Alcohol, Nutrition & Health

Table of Contents

Studies about the health benefits of alcohol have been floating around for years. As more information becomes available through research and experience, it is important to recognize the true impact alcohol has on physical health.

Alcohol plays a role in the diet of many, not only in America but throughout the entire world. Since March is National Nutrition Month, it seems appropriate to discuss the role of alcohol in nutrition.

What we chose to eat or drink on a day-to-day basis inevitably has an impact on our overall health. It is clear that nutrition plays an important role in all of our lives, and when making any decisions about personal nutrition individuals should consider the short-term and long-term effects of what they are consuming – including alcohol.

Incorporating alcohol into a personal diet can have both short- and long-term impacts on a person’s health. Weighing the risks and benefits of alcohol consumption will provide a clearer picture as to where alcohol should be prioritized in one’s dietary choices.

The effects of alcohol on the body can vary from person to person. With that in mind, any following recommendations or conclusions will be general. Depending on an individual’s health status or age, alcohol consumption may have more or less of an impact on physical health. If you have any personal concerns regarding alcohol consumption and your health, please contact a medical provider.

The Impact of Alcohol on Physical Health

While it is clear that many factors play a role in our physical health, nutrition and physical activity have an undeniable impact. Since alcohol plays a role in the diets and lives of most individuals, it is no surprise that the effect alcohol has on physical health has been studied by many people over the years.

In recent years, the data concerning the impact of alcohol on physical health has been relatively standard across the board. Many of the studies that once claimed moderate alcohol consumption may have health benefits are now being challenged by updated data suggesting that even moderate alcohol consumption may be too much.

Alcohol consumption has been shown to affect many different parts of the body in negative ways. Of course, the severity may be determined by how much alcohol one is consuming and patterns of alcohol consumption. Many studies show that some of the body’s most major organs and systems can be negatively impacted.  1

healthcare worker

Parts of the Body Most Commonly Impacted by Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol's Negative Effects on Health

Alcohol consumption has been known to have a negative impact on the overall immune system and can increase the risk of cancer in some individuals. Professionals suggest that for cancer prevention it is best not to consume alcohol altogether. Alcohol consumption has been linked to various types of cancer such as head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.

When consumed, Alcohol creates a chemical called acetaldehyde which damages DNA and prevents your body from repairing the damage. Basically, alcohol consumption has the potential to disturb normal cell growth and function – which leaves individuals vulnerable to cancer.2

More data is consistently being introduced regarding the relationship between alcohol consumption and cancer.

The adverse effects of alcohol on the body are apparent. In many cases, alcohol consumption can result in long-term and irreversible damage to the body. More broadly, alcohol consumption is the leading risk factor for premature death and disability for individuals between the ages 15 and 49 years old. Alcohol also accounts for approximately 10 percent of deaths in this age group.3

The data for alcohol-related death include the onset of chronic illness and alcohol-related injuries. 

How Much Alcohol is Too Much?

At first glance, it might be easy to assume that appropriate alcohol intake may vary from person to person. Health professionals have created guidelines for what quantities of alcohol can be considered a standard serving or drink and what quantities of alcohol are excessive. A standard serving of alcohol is characterized by the amount of pure alcohol in the drink being consumed. Generally, a standard drink will contain approximately 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. 

Standard Drinks by Alcohol Type

Excessive or moderate drinking can ultimately have a negative impact on health – as mentioned previously. Excessive drinking is characterized as binge drinking, drinking heavily, or alcohol consumption by individuals who should not drink any alcohol. In order to reduce the potential for harm and health effects of alcohol it is recommended for adults to consume alcohol in moderation – 2 drinks or less a day for men and 1 drink or less a day for women.5

However, it is important to note that even drinking alcohol moderately can place individuals at risk. Drinking above the guidelines for moderate alcohol consumption significantly increases the risk of harm for the short-term and long-term. Excessive drinking can often times have immediate negative effects on health such as bodily injury, alcohol poisoning, risky sexual behaviors, and complications among pregnant women. In the long term, excessive drinking can lead to many different chronic health problems as mentioned previously. 

It is possible to prevent excessive drinking in the form of binge drinking or heavy drinking. By following the recommendation of the servings for moderate drinking, individuals then decrease the potential for adverse health effects. However, it is important to keep in mind that individuals suffering from alcohol use disorders or alcohol dependency may not be able to adjust their drinking to moderate consumption. 

