discusses the dietary habits of metalworkers in the late 1800s.

Drink, Temperance and the Working Class in Nineteenth Century Germany

Despite the overall improvement in dietary standards of the previous two or three decades, the situation of these Manheim workers suggests that alcohol remained an essential part of the working-class diet. If provided necessary calories in palatable form. The sharp flavor of alcoholic beverages could add spice to otherwise monotonous fare, providing a sense of warmth and fullness even when meals were cold and unsatisfying. Perhaps most important, alcohol provided energy in concentrated form. Alcohol, whether in the form of beer or spirits, enabled workers to reduce the sheer quantity of food that had to be gotten down each day. The distinguished physiologist Max Gruber calculated that a worker who consumed even a 10th of a liter of schnapps with the meal could come up with no energy loss, reduces potato and rye bread consumption but some 288 and 122 g respectively.”Try eating a kilo of black bread or two or more kilos of potatoes day after day”, Gruber told his well fed middle-class readers in 1888, “and you’ll discover what a relief it can be to substitute a pungent and stimulating beverage for a 10th of this mass”.

The health benefit of alcohol consumption here would be that of not starving in situations of high caloric expenditure. calories are concentrated as compared to carbohydrates and distilled spirits also have an indefinite shelf life - not true of grains and potatoes.

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  • $\begingroup$ My question was more about health and disease rather than the nutritional aspect. $\endgroup$
    – Pierre
    Dec 26, 2019 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ Also, I would expect that since beverage alcohol is produced by fermentation, the beverage would have fewer calories than the grain it is made from, since some of the energy would have been used by the yeast. That's even before considering that in most such beverages, a lot of the original material is often discarded as waste, or used as fertilizer or animal food. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 26, 2019 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf - you are right that there is a net loss of calories on converting starch calories to alcohol. In exchange you get alcohol calories that will not be used by fungi or rodent pests. For Pierre - not starving is a positive effect on health last time I checked. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Dec 27, 2019 at 0:27
  • $\begingroup$ The energy provided by ethanol provides no other form than heating which is typically not needed because it is in abundance already. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2020 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidJonsson - care to check your biochemical pathways again? Pretty sure that ethanol can be metabolized into the citric acid pathway or into lipid biosynthesis... $\endgroup$
    – bob1
    May 19, 2021 at 9:16
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Psychological benefits
Alcohol allows to relieve stress, makes people friendlier, and establish closer social contacts. For this reason wine constitutes an important part of national culture in many countries: vodka in Russia, wine in France, beer in Germany and Belgium, wiskey in British islands, etc.

Protection from pathogens
Disinfecting properties of alcohol, mentioned in the comments, have actually played important role in human history: indeed, massive drinking of wine and beer in the Middle Ages largely protected population from water-borne disease, such as cholera. It is only with advent of drinks like tea and coffee, where microbes are eliminated via boiling, that the consumption of wine began to be considered unhealthy.

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  • $\begingroup$ Protection from methanol. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Oct 17, 2021 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen not sure what you mean. Please give more details. $\endgroup$ Oct 18, 2021 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ Ethanol treats methanol poisoning because it competes with the methanol reducing how much of it is metabolized into toxic compounds before it can pass through you. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Oct 18, 2021 at 4:45
  • $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen this is true, but is there anything like natural methanol poisoning? (I.e., apart of mistakenly consuming methanol instead of ethanol.) $\endgroup$ Oct 18, 2021 at 5:45
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    $\begingroup$ Eating a lot of fermented fruit? But I looked and it up...interesting...methanol is produced by the human digestive system. Toxicity is in the dose I guess. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Oct 18, 2021 at 5:52

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