Drinking alcohol while trying to achieve weight loss can be a double-edged sword, and there is no real scientific consensus about this topic.

The good news is that alcohol has been shown to raise the metabolism. Some studies have also shown that as alcohol consumption increases, the amount of sugar consumed decreases. Plus alcohol contains no fat, cholesterol or sodium.

Now for the bad news. The downside of alcohol (at least in terms of managing your weight) is that it is essentially a sugar. And because the body sees alcohol as a toxin, the liver immediately metabolizes it in order to remove it from the system. Drinking too much over an extended period of time can cause not only obesity, but other health problems including cirrhosis and fatty liver disease. The key to alcohol and weight loss is drinking alcohol in moderation.

Because alcohol is broken down into sugar, it can affect blood sugar levels. When blood sugar spikes, the insulin that is released from the pancreas tells the body to store that sugar as fat rather than using it for immediate energy. With excessive alcohol use, more fat is stored and it puts excess strain on not only the liver, but the pancreas as well. This can lead to obesity, metabolic syndrome and eventually diabetes.

Even though alcohol does not contribute much in the way of nutrients, alcoholic beverages can stimulate the appetite and reduce inhibitions. You may end up snacking on more junk food than you might otherwise consider eating. This will definitely work against any weight loss goals you may have.

Although alcohol abuse can generate weight loss, it is not a healthy kind. Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to dehydration and loss of key minerals. Because alcohol in large amounts acts as a diuretic, many of the minerals on which your body depends are washed out with that water, and the body looks for more food to replenish the lost nutrients.

Studies have shown that those who consume alcohol in moderation have a longer and better life than either those who abstain completely or those who abuse alcohol. People who drink in moderation tend to not be obese, with a 27% lower risk of obesity than those who abstain.  However, heavy drinkers (more than 4 drinks a day) are 46% more likely to be obese than those who abstain.

It’s very easy to underestimate the amount of alcohol we actually consume. According to experts, if you’re a man drinking more than 14 drinks per week or a woman having more than 7 drinks per week, you’re overdoing it. One drink consists of a 12-oz can of beer, 5 ounces of wine or a 1.5-oz shot of 80 proof liquor. This does not mean that it’s a good idea to drink your entire weekly allotment all at once over the weekend. Rather, your consumption should be spread out over the week.

While there is no clear consensus about the net effects of alcohol on our ability to lose weight, there is little evidence to suggest that moderate drinking will doom your diet.

The effect of alcohol consumption on your health can be either positive or negative, depending on the amount you drink. Like most things, moderation is the key to getting the greatest benefits from alcohol. Those who drink moderately generally live longer and in better health than those who either abstain completely or drink heavily.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), moderate drinking lowers your risk of heart disease by 40 to 60 percent. And people who normally consume one or two drinks daily have the lowest rate of mortality, according to the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association. The mortality rates of those who have suffered a heart attack are 32 percent lower than those of abstainers. The moderate consumption of alcohol leads to a lower incidence of strokes and can reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and prostate problems.

A European study found greater arterial elasticity in volunteers who had a drink of beer, wine or spirits each day, compared to those who were abstainers. In another study of over 18,000 men from the Physicians Health Study, those who increased the number of drinks they consumed from one to six per week showed a 29 percent lower risk of contracting cardiovascular disease. This was also found to be useful to diabetics, who achieved a 58 percent reduction in heart disease risk by consuming an alcoholic drink every day.

Alcohol has been shown to increase your “good” HDL cholesterol while reducing your “bad” LDL cholesterol, in addition to decreasing clotting and increasing blood flow to your heart. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the risk of stroke to be cut in half for those who take two alcoholic beverages per day.

A standard drink is considered to be one:

“Moderate” drinking is considered to be the consumption of one to three alcoholic drinks per day, depending on your body size. Less than that provides only minimal health benefits and more than that leads to a number of health problems, including liver disease, cirrhosis, cancer, high blood pressure and depression. The over-consumption of alcohol is one of the leading causes of preventable death worldwide, according to a study in The Lancet.

Of course, those who are pregnant, suffering from alcoholism or have adverse reactions to alcohol should abstain, as the benefits do not outweigh the risks. But for most healthy adults, moderate alcohol consumption will help them live longer and healthier lives.

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