It’s no secret that alcohol can have health risks if consumed too often, but you may be surprised there are potential health benefits of bourbon. That’s right – when enjoyed responsibly, with moderate alcohol consumption, bourbon may be part of a healthy diet.
We hear the word moderation a lot, but what does that really mean when it comes to drinking alcoholic beverages?
According to the CDC, “To reduce the risk of alcohol-related harms, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men or 1 drink or less in a day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed.”
The World Health Organization (WHO), on the other hand, released a statement and report in January of 2023 stating that “when it comes to alcohol consumption, there is no safe amount that does not affect health.”
So why the conflicting stances?
Some studies have given evidence that bourbon (whiskey in general) have some positive effects on specific things in our bodies.
The CDC has taken the stance that it’s better to drink none, but drinking a little could be okay. The WHO seems to have weighed all the evidence, good and bad, and decided that the risks aren’t worth the reward.
Let’s look at the potential benefits and risks so you can decide for yourself.
Nutrition Information for Bourbon
A standard 1.5 ounce shot of bourbon (80 proof) contains 97 calories. A shot of whiskey has zero carbs, fat, protein, fiber, or sugar.
Bourbon contains zinc, phosphorus, iron, thiamine (B1), and niacin (B3). It also contains a powerful antioxidant that is also found in berries called ellagic acid. Some studies have shown that ellagic acid might kill cancer cells.
Potential Health Benefits of Bourbon
Bourbon is made from a combination of grains, water, and yeast. It’s aged in wooden barrels, which gives it a distinctive taste and aroma.
Drinking bourbon in moderation has been found to have several potential health benefits, including the following.
1. May Help with digestion
Bourbon has compounds known as ellagitannins, which are beneficial for the digestive system. These compounds are said to promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut, which improves digestion and prevents the growth of harmful bacteria.
Some research shows that alcohol, in general, acts as a natural appetite stimulant. This can be beneficial for those who struggle with poor appetite or have difficulty eating enough food. Because of this, coupled with the high calories, it may not be ideal for weight loss.
It’s important to note that drinking too much bourbon can have the opposite effect on digestion, causing discomfort and gastrointestinal distress, and even disease.
2. May Relieve Cold Symptoms
When you have a cold, it can be hard to find relief from your symptoms. Did you know a moderate amount of bourbon could help?
Bourbon is made from grains like barley, wheat, and rye, which contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
These properties can temporarily open up the blood vessels and help clear mucus from your chest and sinuses. It may also reduce inflammation in the throat and help with sore throat pain and discomfort.
Remember moderation is important, drinking too much will make it much harder for your body to fight infections from common colds and worse, and can keep you sick longer.
3. May Reduce Stress Levels
It’s no secret that stress can wreak havoc on your body. It can cause high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and even lead to heart disease.
Bourbon has been known to reduce stress levels and calm the mind. But we all know that alcohol, in general, tends to make you feel much more relaxed. We didn’t need any studies for that.
When consumed in moderation, it can have a relaxing effect on the body, easing tension and relieving stress.
The high concentration of natural antioxidants and polyphenols found in bourbon is said to be the reason it may relax you and improve your mood. These compounds have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce stress and anxiety.
This benefit of bourbon can be a risk. This is because it’s easy to become reliant on something like alcohol to relieve stress and take you away from the anxieties of reality.
Excessive consumption of bourbon (alcohol in general) can actually have the opposite effect and increase stress levels.
4. May Lower the Risk of Heart Disease
Moderate bourbon consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. Bourbon contains those antioxidants we talked about earlier, ellagic acid and polyphenols. They can help to prevent oxidative stress in the body.
Oxidative stress can lead to the development of plaque in the arteries, which can increase the risk of heart disease. Basically, the benefit for those who are at a high risk of heart disease (or already have heart disease) is bourbon increases blood circulation by thinning your blood.
Thinner blood runs more easily through narrowed and clogged arteries which can reduce the risk of heart attacks and blood clots.
Studies have also shown that bourbon can increase HDL cholesterol, which is commonly known as the “good” cholesterol. HDL cholesterol helps to remove LDL cholesterol, or the “bad” cholesterol, from the bloodstream, which can help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
On the other hand, it’s important to note that excessive bourbon consumption can have the opposite effect and actually increase the risk of heart disease.
Some researchers suggest that alcohol, in general, is only beneficial for the heart if you are already at a high risk of heart disease, but that it can create risk where there is none in otherwise healthy people.
5. May Improve Brain Function
Moderate bourbon consumption can also have positive effects on the brain. According to studies, moderate alcohol consumption can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
This is because bourbon, like other types of alcohol, can increase blood flow to the brain, which can enhance cognitive function and improve memory. The ellagic acid in bourbon has been shown to have neuroprotective effects, helping to prevent brain damage and promoting overall brain health.
Excessive alcohol consumption can have the opposite effect on the brain, impairing cognitive function and increasing the risk of dementia.
6. May Support Your Immune System
Bourbon may also give your immune system a much-needed boost. Again, those antioxidants it contains prevent or improve inflammation and can help to protect your body against harmful toxins and free radicals that can damage your cells.
The high level of antioxidants found in bourbon is because of the oak barrels that it is aged in. These barrels contain tannins that are released into the bourbon over time, which help to prevent oxidation and preserve the flavor of the whiskey. These same tannins are also responsible for the antioxidant properties of the bourbon that can be beneficial to your health.
Its anti-inflammatory properties are important for your immune system. Chronic inflammation can weaken your immune system and make you more likely to get infections and other diseases.
7. May Help Control Type 2 Diabetes
Alcohol consumption, in general, has been linked to increased risk for diabetes. But, moderate consumption of bourbon has actually been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control.
It might improve blood lipid levels (fat in the blood) and decrease inflammation in the body. Both of these things also play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Small amounts of bourbon can contribute to healthy cholesterol levels. As I mentioned above, healthy levels can help prevent type 2 diabetes.
Excessive bourbon consumption can have the opposite effect – increasing the risk for diabetes.
Should You Drink Bourbon for its Health Benefits?
Should you drink moderate amounts of bourbon for potential improvements in your heart health, cognitive performance, and lower stress levels? We can’t say for sure, that’s up to you to decide.
Remember, heavy drinkers can have a 3-7 times higher chance of ending up with serious health conditions. Those conditions range from pneumonia to cancer and everything in between.
Alcohol is also strongly linked to accelerating the aging process of the human body. Clearly, that is not a good thing, no matter which way you look at it.
Like everything else in health, moderation is the most important thing to keep in mind. When you’re thinking about your overall health, you have to look at the big picture.
Bourbon has the potential to improve health in some ways. However, fruits and vegetables have the same, and even more, benefits without any of the risks.
Enjoying alcoholic drinks in moderation is widely believed to be safe. Sipping on a glass of bourbon to unwind after a long week can be a part of a healthy lifestyle.
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