Alcohol is NOT a Health Food

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Drinking red wine in moderation, and more recently alcohol, in general, has been thought of as something that can improve one’s health. The constant messaging from the alcohol industry has people feeling they must drink two glasses of wine a day to feel healthy.

SPECT shows brain toxicity from alcohol

In fact, the evidence from our brain imaging studies demonstrates that alcohol is the exact opposite. Even ONE glass of beer or wine per day can be directly toxic to brain function. The SPECT scans of people who drink too much alcohol – more than three drinks a week – look toxic. Alcohol use negatively affects the brain and body in a number of ways.

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It is associated with fatty liver disease, peripheral neuropathies (pain and tingling in hands, legs, and feet), damage to neurons, especially those in the cerebellum, which is involved in physical and thought coordination, and mood. It interferes with the absorption of vitamin B1, which predisposes people to serious cognitive problems. Alcohol decreases firing in the prefrontal cortex, the most human and thoughtful part of the brain. It also disrupts sleep.

Additionally, alcohol predisposes you to sugar abuse, stimulates your appetite, prolongs the time you sit during a meal and is associated with continued eating even though you feel full. Alcohol exerts substantial influence on the circulation in your pancreas, increasing the production of insulin, which can lead to low blood sugar levels, which worsens your decision-making.

And it gets worse. In 2015, the prestigious journal Lancet published a review of 115,000 subjects in which researchers found that although alcohol use decreased the risk of heart attacks, it increased the risk of cancer and physical injuries. Alcohol is a known carcinogen and associated with 5.8% of all cancer deaths. Jürgen Rehm, Ph.D., Director of the Social and Epidemiological Research Department at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, wrote, “Very simply, the cancers that have been determined previously to be caused by alcohol have been confirmed. There is no discussion about whether alcohol causes these cancers. The fact that alcohol is a carcinogen has been clearly confirmed.”

There are other ways to decrease your risk of heart disease that doesn’t increase your risk of cancer.

Furthermore, alcohol affects the brain by reducing nerve cell firing; it blocks oxygen getting into the cell’s energy centers; and it reduces the effectiveness of many different types of neurotransmitters, especially those involved in learning and remembering. And a 2008 study appearing in the Archives of Neurology found that people who drink just one to seven drinks per week have smaller brains than nondrinkers, and those who have two or more drinks a day have even more brain shrinkage. When it comes to the brain, size matters!

At Amen Clinics, we want to help you learn more about your brain and how you can make it better, not only for yourself but for the generations that follow. Call us today at 888-288-9834 or visit our website to schedule an appointment.

Amen Clinics

Amen Clinics

The Amen Clinics Method—developed through 26 years of clinical practice—uses a detailed clinical history, SPECT imaging to understand brain function, neuropsychological testing and laboratory studies to target treatment specifically to your brain using the least toxic, most effective means. If you are interested in learning more or to schedule an appointment, contact the Amen Clinics Care Center today at 888-288-9834 or contact us here.
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Latest posts by Amen Clinics (see all)

  • ushpa

    You mention that alcohol, “predisposes you to sugar abuse” but does that relationship work both ways? In other words, does abusing yourself with sugar in childhood lead to a predisposition for alcohol abuse later in life? Anecdotally, in my own experience, I believe this to be true, but I would love to hear your thoughts.

    • Annica Odina

      I agree – would love to hear more on this subject. Although I no longer have trouble staying away from sweets and cakes, I had a right sweet tooth as a child, and now I’m very keen on, predominantly, wine. I wonder if there is any research on the subject?

  • nmfd72

    Tell that to my 95 year old Mother who for the past 70 years has 2 glasses of wine each night with dinner. She is sharp as a tact and still drives!!!

    • Anise Leinen

      (sigh) An anecdote is not data. One story about something that happened to one person is not data. A study that followed 115,000 subjects is data. This should not have to be explained.

