Myths to dispel: is alcohol bad for you?

Drinking alcohol, as we know, is not good for you and brings with it various risks, even serious ones, to health. In this articles we take a closer look at them.

Vinum bonum laetificat cor hominis , good wine makes good blood went a popular Latin saying. We have always attributed to wine – more generally to alcohol – an almost therapeutic power, as if it could somehow disinfect us from evils and at the same time protect our health. Although social life makes us happy, given its rather convivial nature that can loosen inhibitions, alcohol consumption is definitely not to be taken lightly .

What alcohol is and how does it work

Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is a linear alkyl chain alcohol, the formula of which is Ch3Ch2OH. At room temperature it is colorless and has a characteristic pungent odor, while the taste is slightly sweet and burns. It tends to be volatile and extremely flammable. As the website of the Ministry of Health explains, it is a toxic substance, potentially carcinogenic, with the ability to induce addiction. Unlike what is commonly believed, it is not a nutrient: its consumption, therefore, is not useful for the body or its functions.


Alcohol – explains the ministry – is absorbed for 2% by the stomach and the remaining 80% by the first part of the intestine. It then passes into the blood and then from the blood to the liver, where an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase has the task of destroying it. When the liver has disposed of it, the concentration of alcohol in the blood is cleared. Which, however, takes time, which differs from person to person. It varies, in fact, based on sex, age, ethnicity and personal characteristics. Before the age of 16 the alcohol disposal system is totally inefficient, it is partly before the age of 21, after the age of 65 it no longer works. Furthermore, this capacity is always halved in the female sex.

Direct damage

Alcohol consumption causes direct damage to the cells of many organs. Above all, given its task, there is the liver, followed by the central nervous system and, in particular, by the cells of the brain. “Among the organic pathologies – we read on the website of the Ministry of Health – in addition to those of the gastrointestinal system (therefore esophagitis, gastritis, steatosis, acute and chronic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis and tumors) and of the central and peripheral nervous system “There are those related to the cardiovascular system” therefore myocardial infarction, thrombophlebitis, vasculitis, the endocrine-reproductive system (infertility, impotence, decreased sexual desire, hormonal alterations), sometimes irreversibly “. Furthermore, alcohol is also a concomitant cause of some malignant tumors, partially alcohol-attributable, such as cancer of the oropharynx,

Consumption during pregnancy

Consumed during pregnancy, alcohol causes mental retardation in children. In fact, by crossing the placenta, ethanol can compromise the growth and weight of the fetus, causing permanent damage to the central nervous system. This leads to underdevelopment and malformation of cells and brain structure, with functional and cognitive consequences such as poor memory, attention deficit and impulsive behaviors.

Indirect damage

They are known as “alcohol-related” damage, that is, due to behaviors associated with acute alcohol intoxication. There is talk of risky sexual behaviors, accidents at work, episodes of violence, above all driving while intoxicated. Alongside the indirect damage there is also the risk associated with the intake of alcohol and psychotropic drugs.

Consume it without risk

Is there, therefore, the possibility of consuming alcohol without risk? According to what the National Federation of Orders of Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) replies on the website “ Doctor, is it true that? “, Over time, numerous studies have shown a protective effect of moderate wine consumption, in particular red wine, for coronary ischemic disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus.” We have seen – reads –that moderate amounts of wine increase the production of good cholesterol (HDL) which in turn reduces the formation of atherosclerotic plaques in the blood vessel walls and therefore the risk of adverse cardiovascular events (myocardial infarction, thrombosis, stroke, embolism and aneurysms ). Such results have been seen especially with red wine which is rich in resveratrol and other polyphenols. These compounds are powerful natural antioxidants found in the skin of grape berries (but not in the pulp). Research on animal models has shown that they are associated with a lower formation of atherosclerotic plaques ”.

“Therapeutic” substances

In wine, explains Fnomceo, there are several therapeutic substances, such as procyanidolics, powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that strengthen the elasticity of the blood vessel walls. “In theory – says the Federation – even the same ethanol would have a protective effect, as suggested by a study conducted with wine without ethanol: in this experience a protective effect was not found. It has been calculated that doses of ethanol able to protect against coronary ischemic disease would be about 12.5 g / day for women and about 20-30 g / day for men. Taking into account that a 150 ml glass of wine with an alcohol content of 12 contains about 14 grams of ethanol, we could say that a moderate consumption of alcohol lowers the risk of having a heart attack “.

The big “but” of scientific evidence

“ But be careful – concludes the Federation – we should also ask ourselves at what price, and that is to put the risks and benefits on the balance on the basis of the scientific evidence gathered. As stated in the document of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, 10 grams of pure alcohol per day have a protective effect on type 2 diabetes and this moderate intake is associated with lower mortality, however, these are consumption levels for which always and in any case simultaneously records the relative risk increase for numerous pathological conditions, including different types of cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has concluded that the ‘consumption of alcoholic beverages’, ethanol and acetaldehyde have a causal relationship with the onset of cancer in humans“.

There is no moderate drinking

In conclusion, Fnomceo clarifies, there is no alcohol consumption that is good for you. ” Even moderate use – he writes, in fact –it’s risky. We cannot say that by drinking a glass of wine a day we will never have a heart attack or that we will get cancer. What comes into play is the concept of risk: that is the probability of developing a disease deriving from a behavior (or from the combination of several behaviors) that has a health and social impact on the individual and on the community […] The only message correct and responsible is that the ethanol contained in wine, beer or spirits is a toxic, carcinogenic, teratogenic substance, which can be addictive and, moreover, that the concept of ‘moderate drinking’ does not exist from a scientific point of view , as there is no safe quantity “

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