Drinking is fun. When it comes right down to it, that’s why we do it. Intoxication just feels good. But in the last few decades, science has discovered that it can also be good for you. Here are seven major ways that indulging in the occasional adult beverage actually improves your health, all backed up by credible science. Pull one of these facts out next time someone says you shouldn’t drink so much.
IT PREVENTS HEART PROBLEMS
More than 100 different scientific studies have found a link between moderate alcohol consumption and a lower risk—by up to 40 percent versus non-drinkers—of heart disease, heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular-related death. These include research done all over the world, involving thousands of people over the course of decades, so the evidence is very strong. Alcohol helps the heart in two major ways: by raising levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, and by preventing the formation of small blood clots that can cause strokes or heart attacks. So how much drinking is moderate drinking? There’s the rub; different studies define it differently. But a good rule of thumb is less than two drinks per day for men or one per day for women.
IT HELPS YOU GET IT UP
Despite all the jokes you’ve heard about drunkenness and sexual performance, a 2009 study of Australian men published in The Journal of Sexual Health found that drinkers at all levels of consumption, from casual weekend sippers to frequent bingers, had a 25 to 30 percent reduced risk of erectile dysfunction compared to non-drinkers, even after accounting for other factors like heart disease and smoking. In fact, ex-drinkers had a higher risk of ED than those who’d never had a drop of alcohol. So now that you’ve started drinking, you can’t stop!
IT WARDS OFF ALZHEIMER’S
In 2011, researchers at Loyola University Chicago analyzed 143 studies on cognitive impairment dating back to 1977 and involving some 365,000 participants, and found that moderate drinkers were 23 percent less likely to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. But there’s a downside: Heavy drinkers (averaging more than 3 drinks per day) had a slightly higher risk of cognitive problems. In addition to the same HDL and blod-clot effects that make alcohol prevent heart problems, the researchers speculated that small amounts alcohol actually “toughen up” brain cells by causing them stress.
IT PREVENTS KIDNEY STONES
A 2013 study from Rome aimed at determining whether drinking lots of sugary soda causes kidney stones also found that people who drink beer or wine have less chance of developing them, by more than 30 percent. The study didn’t look at spirits or cocktails, but it did find reduced kidney-stone risk for drinkers of coffee, tea and orange juice as well. Bottom line? Skip the Coke and have a brewski, and your urethra will thank you.
IT MAKES YOU MORE CREATIVE
Lots of creative geniuses were heavy drinkers, but it wasn’t until 2011 that the connection was backed up by research. Psychologists at the University of Illinois at Chicago got a bunch of dudes drunk—for science!—and found that they did better on a test of creative problem solving than their sober counterparts. Not only did participants with a BAC of .07 solve more of the problems correctly, but they also solved them more quickly. The best part is how the experiment worked: Subjects were fed vodka crans (a 1:3 ratio of Smirnoff 100-proof to cranberry juice, if you’re wondering) while they watched Ratatouille before moving on to the test. The control group got to watch Ratatouille but didn’t get any beverages.
IT PREVENTS DIABETES
People who have between one and four drinks per day have about a 30 percent lower risk of type II diabetes (that’s the adult-onset type) than non-drinkers, according to a 2005 analysis of 15 studies covering nearly 400,000 people by a group of Dutch scientists. Even very light imbibers who average less than one drink per day had a slightly reduced risk, though the heaviest drinkers (four or more drinks per day) had about the same risk as non-drinkers. One reason for this may be that alcohol consumption makes the body’s own supply of insulin work more efficiently.
IT HELPS YOU SURVIVE A BRAIN INJURY
In 2009, a trauma surgeon from Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center published a study that found victims of severe traumatic brain injury who had alcohol in their systems when they were injured were about half as likely to die as sober victims. Alcohol dampens the body’s inflammatory response, which means less swelling in the brain after an injury. This is not such good news, though, as being drunk makes you more likely to get injured in the first place.