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In a scientific review published recently in the British Medical Journal Harvard researchers looked at 42 studies and concluded that regularly consuming alcohol in moderation equalled a 24.7 percent reduction in heart-disease risk.

Which drink is best?

Research has found that any alcoholic drink (beer, wine or spirits), when consumed in moderation, can raise your "good" HDL cholesterol levels—thus helping inhibit the onset of heart disease. However, red wine has been found to contain other health-giving compounds which make it especially good for your health.

Unlike other alcoholic drinks, red wine is a rich source of a special group of phytochemicals called phenolic compounds, which are found in grape juice and particularly grape skin. These compounds, which give grapes their color and flavor, have been shown to reduce the artery-clogging properties of LDL cholesterol, as well as reduce the formation of blood clots and inhibit cancer tumor growth. And phenolic compounds have a duel role because they also work as powerful antioxidants, mopping up potentially dangerous free radicals which can destroy healthy cells, speed up the aging process and increase your risk of heart disease and cancer.

This is why, out of all alcoholic beverages, red wine has been found to be the most protective. In one study, for example, Danish researchers followed more than 13,000 people over 10 years and found that teetotalers had twice the risk of dying from heart disease as people who drank a moderate amount of red wine every day.

How much is too much?

Although alcohol certainly has its advantages, experts point out that there's only a small window of opportunity for deriving positive effects—this means that moderation is the key word. Studies have shown that around two drinks a day for men, and one drink for women are the maximum limit before the advantages of alcohol start turning into disadvantages. These are some of the risks of excessive drinking:

Liver disease. If alcohol is consumed regularly in large amounts it can lead to a number of serious liver complaints such as cirrhosis of the liver, alcoholic hepatitis and liver cancer.
Mouth and throat cancer. High levels of alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat and tongue.
Stroke. Heavy drinkers are more susceptible to high blood pressure and they are more likely to suffer a stroke.
Depression. A high level of alcohol intake can result in depression, memory loss and mental deterioration.
Digestive disorders. Heavy drinkers may suffer from digestive tract diseases including gastritis, pancreaitis and cancer of the upper digestive tract.

Another thing to remember is that alcohol is fairly high in calories, which means that if you consume too much alcohol you could easily gain weight.

Of course it's important to note that these down sides only come about when you consume too much alcohol. If you follow the example of Mediterranean and Asian cultures and consume alcohol in moderation (around 1-2 drinks a day), preferably with meals, then you only have to look forward to the benefits.

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