      • nmfd72

        (sigh) (sigh) Oh Anise, if only you had a brain and could think for yourself. Last time I looked there were over 7 billion people on earth, 115,000 people (and I doubt the sample was that big) is not statistically significant by any means and this should NOT have to be explained to YOU. So Anise, pull your head out of your ass and get a real job. Have a Great Day!!

    • Craig

      tell her to quit asap.

    • Ukisociety Jones

      If she didn’t drink, she’d live to 125. smh

    • Roberto

      Has anyone ever looked at her brain to see for sure how healthy it is? The brain is huge and it can effect different areas of the brain disguising itself. Certain areas of the brain can still work well while others don’t work so well. That same analogy was used when doctors where saying hitting your head is bad like look at Steve young he has hit his head and he is very intelligent and a lawyer. We know now this was wrong and a distorted logic. It’s tricky because no one ever looks at the brain. So you would never know. Now that we have the tools to do so it seems kind of foolish not to look at and access the health of the organ that makes us human.

  • emptynester99

    I’d love you to share more information regarding this Dr. Amen.

  • Birit Simonsen Trematore

    Does this damage reverse if the person stops drinking alcohol, or is it permanent? To what extent?

  • punditwannabe

    If this is true, Europeans, who drink a lot of wine, would be retarded…..hmmmm.

    • disqus_rUot23LmWO

      as i see nowadays situations it seems that most of the europeans are retarded, especually german , english, french, swedish … look what migrants do to their countries and they still do nothing to stop it.

  • Lisa Layden

    Great article.

    Just went to a psychologists office last week and the doctor said “I do not think a little marijuana is harmful as long as the person did not have an addictive nature.” (I have no idea what this doctor meant by addictive nature considering we live in a sugar based culture.)

    I would love Dr. Amen to give us the evidence about “a little” marijuana on the brain.

  • Oh wow!

  • RicardoRichard

    Everybody knows that it is not healthy to drink alcohol. I don’t know where you took it from that “contrary to popular belief … ” But if one drinks a glass of red wine with a meal (resveratrol) they are not going to die, for sure.

    On the other hand what would a human life look like if we we only did what is healthy? How many people wear masks in New York or any other major city just to protect themselves from the polluted air they breath. And we should not use cars – walking is healthier, The same refers to lifts or elevators as you call them in the US. It is healthier to walk upstairs even if it is the 70th floor.

    Although it is not a healthy choice to have a hamburger but you will not die if you do it once a year.. And we could go on and on and on with a whole list of activities because they are not considered healthy.

    But what is healthy in the first place? Hydrogenated fats were considered healthy 40 years ago. Who knows if today we are not making mistakes by consuming something that is understood to be healthy and in 40 years’ time science will tell us that we were wrong.

    Now sitting is a very unhealthy epidemic. Did we know it 10 years ago?

    I remember Dr Mercola told us sometime ago year that our WC was not a
    good invention because it prevents us from satisfying our necessities in
    the correct position. And obviously it is true, it was not a joke of his. But
    does it mean we should leave only a hole in our bathroom in order to
    satisfy our necessities in a squatting position because it is healthy to
    do it that way.

    Last but not least walking on our two feet is not healthy because our back has not evolved so far to bear all this burden – it will be healthier for us to go on all fours. So let’s do it say starting tomorrow for the rest of our lives.

    Returning to alcohol, it helps us to socialize to pull off our masks and to open ourselves a bit. It is not healthy for sure but if one does not abuse, it will not kill us nor it will damage our body beyond repair if we drink say 50g of vodka / whiskey once a week together with a meal..

  • Anise Leinen

    There was a piece about the Lancet article published recently on a British newspaper site (wish I could remember which one– it was pretty mainstream.) The responses were just unreal. Literally hundreds of angry people all defending their drinking, clinging to excuses to continue to keep drinking, justifying their drinking, rationalizing their drinking, etc etc etc. Ugh.

