03 October 2011

Ian Gawler Blog: Alcohol, health and wellbeing

I am often asked about the relative benefits of drinking alcohol. Is it OK for our health, or does it come at a cost? And does it make a difference if someone is dealing with major illness, particularly cancer? And what about pregnancy? Let us “Go Out On A Limb” and investigate.

The common forms of drinking alcohol are beer, wines and spirits. The accurate level of alcohol in individual drinks varies according to the source and the method of preparation. What follows are general indications only.

Approximate percentage of alcohol content in various drinks

Product                 Approximate % of alcohol

Fruit Juice                    Less than .1%
“Non alcoholic” beer      Around .5% or less
Light beer                     Around 3%
Standard beer               4-5%
Stout                            5-10%
Cider                            4-8%
Wine                            10-15%
Sparkling wines             8-12%
Port                              20%
Liquors                         15-55%
Spirits                           Around 40%
Rum                             35-50%
Whisky                         50-60%

Alcohol is widely used as a social lubricant; it relaxes users, can help to disinhibit them and to facilitate talking and interacting more easily. These facts may well explain some large population studies that have shown moderate alcohol consumption can be associated with a modest range of positive health benefits. We know healthy relationships and social interactions are good for health generally; maybe drinking alcohol facilitates people talking more openly and gaining these benefits. Also, there is some suggestion alcohol stimulates prostaglandin activity and this could explain the positive effects.

However, we can be in no doubt there can be real costs involved.

Immediate side effects of too much alcohol include dehydration and drunkenness. Importantly, alcohol also stimulates insulin production, which accelerates glucose metabolism and can lead to low blood sugar levels.

Alcohol consumption generally has been associated with a higher risk of several of the cancers of the digestive tract. This is a major issue requiring consideration with beer as chemically brewed beers have been directly linked to an increased incidence of colon cancer. Therefore drink only naturally brewed beers if you drink any. Coopers beers are all naturally brewed. As another option, there are very low alcohol, naturally brewed beers that taste good. In Australia, Coopers Birrells brand is excellent and can be purchased in Supermarkets.

Other long-term side effects, apart from a huge raft of unfortunate and often dangerous social side effects, are liver and brain damage. Cirrhosis of the liver comes about because the metabolism of alcohol puts heavy demands on the liver. Anything that causes liver damage is a real problem for anyone, but particularly for people dealing with cancer. Many people with cancer are considered by natural medicine authorities to have underactive livers. Also, for all of us, the liver is crucial to many key metabolic functions and the healing process generally.

So let us be clear about this. Any alcohol consumption places a demand on the liver. For people who are well, the liver generally recovers if it is not hammered too hard or too often, but it does need to recover. So if you want optimum health, and particularly if you are in a healing phase of life, be very judicious with your consumption. I believe that those seeking to help themselves to recover from active cancer are better off avoiding alcohol altogether.

It is worth noting that the official recommendations now say that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and that even if women are only considering becoming pregnant they are best advised to abstain.

Alcohol Recommendations

On the Wellness Diet, social drinking a few days per week is acceptable.

Ensure regular alcohol free days.

Consider using very low alcohol, naturally brewed beer.

On the Healing Diet, alcohol is not recommended, primarily because of its effect on the liver. Pregnancy and alcohol do not mix.

Overall (and General- individual needs vary) Fluid Recommendations

Drink 2 litres of fluid, combined from all sources (water, tea, juices, soups) per day.

Make healthy choices – with water, tea and coffee substitutes and alcohol.

Add juices to the Healing Diet and consider their use on the Wellness Diet.


RELATED BLOGS     What fuel goes into your tank?
                                  Big Mac or a Salad?

BOOKS    You Can Conquer Cancer  Ian Gawler – contains full dietary recommendations for those who are well, and for those who are recovering from cancer

CDs   Eating Well, Being Well   Ian Gawler – Details the Wellness Diet –a sound diet for all

          Eating For Recovery   Ian Gawler -  Details the Healing Diet for those interested in using their nutrition therapeutically to assist recovering from cancer.


  1. It seems pretty clear - none is best

  2. Thank you Ian. I have a husband presently in remission from prostate cancer. He is doing well but has started enjoying wine every day. He enjoys a vegan/vegetarian diet and maintains an active lifestyle but the alcohol intake really concerns me. I had suggested he has 2 alcohol free days per week so your message has reinforced my thinking which will be strongly encouraged. I feel that I was meant to read this and to pass it on to my Husband and Family & Friends. Namaste

  3. Thanks for clarifying the issue. I've always been suspicious of the bullshit doctors tell you about alcohol consumption related to their own intake, being okay "in moderation" -which minimises the difficulty this creates for the body. A very confronting issue for many people. Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you die....

  4. Thanks again Ian. I say this after just having had 2 glasses of wine. Yes the social and relaxation effects are nice, but I am aware that it is not something a body needs to be healthy.

  5. It's interesting that in Asian countries alcohol in wine and beers has a lower alcohol content, namely around 4.5%. In those countries there is probably a smaller social cost and health cost associated with the consumption of alcohol. Assuming that we're not going to all become teetotallers in Australia, why don't we encourage breweries and wineries to lower the alcohol content of their alcoholic beverages? It makes good sense to me.

  6. Thank you for sharing this article on the percentage of alcoholic drinks. I'll definitely share this.

  7. If it has some benefits then it shouldn't be ignored. I always believed that moderation is the best way to go.

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