Moderate Alcohol Consumption and its Health Benefits

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This article discusses the possible health benefits which are to be gained from the moderate consumption of alcohol.


Alcohol and other intoxicants are strictly prohibited (haram) in Islam. This aspect of Islam may seem rational, considering the abuse of alcohol can lead to social and health-related problems. However, when used in moderation, research suggests that there are numerous benefits in the consumption of alcohol.

Physical Health

Lower mortality rates

New research[1] suggests that abstaining from alcohol tends to increase the risk of dying, even when you exclude former problem drinkers who have now given-up alcohol, and the mortality rates among abstainers are not only higher than those of moderate drinkers, but also of heavy drinkers.

Moderate drinking, which is defined as one to three drinks per day, is associated with the lowest mortality rates in alcohol studies. Moderate alcohol use (especially when the beverage of choice is red wine) is thought to improve heart health, circulation and sociability, which can be important because people who are isolated don't have as many family members and friends who can notice and help treat health problems.

But why would abstaining from alcohol lead to a shorter life? It's true that those who abstain from alcohol tend to be from lower socioeconomic classes, since drinking can be expensive. And people of lower socioeconomic status have more life stressors — job and child-care worries that might not only keep them from the bottle but also cause stress-related illnesses over long periods. (They also don't get the stress-reducing benefits of a drink or two after work.)

But even after controlling for nearly all imaginable variables — socioeconomic status, level of physical activity, number of close friends, quality of social support and so on — the researchers (a six-member team led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin) found that over a 20-year period, mortality rates were highest for those who were not current drinkers, regardless of whether they used to be alcoholics, second highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers.[2]

Lower risk of heart disease and stroke

While heavy drinkers suffer from an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, many studies have shown that light to moderate drinkers are less likely to suffer from such problems in comparison to abstainers.

Background and Purpose— Previous studies have demonstrated the association between alcohol consumption and cardiovascular mortality. However, the sex-specific association between alcohol consumption and mortality from stroke and coronary heart disease remains unclear.

Methods— Between 1988 and 1990, 34 776 men and 48 906 women aged 40 to 79 years completed a self-administered questionnaire including information about alcohol consumption. They were followed-up for a median duration of 14.2 years.

Results— Of the 83 682 respondents, 1628 died from stroke and 736 died from coronary heart disease. For men, heavy drinking (46.0 g ethanol/day) was associated with increased mortality from total, hemorrhagic, and ischemic strokes, whereas light-to-moderate drinking was associated with reduced mortality from total cardiovascular disease, compared with not drinking. The respective multivariable hazard ratios (95% CI) were 1.48 (1.22 to 1.80) for total stoke, 1.67 (1.17 to 2.38) for hemorrhagic stroke, 1.35 (1.04 to 1.75) for ischemic stroke, and 0.88 (0.78 to 1.00) for total cardiovascular disease. Women who were heavy drinkers (46.0 g ethanol/day) showed increased mortality from coronary heart disease, and there was reduced mortality from total cardiovascular disease for drinkers of 0.1 to 22.9 g ethanol per day compared with mortality for nondrinkers. The respective multivariable hazard ratios (95% CI) for the 2 categories of drinkers were 4.10 (1.63 to 10.3) and 0.75 (0.62 to 0.91).

Conclusions— Heavy alcohol consumption is associated with increased mortality from total stroke, particularly hemorrhagic stroke, and total cardiovascular disease for men, and from coronary heart disease for women, whereas light-to-moderate drinking may be associated with reduced mortality from cardiovascular disease for both sexes.[3]

These findings are corroborated by other studies which also find the benefits apply to men and women suffering from diabetes and that moderate consumption of alcohol should not be discouraged.

Background— An inverse association between moderate alcohol consumption and coronary heart disease (CHD) has been observed in several epidemiological studies. To assess whether a similar association exists among diabetics, we examined the relation between light to moderate alcohol consumption and CHD in men with and without diabetes mellitus in a prospective cohort study.