    • Ethel

      You ignore all the people who are not addicted. you judge people as angry who perhaps just didn’t find it sensible to hear this based on all the people they know. To me it is like hearing about how tea has so much caffeine. While the initial caffeine is measurable the effect of the tea is nothing like coffee. A German article explained it this way; the longer the brewing the more tannins are released and bind up the caffeine. This makes sense in terms of most people’s experience. Dr Amen’s SPECT scans should be taken into acct. but they do not prove a direct causation. Those people came to him for a reason. They are not a representative sample.

      • Patricia

        That’s actually a really good point about Amen clinic patients not being a representative sample. Thanks for that; I hadn’t thought of it. (Personally, however, I am still giving up drinking, based on a variety of corroborative evidence.)

  • Jacque

    Thanks for the information and photo of brain scans. I am glad that you are providing the facts that alcohol causes more harm than benefit. I’ve known several people who have died early as a result of drinking. It’s good to know the real effect it has on the brain and body so that we can show this information to teens who seem to be attracted to it.

  • nmfd72

    (sigh) (sigh) Oh Anise, if only you had a brain and could think for yourself. Last time I looked there were over 7 billion people on earth, 115,000 subjects is not statistically significant by any means and this should NOT have to be explained to YOU. I was not providing “data” just an example, one of many I am sure that can easily dispute such insignificant “data”. If you took a basis statistics course during your apparent very young life you would understand that “data” is easily manipulated. If you haven’t taken such a course I strongly suggest you do before attempting to come off as a KNOW IT ALL. Have a Great Day!

  • 1/2Dan

    Thank you for once again emphasizing the effects of alcohol on the brain! The first time I heard Dr. Amen say anything about alcohol, he was doing a Q&A after a PBS taping. When asked about the benefits of alcohol, Dr. Amen slowly replied, “There is nothing wrong with a small glass of wine once a month” and when the word “month” came out of his mouth there was an
    audible gasp from the audience!

  • Redshirt58

    Confused about the brain graphic at the beginning of this article! What does this mean:
    “2 – 2 normal size glasses of wine per day”?

    Is this perhaps a typo? Maybe “1 – 2” . . . or something else?

    • Debbie Unterman

      I bet it’s 2-3 because I believe the amount it’s ok to drink a night (they say) is 2 glasses for women and 3 for men.

    • Kat Milacek

      Yes, I wondered about that too.

      • Tigger

        Yes, it does say 1-2, although it is difficult to read on the black background. Or perhaps they edited it. Either way, that’s what it says now!

  • klhlist@gmail.com

    my father also – and there are all those other studies that found that drinking red wine is good fr you! it is not an anecdote. Anise. I have also seen statistical studies that were manipulated or just plain poorly executed. never rely on just statistics – as Churchill admonished “I never trust a statistic I did not make myself”

  • Kimberly Bergey

    Thank you Dr Amen for reminding us about alcohol consumption at this timely New Year’s Eve, for those of us who were thinking of having more than one…ha! I am a veteran CFT and I am riveted by your work! I have many of your books and I’m currently reading the Brain Warriors Way! I was wondering if you do seminars or speak at conventions that I could attend? I would love to hear you speak at some venue. Thanks for all you do!
    Health warrior to many,
    Kimberly

  • JAYE R

    Let’s get real here: Alcohol is a toxin… a poison. Straight up poison to the body! One can make any reason or rationale or justification to make it okay but we all make our choices as we see fit for us. If you want to live long and be healthy.. don’t drink or limit it to a couple of drinks on special occasions. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/addiction-in-society/201011/science-is-what-society-says-it-is-alcohols-poison

  • Carrie Gordon

    Dr. Amen has had years of experience in the field of brain health….. Take his advice or leave it…..

  • Jane Fox

    I saw Dr. Amen on a PBS fundraiser. He said to drink no more than 3 drinks a week. I’m going to give it a try and see if I feel better. I don’t think I am an alcoholic but I definitely abuse it at times. It is one of the foods/drinks that I lose control with. The other one is potato chips. (I could literally eat an entire bag of Utz chips because my brain wants me to stuff them in even when I am no longer hungry. Ugh!) I know that I could lose the last 10 pounds I need to lose if I stopped drinking one or two glasses of wine every night. The wine makes me really hungry and then I start looking for candy and I blow my diet. I’m going to start cutting back to 3 drinks per week as of today and I have a feeling I’m going to feel better, sleep better, and lose weight.

