There are no cut and dried answers regarding the risks and health benefits of drinking alcohol. What is quite clear is that alcohol in excess creates potential health problems.

Consumed in moderation alcohol is said to have health benefits. Population studies indicate that drinking a couple of units per day confers a health benefit compared to not drinking at all in terms of lower heart disease risk. One of the initial research articles examined the relationship between death rates from coronary heart disease and diet and alcohol in France. Much of the hype about the health benefits of drinking red wine has been generated from these and subsequent studies. Red wine, it is said, provides some protection against heart disease through its high concentration of flavinoids and other antioxidants, which reduce the build up of plaque in the coronary arteries.

The positive effects of alcohol on longevity have often be stated to be represented by a ‘J’ shaped curve. This means that if you plot on a graph of how long you might live against the number of units of alcohol consumed per day, a relationship emerges which looks like a ‘J’. The lowest point of the J, representing the longest life, is found to be associated with drinking a wee drop of alcohol daily and seems to be better than drinking no alcohol at all. At the other end of the scale, and representing the upstroke of the ‘J’ there is a sharp increase in mortality. This is due partly to the well-known adverse effects of alcohol on causing liver cirrhosis but also due to other effects of alcohol in raising blood pressure and being associated with some cancers.

The relationship between alcohol and health is therefore a complicated one. There are no cut and dried rules. In conclusion, it appears that moderate drinking does not seem to have an adverse effect. The dangers of excessive alcohol, however, far exceed any health benefits in statistical terms. It is also worthwhile noting that alcohol is a part of many people’s normal everyday lives and that this has a lot to do with habit, advertising and accessibility. Whereas targets and guidelines may be easy to understand, translating that message into change has proved extraordinarily difficult. A personal reassessment of alcohol consumption may well result in very significant health benefits and people with diabetes are no different in that respect.