Summertime, and the day drinking’s easy. Seriously easy. If you’re anything like me, an average week might include happy hour with margaritas here, a surreptitious bottle of rosé at the beach there…
With three months chock-full of BBQs, weddings, and rooftop hang sessions, summer is hands-down my time to indulge. But despite my grown-up taste for French wine, I have to wonder, could all this well-intentioned drinking actually be — gulp — bad for me?
So, I decided to take my questions to a professional: Dr. Robin Berzin, a practicing doctor and founder of Parsley Health.
What effect does alcohol have on your body and mind?
“How your body handles alcohol depends on several factors that are unique to you, such as what other toxins you’re exposed to, your genetics, how physically active you are,” Dr. Berzin says. “At the end of the day, alcohol is a toxin — a chemical that the liver needs to ‘make safe’ through metabolism — [and] the metabolic process is a stressor on the liver and can lead to oxidative damage, scarring and the accumulation of fat in the liver.
“Alcohol is also damaging to the sensitive lining of the digestive tract and can irritate the stomach as well as break down the integrity of the intestinal barrier, leading to food sensitivities and inflammation. Beer and wine specifically also tend to have more sugar and can feed the overgrowth of bad bacteria and yeasts in the gut.”
Yikes. So, uh, how do I know if I’m drinking too much?
“According to government guidelines, high-risk drinking is the consumption of 4 or more drinks on any day or 8 or more drinks per week for women.
“‘Moderation’ differs from one person to the next. ‘Too much’ for me might be just enough for you. How well you break down alcohol depends on the state of your liver — how burdened it is with other toxins and how your liver enzymes are functioning at any given moment — which again is dependent on both your genetics and what you have been eating lately, as well as any medications you’re taking.”
So is alcohol bad all the time?
“A 2004 systematic review found that moderate drinking was associated with up to 56 percent lower rates of diabetes compared with nondrinkers. Heavy drinkers, though, had an increased incidence of diabetes.
“More recent research suggests that moderate wine intake, especially red wine as part of a healthy diet, is apparently safe and modestly decreases cardiometabolic risk (in diabetic subjects) [editor’s note: your risk for heart disease or stroke]. This suggests that ethanol might play an important role in glucose metabolism, but red wine’s effects also involve nonalcoholic components (think resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant, for example) so it’s not just the alcohol.”
Which drinks are the most healthy? (Asking for a friend.)
“Very dry red wine, such as French Cabernets and Pinot Noirs, that have very little residual sugar and good antioxidant benefits, in moderation. These wines have also been shown to have aromatase inhibitors, which means they can reduce excess estrogen. We also recommend looking for “Natural” or “Biodynamic” wines, as they have fewer sulfites and added preservatives and are grown organically. People often forget that wine is big agriculture and that often wine is grown with pesticides and chemicals and preserved with more chemicals to make it shelf stable over years.
“Our other most frequent recommendation for alcohol is cutting wine and beer altogether, and sticking to vodka, white tequila, and mezcal routinely instead, for people who have digestive issues, imbalances in gut bacteria, food sensitivities, and blood sugar issues, as these forms of alcohol have very little residual sugar or toxins. If you can find organic producers of these alcohols, even better.”
So should I stop drinking altogether (gulp), or is just moderating my alcohol intake beneficial?
“Alcohol is addictive and depleting, and taking a break from it can help your liver function better and your mind feel clearer. It makes sense to give your body a break and see how you feel. I always say ‘live your own experiment.’ Find out for yourself if taking a break from alcohol benefits you — over a week, a month, or even a vacation. Too often travel becomes an excuse to drink excessively and people come back feeling more exhausted than when they left.
“The 2 + 3 rule is my tried and tested general rule to staying on track. It involves sticking to two drinks per day (on the biggest occasions) and finding at least three days during the week to skip the booze altogether.”
According to Dr. Berzin’s rule, just dropping my habit of having a nightly drink with dinner would improve my health drastically — and since following her advice, I haven’t even missed it. Here’s to drinking healthily!