Methods and Results— A total of 87 938 US physicians (2790 with diagnosed diabetes mellitus) who were invited to participate in the Physicians’ Health Study and were free of myocardial infarction, stroke, cancer, or liver disease at baseline were followed for an average of 5.5 years for death with CHD as the underlying cause. During 480 876 person-years of follow-up, 850 deaths caused by CHD were documented: 717 deaths among nondiabetic men and 133 deaths among diabetic men. Among men without diabetes at baseline, the relative risk estimates for those reporting rarely/never, monthly, weekly, and daily alcohol consumption were 1.00 (referent), 1.02, 0.82, and 0.61 (95% CI 0.49 to 0.78; P for trend <0.0001) after adjustment for age, aspirin use, smoking, physical activity, body mass index, and history of angina, hypertension, and high cholesterol. Among men with diabetes at baseline, the relative risk estimates were 1.00 (referent), 1.11, 0.67, and 0.42 (95% CI 0.23 to 0.77; P for trend=0.0019).

Conclusions— These results suggest that light to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with similar risk reductions in CHD among diabetic and nondiabetic men.[4]
Background— Moderate alcohol consumption is associated with reduced risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) in generally healthy populations. We assessed prospectively the association between moderate alcohol intake and CHD risk in women with type 2 diabetes mellitus, a group at high risk for cardiovascular disease.

Methods and Results— We studied women in the Nurses’ Health Study who reported a diagnosis of diabetes mellitus at 30 years of age. During 39 092 person-years of follow-up from 1980 to 1994, there were 295 CHD events documented among this population, including 194 cases of nonfatal myocardial infarction and 101 cases of fatal CHD. Odds ratios derived from logistic regression were used to estimate relative risks (RRs) for CHD as a function of usual alcohol intake, with adjustment for potential confounders. Compared with diabetic women reporting no alcohol intake, the age-adjusted RR for nonfatal or fatal CHD among diabetic women reporting usual intake of 0.1 to 4.9 g (<0.5 drinks) of alcohol daily was 0.74 (95% CI 0.56 to 0.98), and among those reporting usual intake 5 g/d, it was 0.48 (95% CI 0.32 to 0.72) (P for trend <0.0001). Inverse associations between alcohol intake and CHD risk remained significant in multivariate analysis adjusting for several other coronary risk factors (0.1 to 4.9 g/d: RR 0.72 [95% CI 0.54 to 0.96]; 5 g/d: RR 0.45 [0.29 to 0.68]).

Conclusions— Although potential risks of alcohol consumption must be considered, these data suggest that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with reduced CHD risk in women with diabetes and should not be routinely discouraged.[5]

Lower risk of diabetes

Not only does moderate alcohol consumption seem to benefit diabetes sufferers, but several[6] studies suggest it also helps reduce the risk of diabetes among non-sufferers.

In the new study, researchers found that among more than 35,000 Dutch adults followed for a decade, those who averaged a drink or two per day were 45 percent less likely than teetotalers to develop type 2 diabetes.

Moreover, the lower risk was seen among men and women whose diabetes risk was already relatively low because of their weight and lifestyle habits -- namely, not smoking, eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.

Even among study participants with at least three of those protective factors, moderate drinkers were 44 percent less likely than non-drinkers to develop type 2 diabetes.

The findings, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, do not prove that drinking itself lowers diabetes risk. But they do suggest that the alcohol-diabetes connection is not explained away by other lifestyle factors.

"Our results indicate that this is very unlikely, because moderate drinkers with the most healthy lifestyle behaviors...had a lower chance of developing diabetes compared with subjects with these healthy lifestyle behaviors who did not drink," lead researcher Dr. Michel M. Joosten, of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, noted in an email to Reuters Health.

The findings are based on 35,625 adults who were between the ages of 20 and 70 and free of diabetes, heart disease and cancer at the outset. Participants had their weight, height and waist and hip circumference measured and completed questionnaires on their health and lifestyle habits.

Over the next 10 years, 796 developed type 2 diabetes.

In general, moderate drinkers -- up to a drink per day for women, and up to two for men -- were less likely to develop the disease than non-drinkers. And that remained true when Joosten and his colleagues examined the effects of other lifestyle-related factors.

For example, when they looked only at normal-weight men and women, moderate drinkers were 65 percent less likely to develop diabetes than teetotalers. Similarly, among regular exercisers, moderate drinkers had a 35 percent lower risk of diabetes.

