Steer clear of wine and beer?

Monday is Memorial Day, and although a lot of you will be relaxing with a drink, I would say that it’s a good idea to take it easy on the alcohol this weekend.

But not for the reasons you might think…

For instance, do you think of alcoholic drinks as being high in sugar? They certainly don’t taste sweet, but they can still be loaded with calories. That’s because a gram of alcohol contains 7 calories. Compare that to the nearly 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates or protein, and the 9 calories per gram for fat.

Beer contains 100-200 calories per 12 ounces. [1] Just 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (there are 8 ounces in a cup) contains nearly 100 calories, but with mixers, syrups and sodas added, you’ll get several hundred calories in one serving. A 6-ounce pina colada has approximately 380 calories.

It’s not just the calories in alcohol that can be a problem for your health. There are worse things that do occur from alcohol ingestion:

  1. Drinking alcohol reduces your body’s fat-burning capability. [2]
  2. Drinking alcohol lowers your blood sugar and fills you with more empty calories (no nutritional value), so that you more easily and more mindlessly will eat more.
  3. You can’t store alcohol in your body so your body naturally makes it a priority to eliminate it as soon as possible. Therefore the process of absorbing nutrients and burning fat get interrupted.
  4. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach affects your brain within one minute because no digestion is needed. Who knows what behavior comes next. Therefore, if you choose to drink, remember that your liver only processes ½ ounce of ethanol per hour.
  5. Drinking alcohol triggers hormones to cause increased urination and fluid loss—leading to relative dehydration and increased thirst. Drinking more alcohol worsens this cycle.
  6. Drinking too much alcohol over time causes repeated increased urination so the body loses the important electrolytes calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
  7. Plus, drinking too much interferes with vitamin absorption and the use of nutrients, even to the point of inhibiting natural synthesis of needed proteins, leading to decreased immune function and waning mental function.

I suppose these are reasons for the beer belly appearance that develops over time in heavier beer drinkers—and the dysfunctional health and personal lives who allow alcohol to rule them.

Wine not really necessary for heart health

I have long heard from my friends who drink wine that in small amounts, wine has been proven to have cardiovascular health benefits. So I looked further at the studies to find out what exactly in wine makes it beneficial. Is it the alcohol portion or the antioxidant portion?

What I discovered from the scientific literature is that both wine and alcohol alone reduce the risk of heart attack and that they have differing mechanisms of cardio protection. [3] In other words, the polyphenolic antioxidants in wine and the alcohol in wine each have independent mechanisms for their healthy heart effects. It appears that the alcohol elevates HDL cholesterol, lowers fibrinogen and platelet; while the antioxidants relax blood vessels, reduce inflammation, and reduce clotting among many other beneficial effects. [4]

Which do you think is the healthier contributing portion of wine?

Consider that you must keep your daily alcohol intake to less than one drink for women and one or two drinks for men or you will increase your heart disease risk. [5] But you can consume phytonutrients, super foods and other natural antioxidants all day long and you’ll just get healthier.

Also know that dealcoholized red wine has also been proven to be cardioprotective. [6] Moreover, grape juice has also been proven to be cardioprotective. [7] Even grape seed proanthocyanidin (without any wine or juice) is proven to be cardioprotective against ischemic reperfusion injury like wine. [8]

So do you really need the alcohol? If you feel like having a drink this Memorial Day, here’s something you can do to help offset the effects.

Get more of a nutrient called phosphatidylcholine. It’s one of the least-known yet most beneficial nutrients we have. If you’re a drinker, you should know that it repairs liver damage from alcohol.

That doesn’t give anyone a license to drink. However, it does help blast away the accumulated fat and cholesterol that can clog the liver (and lead to a fatty liver). A fatty liver produces no symptoms but can lead to liver damage that includes inflammation and scarring. Phosphatidylcholine also heals nerves, improves muscle function and boosts overall energy.

Eggs are a good source. Beef liver, soybeans and some nuts also have it. But to get a good level, clinical trials have given people with liver problems 350 mg of phosphatidylcholine three times a day. I believe one dose of around 500 mg a day is a more reasonable dose.

To feeling good,

Michael Cutler, M.D.
Easy Health Options

[2]Annual Reviews website, ‘Alcohol: Its Metabolism and Interaction with Nutrients.’ Annual Review of Nutrition Vol. 20: 395-430, July 2000. Online at:
[3]Sato M, Maulik N, Das DK. Cardioprotection with alcohol: role of both alcohol and polyphenolic antioxidants. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2002 May; 957:122-35.
[4]Rotondo S, Di Castelnuovo A, de Gaetano G. The relationship between wine consumption and cardiovascular risk: from epidemiological evidence to biological plausibility. Ital Heart J. 2001 Jan; 2(1):1-8.
[5]Cushman WC. Alcohol consumption and hypertension. J Clin Hypertens (Greenwich). 2001 May-Jun;3(3):166-70.
[6]Chiva-Blanch G, Urpi-Sarda M, Ros E, Arranz S, Valderas-Martínez P, Casas R, Sacanella E, Llorach R, Lamuela-Raventos RM, Andres-Lacueva C, Estruch R. Dealcoholized red wine decreases systolic and diastolic blood pressure and increases plasma nitric oxide: short communication. Circ Res. 2012 Sep 28;111(8):1065-8.
[7]Stein JH, Keevil JG, Wiebe DA, Aeschlimann S, Folts JD. Purple grape juice improves endothelial function and reduces the susceptibility of LDL cholesterol to oxidation in patients with coronary artery disease. Circulation. 1999 Sep 7;100(10):1050-5.
[8]Sato M, Maulik G, Ray PS, Bagchi D, Das DK.Cardioprotective effects of grape seed proanthocyanidin against ischemic reperfusion injury. J Mol Cell Cardiol. 1999 Jun;31(6):1289-97.

Dr. Michael Cutler

By Dr. Michael Cutler

Dr. Michael Cutler is a graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine and is a board-certified family physician with more than 20 years of experience. He serves as a medical liaison to alternative and traditional practicing physicians. His practice focuses on an integrative solution to health problems. Dr. Cutler is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on experiencing optimum health through natural medicines and founder of the original Easy Health Options™ newsletter — an advisory on natural healing therapies and nutrients. His current practice is San Diego Integrative Medicine, near San Diego, California.