    • Mike M

      FYI: I went on a low carb diet (it’s not easy giving up bread). Not only did I lose 27lbs. within 6 months, but my blood sugar came under enough control that my Dr. took me off of my diabetes meds. 6 months later she told me she could no longer record as having Type II diabetes! Then, 3 weeks ago, I completely removed any high fructose corn syrup from my diet and in that short amount of time I lost 8lbs. and have so much energy that my wife is shocked. If you can’t give up all carbs at least reduce them gradually. Baked goods should be the first to go, or at least reduced. Reducing alcohol use will go a long way in helping you to keep to your diet.

      • Kevin Amundsen

        Yes, alcohol is a poison but its effects are known. I’m sure people have been told they shouldn’t drink for just as many millennia as people have been drinking. In my opinion, what makes someone feel better is when they (temporarily) forget their troubles and their pain is dulled. Naturally that leads to abuse. The present-day world (in which any health benefit usually comes at an unnecessarily high price, also a form of abuse) has yet to offer any other safe, low-cost pain relief or the same number of breaks and vacations enjoyed by our leaders. I’m 60 years old, worked my entire life starting at age 15 and the retirement package I’m being offered is that of a poor homeless person, or just continue to work. Until things turn around, with the help of understanding professionals such as Dr. Amen, while we are waiting patiently for things to improve, we can buy a can of beer for $1.50 and for a short time, relax. I didn’t touch a single drop of alcohol for 6 years, during the entire recession, and my situation didn’t get better, it got worse. Not only that, but being sober I was more aware of my problems and could hardly get to sleep at night. Now I have a job, can drink, feel well, sleep better.

  • Sharm

    The study was done in Canada. Was it done in different countries as well? What other things may these groups in Canada that showed the decrease in brain size and carcinogens have in common? Areas and environmental impact or similar illnesses and genetic predisposition. Was this study done on the alcohol itself or just the people who drink the alcohol? I’m neither disagreeing or agreeing with this article but from my experience; I do not drink everyday and if I do have 1-2 glasses of wine I relax and my thoughts do not seem to run constantly through my brain therefore I am able to sleep more sound. But also sometimes depending on the type of wine do wake up with a headache. I also have numbness and tingling in parts of my body but I also have psoriasis arthritis osteonecrosis and several other things wrong with me. Please take these things into consideration and do more research.

    • Mike M

      As I said in my post a few minutes ago, there are medicinal uses for alcohol. It does help with relaxation but, again, there should be limits. If you find yourself constantly using it for that purpose, you should try to find other ways to relax. There are many, but you have to find the one that fits you based on your condition and ability. As for using it to help you sleep, while it does help you to fall asleep initially, it will nearly always adversely effect R.E.M. sleep. The effects on this phase of sleep could actually be the cause of your need to use alcohol to to relax. So, by eliminating the use of alcohol to help you sleep could actually reduce, or possibly eliminate, your need to use alcohol to help you relax.

      • Sharm

        I don’t use it to relax. I enjoy the taste of the alcohol of different types occasionally. But do find it relaxing to some points. As you said there are benefits to alcohol as well as disadvantages. I have lost a kidney in 1996 to kidney stones due to high blood calcium levels. The urologist told me if I start feeling like I have with the kidney stones to drink a few beers to help flush the kidney and to help break down kidney stones as an alternative to the expensive lithrotripsy treatment. I have found this very helpful as well as drinking hot water. You touched on the disadvantages but don’t talk much on the benefits.

        • Mike M

          Sharm, look at what I posted after your post. You’ll see that I state clearly that there are many uses of alcohol that are positive. For the sake of brevity I didn’t try listing any others than that for which I use it.