The "take-home message," Joosten said, is that moderate drinking "can be part of a healthy lifestyle to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, even if you already comply with multiple other low-risk lifestyle (behaviors)."[6]

Higher brain trauma survival rates

According to another recent study, Dr. Ali Salim of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, has stated that people with alcohol in their system who suffer from moderate to severe brain trauma "have a slight survival advantage compared to those without alcohol in their system". This has raised the possibility that giving alcohol to brain injured patients may improve the outcome.

People who suffer a traumatic brain injury from a car crash or other mishap are more apt to survive if they had been drinking at the time of the injury, according to a study published Monday.

The finding "raises the intriguing possibility" that giving alcohol to brain injured patients may improve outcome, the study team suggests in the Archives of Surgery.
. . .
"...Those patients with moderate to severe traumatic brain injury who survive their initial insult, those with alcohol in their system seem to have a slight survival advantage compared to those without alcohol in their system," Salim noted.

Among a little more than 38,000 people who suffered moderate to severe brain trauma between 2000 and 2005, 38 percent had alcohol in their system when they arrived at the hospital.

Compared to people who hadn't been drinking before the accident, those who had been drinking were younger (average age 37 years vs. 44 years) and they had less severe injuries. The traumatic brain injured drinkers also spent less time on a ventilator and less time in the intensive care unit.

And, according to Salim and his colleagues, fewer of the drinkers than the non-drinkers died in the hospital (7.7 percent compared with 9.7 percent).

However, the lower death rate among the drinkers was "tempered" by an apparent increase in complications for patients who had been drinking before the accident, the investigators note.

Exactly how alcohol may protect the brain after trauma is unknown. One thought is that alcohol may lessen the body's inflammatory response to the injury.[7]

Lower risk of suffering from rheumatoid arthritis

Research headed by James Maxwell, a rheumatologist at Rotherham Hospital, in the UK, suggests that abstainers are roughly four times more likely to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (a potentially crippling autoimmune disorder) than people who drink occasionally.

People who don't drink alcohol are roughly four times more likely to have rheumatoid arthritis than people who have at least one drink three or more days per week, the study found.

The researchers also found that rheumatoid arthritis patients who drink alcohol tend to have less severe symptoms than their nondrinking counterparts. And the more often they drink, the milder their symptoms are.

An estimated 1.3 million adults in the U.S. have rheumatoid arthritis, a disorder in which the body's immune system inappropriately attacks the joints, causing inflammation, pain, and swelling. Some people experience temporary or intermittent symptoms, but severe cases of the disorder can be disabling.
. . .
"Moderation is the key," says Bergman. "This [study] is by no means encouraging people to go out and get hammered, but as long as there are no [drug] contraindications, there may be some benefits to moderate alcohol consumption if you have RA or are at increased risk for it."

In the study, which appears in the journal Rheumatology, Maxwell and his colleagues asked 873 people with rheumatoid arthritis and roughly 1,000 people without it to estimate how many days in the past month they'd had at least one drink. The researchers measured the severity of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms using questionnaires, joint X-rays, and blood tests that gauge inflammation.

People who'd had a drink on more than 10 days in the past month were less likely to have rheumatoid arthritis than people who didn't drink at all, and if they did have the disorder, they tended to have less severe symptoms according to each of the measures the researchers used.[8]

Lower risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones)

Research carried out in Spain suggests that drinking beer can strengthen bones and reduce the risk of suffering from osteoporosis.

A study found that the bones of women who drink beer regularly are stronger, making them less likely to suffer from osteoporosis.

It is thought that the high level of silicon in beer slows down the thinning that leads to fractures and boosts the formation of new bone, the journal Nutrition reports.

Beer is also rich in phytoestrogens, plant versions of oestrogen, which keep bones healthy.

Bones are made up of a mesh of fibres, minerals, blood vessels and marrow, and healthy ones are denser with smaller spaces between the different parts.

The researchers asked almost 1,700 healthy women with an average age of 48 about their drinking habits. They then underwent ultrasound scans of their hands, which showed the bones belonging to beer drinkers to be denser.

The women's hands were chosen because the bones in the fingers are among the first to show signs of osteoporosis, a disease of bone that leads to an increased risk of fracture.