Common Side Effects of Alcohol

The research makes it clear that there is a wide array of short-term and long-term effects from even moderate alcohol consumption. Individuals who consume even one alcoholic drink per day have a 0.5% higher risk of developing one of 23 alcohol-related health problems.6

These health problems can be characterized by long-term and short-term side effects or chronic conditions. Many of the long-term side effects and chronic conditions from alcohol were discussed above. Often studies focus on the long-term health effects of alcohol, but it is equally important to note that short-term effects also have a direct impact on an individual’s overall health.

Short-Term Side Effects of Alcohol

In addition to the effects already mentioned, weight gain is also a side effect of alcohol consumption. Due to the high caloric nature of alcohol and alcoholic beverages, weight gain is often a side-effect of both moderate and excessive alcohol intake. Studies have shown that alcohol does play a role in obesity.7   

Weight gain alone comes with an increased risk of several health conditions which may be compounded with the adverse effects of consuming alcohol. 

Dehydration is another common effect of alcohol consumption that is not discussed often. After consuming alcohol, individuals may become dehydrated due to the diuretic properties of alcohol. In general, prolonged periods of dehydration have a negative impact on health and can contribute to chronic health issues.  In addition, dehydration can cause the immediate effects of headache, thirst, and fatigue.8

While these symptoms may not be life-threatening, they certainly can cause discomfort for individuals experiencing them and impact their ability to function or general productivity.

There is much written about the impact that alcohol has on physical health and safety. More data is becoming readily available that suggests any consumption of alcoholic beverages places greater risk of health problems for the individual. Competing data means weighing the potential benefits of alcohol consumption against the health risks associated with alcohol consumption. For instance, some studies have shown that components in beverages such as wine can lower the risk of heart disease. While newer data is showing the tradeoff for minor benefits from certain types of alcohol is more chronic illness such as cancer. 6

The Balanced Diet and Alcohol

A balanced diet comes from healthy nutrition habits and practices. There are plenty of benefits that come from a well-balanced diet. A balanced diet can do everything from keeping bodily organs strong a healthy to lowering the risk of certain illnesses and diseases.

For adults, good nutrition is a major factor in living a healthy lifestyle. Healthy nutrition has the potential to provide individuals with multiple health benefits – many of which would be impacted by the adverse effects of alcohol consumption.

Many of the benefits derived from a healthy diet and balanced nutrition are the same areas of personal health that are negatively impacted by alcohol consumption. Of course, assessing the health risk of alcohol consumption is a personal decision. However, it is particularly interesting that well-balanced diets promote the same aspects of health that alcohol can harm.

As mentioned previously, more information is being uncovered that points to any amount of alcohol disrupting nutrition and an individual’s overall health. However, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) have not lowered the recommended daily alcoholic beverage intake in The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 5

balanced diet

Benefits of Healthy Nutrition for Adults

What Can be Done?

Alcoholic beverage consumption is a part of most people’s regular diet, and ultimately a personal decision that should be considered carefully. While some research claims that alcohol has nutritional and health benefits, these claims are coming under scrutiny with the emergence of new data. Much is still being researched regarding the effect alcohol consumption has on the human body. In recent years, many studies have concluded that at any consumption rate alcohol may have adverse effects on health. However, experts can agree that nutrition is directly tied to a person’s health. 

In instances where individuals believe they are experiencing adverse health effects from alcohol, it is imperative to seek guidance and assessment from a medical provider. The evidence shows that the negative side effects of alcohol consumption can be detrimental to a person’s health and ultimately life. Moderate and excessive drinkers alike should consult medical advice if health concerns or abnormalities.

Excessive drinkers who have the ability to moderate their alcohol consumption should limit their intake of alcoholic beverages to the recommended serving – no more than 2 drinks per day for males and 1 drink per day for females. 

In addition to chronic illness and the dangerous short-term effects of alcohol, excessive drinking should be monitored closely. Individuals who drink alcohol excessively are more likely to suffer the long-term effects of alcohol use disorders and alcohol dependence. Regular binge drinking and heavy drinking should also be addressed with a medical professional.

Individuals who are suffering from alcohol use disorders or alcohol dependence will not be likely to moderate their alcohol intake and therefore will need assistance with removing alcohol from their diet. These individuals may be the most vulnerable for suffering from chronic illness and disease as a result of their alcohol consumption. 


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  6. Top 10 things you need to know about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. (n.d). Retrieved from
  7. Ducharme, J. (2018). A new study says any amount of drinking is bad for you. Here’s what experts say. Time Magazine. Retrieved from
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