Tonic or toxin: is there such a thing as a healthy tipple?


Alcohol consumption gets a bad press when it comes to our health, perhaps for good reason. But isn’t it a good thing to let your hair down once in a while? I’m not talking about getting blind drink here, just a sociable couple of drinks from time to time? I mean, what harm can that do? A drink every now and then won’t hurt – or will it?

The negative effects of alcohol on the body have been widely documented. As well as giving you a hangover, too much alcohol can have serious implications for both your physical and mental health. Alcohol is a toxin and is also highly addictive. Alcohol can break up families and has wider societal implications.

But, younger generations do seem to be reinventing the wheel when it comes to our adult relationship with alcohol. Amanda Mull writes “Millennials are sick of drinking, but they’re not willing to give up booze just yet.”

Mull points out that our relationship with alcohol has long been seen as a dichotomy – “Either you drink whenever the opportunity presents itself, or you don’t drink at all.” But, Millennials, she argues are searching for moderation.

It poses the question of whether moderation is the answer not the elusive search for a healthy tipple? Does a healthy tipple actually even exist?

What is alcohol?

Alcohol is the ingredient found in wine, spirits and beer. It’s the ingredient that causes drunkenness. Alcohol is formed when yeast breaks down sugars either in grain, grapes, other fruits, potatoes, beets or other plants.

Alcohol is potentially lethal in high doses, causing drowsiness, respiratory problems, coma and even death.

Is there really a healthy tipple? 

According to KPMG, consumer markets are being redefined as a result of the health-conscious consumer. Popcorn is the now the healthy alternative to crisps. Rising awareness of the nutritional and medicinal value of different types of teas is driving growth in the herbal tea market.

Alcohol producers are also experimenting with healthier alternatives. Hannah Lamiroy, Founder of organic Cornish gin distillery, Tinkture, said her venture is “the result of a personal journey into the provenance of alcohol and the best way to keep our bodies healthy on a night out. Looking for an answer, that is how my experiments began into cleaning up alcohol.

According to a report in The Washington Post, the number of alcohol drinkers in the world has decreased by nearly 5 percent since 2000. Non-alcoholic alternatives to booze are flooding onto the market. Seedlip was the world’s first properly distilled non-alcoholic beverage. Resembling gin, it is a quality botanical drink that offers a real alternative to alcohol.

Kombucha is another growing drink trend with a very low percentage of alcohol. It has now, according to a recent report in The Guardian, made a leap from health food stores to pubs as an alternative to beer!

One could argue that healthy tipples don’t really exist. But some alcoholic drinks have more merits than others and non-alcoholic alternatives are looking a lot more interesting these days.


Tonic or toxin?

Alcohol has been a part of human history for 9,000 years –evidence of an alcoholic drink in China dates back to around 7,000 B.C. Until the 16th century alcohol was largely used for medicinal benefits. 

Alcohol has been used as medicine throughout history. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates considered wine an appropriate medicine for many conditions.

In the Roman Empire, the consumption of wine for pleasure increased in the second century BCE. Throughout Europe in the Middle Ages beer was a source of sustenance. Even up to the 18th century there was a widespread belief in the restorative and medicinal properties of alcohol.

In 1751 William Hogarth recorded the ravaging effects of gin on little England with his painting ‘Gin Lane’. Somewhere in history alcohol turned from medicinal to social.

Source: TATE

Back in 2005, Paul Vallely wrote in The Independent of our tendency to binge drink and our troubled relationship with the demon drink that is alcohol.

In the modern world, the facts about alcohol have evolved to include a firm understanding of the physiological effect it has on the body. The facts can’t be ignored. Too much alcohol is a bad thing.

Red wine (in moderation) continues to get a reasonably good press. The Telegraph reports the benefits of red wine –it is apparently good for the gut and can lower cholesterol. 

But, as nutritionist May Simpkin points out, the antioxidant benefit associated with red wine can be realised by simply eating dark red berries and red grapes without resorting to a tipple at all!

However, studies do consistently show that people who drink moderately tend to have fewer heart problems and are less likely to die of heart disease. Alcohol can be a tonic, as well as a toxin – the key it seems is moderation.

There probably isn’t a completely healthy tipple per se, but some alcoholic drinks may be less taxing on the liver than others. There are certainly healthier options. The key is to drink mindfully and live by the sword of moderation.


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