Those who had less than a pint a day, whom scientists classed as light beer drinkers, fared just as well as those in the moderate bracket, suggesting that even small amounts can boost bone health.

The Spanish researchers said: "Silicon plays a major role in bone formation. Beer has been claimed to be one of the most important sources of silicon in the Western diet."

Three million Britons are affected by osteoporosis. It is most common in women after menopause.[9]

Mental Health

Lower risk of suffering from depression

A Norwegian study[10] suggests that those who never drink are "at significantly higher risk for not only depression but also anxiety disorders, compared with those who consume alcohol regularly."

The study, which was published recently in the journal Addiction, looked at more than 38,000 people in Norway. Researchers, led by Jens Christoffer Skogen of the University of Bergen in Norway, asked the participants how much they had drunk in the previous two weeks; the research team also asked them various questions to measure their levels of anxiety and depression.

People in the top fifth percentile of drinkers had the highest odds for anxiety. But it was abstainers who were at the highest risk for depression — higher even than the heaviest of drinkers. Why?

One reason is that the abstainers in the study sample were more likely to have illnesses such as osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, and people with chronic illnesses are more prone to melancholy. Also, "some people assume it's healthier not to drink," says Skogen — which may be particularly true of those who have chronic illnesses. Finally, some abstainers were formerly heavy drinkers — alcoholics who had to give up the bottle. It makes sense that they would have more psychological distress than others, but only 14% of the abstainers in the Norway study fit this category. (See the top 10 medical breakthroughs of 2008.)

The most powerful explanation seems to be that abstainers have fewer close friends than drinkers, even though they tend to participate more often in organized social activities. Abstainers seem to have a harder time making strong friendship bonds, perhaps because they don't have alcohol to lubricate their social interactions.[11]

Here is the conclusion from the study itself:

CONCLUSIONS: The risk of case-level anxiety and depression is elevated in individuals with low alcohol consumption compared to those with moderate consumption. Individuals who label themselves as abstainers are at particularly increased risk. This increased risk cannot fully be explained by somatic illness, social activity or 'sick-quitting'.[10]

Reduced feelings of depression among teenagers

Research by Timothy Owens, a sociology professor at Purdue University in Indiana, found that the occasional drink between teenage friends can reduce feelings of depression, especially among teenage girls. Of course this does not include teenagers "binge-drinking or getting drunk regularly."

Sneaking an occasional beer with friends could actually be a good thing for teens - especially girls - according to new research that upends typically negative views on teens and alcohol.

Timothy Owens, a sociology professor at Purdue University in Indiana, found that high school girls who drank once or twice with their friends in the past month were less likely to feel depressed than those who didn't.

"The realistic explanation is that teens drink for a lot of reasons, and one of them is to blow off steam, get together, have fun, joke around with their peers," Owens says.

"Getting out with their friends and maybe having a few beers can actually have a positive effect on some, especially girls. It can loosen them up, but even more important, it gets them interacting with their peers.

"And because girls especially value building and maintaining social relationships, it seems to have a positive effect on how they feel," he adds.
. . .
Owens says his research explored two theories about the relationship between depression and drinking. The "push theory" suggests people are induced to drink to deal with negative moods, while the "pull theory" says people are drawn to drinking in a social atmosphere as a way to enhance their mood.

The push theory is prominent in the public imagination with the notion of adults needing a stiff drink after a bad day, he says, but his research suggests that doesn't hold up with teenagers. In fact, Owens found teens are less likely to go out drinking if they're feeling low - particularly boys in their early high school years and girls in the later years. He speculates this is because they're less likely to seek out others and prefer to be alone when in that frame of mind.

"Contrary to popular belief, teens in the emotional doldrums aren't induced to drink, at least in the short-term," he says.

The research included just over 1,000 high school students, and the results are published in the Journal of Adolescence.[12]


When used in moderation, research suggests that there are numerous benefits in the consumption of alcohol, and an all-knowing deity would have been aware of this.

The Jews and Christians are allowed to consume alcohol. The pagan Arabs before and shortly after their conversion to Islam also consumed alcohol. So why did Allah prohibit something that may be beneficial and which was an accepted norm among the religions before Islam?