          • Sharm

            Yes I did see that. And as I stated in mine I only listed the advantages in my own personal case. And as I stated; the topic was discussed that there are no advantage to alcohol related to health issues or this is my perception of the topic. So for the sake of brevity I have listed a few advantages to using alcohol as an alternative to higher expense treatment or medications which can be addictive and also cause cancer and brain damage. The radiation from the test itself is a carcinogen. I’m not disputing that the spect test is a good way of looking at the brain and has been very helpful in early direction and diagnosing many diseases. But as with living and breathing on a daily basis there are advantages and disadvantages. And in my opinion when trying to promote a business or cause both advantages and disadvantages should be discussed and not just be one sided and that everyone is condemned to cancer and brain damage due to one study.

          • Mike M

            Sharm, I believe we are pretty much in agreement. What I said is that there are many helpful uses of alcohol as long as it’s not overused. I agreed that it is good as an aid to relax which is in fact why I get relief for my TMJ. In fact I could probably think of more ways that moderate use of alcohol can be positive than I can of negatives. It’s the “moderation” that is the key. For balance, I simply added some of the complications that often occur when using it in ways that might be, shall we say, “counterproductive” and how.

          • Sharm

            Well good but my initial comment wasn’t towards anything you said but was in reference to the topic of what Dr Amen posted. My initial comment was not toward any other comment posted. And that the initial post of Dr Amen did not show the benefits of alcohol rather than the need to stop using alcohol altogether.

  • Mike M

    I occasionally have a drink. Believe it or not it’s medicinal. being a pastor, I actually received a script from my doctor showing that he in fact prescribed it. You see I occasionally suffer from TMJ. I did not want to take the drugs that the doctor was going to prescribe do to the side effects. The alcohol relaxes the muscle enough to relieve the pain. Also, alcohol is a better fit since the TMJ usually only lasts for a relatively short period and so does the effect of the alcohol. The drugs would leave me dazed or even knock me out and actually having a lasting effect for more than 24 hrs.On the rare occasion that the TMJ is extremely intense, I will use the drug prescribed since alcohol does not have enough of an effect neither does it last long enough. So for this, and other specific conditions, there are medicinal uses for alcohol. Dr. Amen has stated that you should have no more than three drinks a week. I don’t usually need 3 drinks a month. So, since the conditions for which alcohol would be useful are only short term, it’s use should be no problem so long as it is only used for the duration of the condition for which it is being administered.

    • Sharm

      TMJ can be caused by several different reasons. A few of those causes would be a misalignment of the jaw, grinding of the teeth and clenching of the jaw (although clenching of the jaw can be caused by several different reasons) is usually caused by stress. Therefore by having an occasional drink of alcohol to help with the pain you are using it to decrease the nervous system and relax.

  • Anna Ferrara

    Look at Europe where they drink daily… Often times research is funded by groups and lobbyists to promote their agenda. I don’t buy it unless of course you drink from morning till night, that’s different .

  • Your picture says “2-2 normal size glasses,” FYI. I think it’s helpful to provide the visual evidence as it’s more convincing. Many use alcohol as a drug of choice to “take the edge off.” My suggestion would be to try meditating instead or something that requires your presence.

  • Michael

    I enjoy wine. I need a substitute if I’m to stop drinking because, although I don’t feel addicted, I really enjoy a glass of wine most days. Ideas please.

    Furthermore, I recommend that when such an article is posted, please include healthy alternatives rather then simply say “It’s bad for you and you need to stop.” That leaves me feeling somewhat helpless … unless I pay for therapy sessions and make an appointment with a dietician. Instead, give me solutions to the problem you pose.

    • leshar

      Sparkling water, bitters, and a good squeeze of lime juice. Feels like drinking a cocktail.

  • Sarah Edwards

    I very much appreciate this article. I’m in clinical practice. In provide the Amen brain health checklist to each client. I so often hear the same comments from my clients that I see here on the board defending the health qualities of alcohol. But I also have many clients who were raised with alcoholic parents or have other alcoholic members of their family, including teens. Usually these clients do not drink. This article will be of help to both groups. The picture of the scan is worth a 10000 words. The findings reported substantiate what the picture shows. Invaluable. Thank you

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