Apologists will cite Qur'an 2:219 and state "In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit." However, if this was the actual reason behind its prohibition then it only reveals Allah's flawed logic. Surely an all-knowing deity would have only prohibited its abuse and not given us an outright ban.

Furthermore, if the potential health risk of alcohol was the cause of the prohibition, why not also warn against the dangers of drinking milk? The Qur'an encourages the consumption milk and calls it "pure and agreeable to those who drink it", even though the majority of humanity are lactose intolerant and one glass of milk is potentially more harmful than one glass of an alcoholic beverage.

This page is featured in the core article, Islam and Science which serves as a starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about this topic Core part.png

See Also

  • Alcohol - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Alcohol
  • Drinks - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Drinks

External Links


  1. Charles J. Holahan, Kathleen K. Schutte, Penny L. Brennan, Carole K. Holahan, Bernice S. Moos, Rudolf H. Moos - Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research - August 24, 2010, Copyright © 2010 by the Research Society on Alcoholism
  2. John Cloud - Why Do Heavy Drinkers Outlive Nondrinkers? - TIME, August 30, 2010
  3. Satoyo Ikehara, MSc; Hiroyasu Iso, MD; Hideaki Toyoshima, MD; Chigusa Date, PhD; Akio Yamamoto; Shogo Kikuchi, MD; Takaaki Kondo, MD; Yoshiyuki Watanabe, MD; Akio Koizumi, MD; Yasuhiko Wada, MD; Yutaka Inaba, MD; Akiko Tamakoshi - Alcohol Consumption and Mortality From Stroke and Coronary Heart Disease Among Japanese Men and Women - The Japan Collaborative Cohort Study, July 10, 2008, © 2008 American Heart Association, Inc.
  4. Umed A. Ajani, MBBS, MPH; J. Michael Gaziano, MD, MPH; Paulo A. Lotufo, MD, DrPH; Simin Liu, MD, ScD; Charles H. Hennekens, MD, DrPH; Julie E. Buring, ScD; JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPH - Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease by Diabetes Status - the Division of Preventive Medicine (U.A.A., J.M.G., P.A.L., S.L., J.E.B., J.E.M.), Channing Laboratory (J.E.M.), and Cardiovascular Division (J.M.G.), Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Mass; the Department of Epidemiology (J.E.B., J.E.M.) and Department of Nutrition (S.L.), Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Mass; and Massachusetts Veterans Epidemiology Research and Information Center (J.M.G.), Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Brockton/West Roxbury, Mass. Dr Hennekens is visiting Professor of Medicine, and Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Miami School of Medicine., © 2000 American Heart Association, Inc.
  5. Caren G. Solomon, MD, MPH; Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD; Meir J. Stampfer, MD, DrPH; Graham A. Colditz, MBBS, DrPH; Frank E. Speizer, MD; Eric B. Rimm, ScD; Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH; JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPH - Moderate Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Among Women With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus - the Division of Women’s Health (C.G.S.), Channing Laboratory (F.B.H., M.J.S., G.A.C., F.E.S., E.B.R., W.C.W., J.E.M.), Division of Preventive Medicine (J.E.M.), Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Departments of Nutrition (F.B.H., M.J.S., E.B.R., W.C.W.) and Epidemiology (M.J.S., G.A.C., E.B.R., W.C.W., J.E.M.), Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Mass., © 2000 American Heart Association, Inc.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Amy Norton - Moderate drinking linked to lower diabetes risk - Reuters, April 27, 2010
  7. Megan Brooks - Beer for brain injury? Maybe - Reuters, Archives of Surgery, September 2009
  8. Denise Mann - Study: Alcohol may fight rheumatoid arthritis - CNN, July 27, 2010
  9. Ben Leach - Beer could stop bones going brittle - The Telegraph, August 12, 2009
  10. 10.0 10.1 Skogen JC, Harvey SB, Henderson M, Stordal E, Mykletun A. - Anxiety and depression among abstainers and low-level alcohol consumers. The Nord-Trøndelag Health Study - Psychiatric Clinic, Stord DPS, Helse Fonna HF, Norway, September 2009
  11. John Cloud - Why Nondrinkers May Be More Depressed - TIME, October 06, 2009
  12. Shannon Proudfoot - Odd beer break could be good for teenage girls: Study - Canwest News Service, accessed September 1, 2010