While all whiskey is distilled alcohol made from grain mash that’s carefully fermented and generally aged in casks, there are many different grains that can be used, and a variety of extra ingredients that might be added. As a result, many people enjoy the experience of tasting whiskeys from all over the world and comparing their unique flavors.
For whiskey lovers everywhere, the great news is that there is strong evidence to suggest that this popular alcoholic beverage also comes with some intriguing health benefits.
While you have probably heard the popular rumors about whiskey’s ability to help you recover from certain common respiratory ailments, you’re less likely to have heard about how it might be able to assist your cardiovascular system and even influence your risk of developing certain types of cancer at some point in your lifetime.
Thanks to new research on how diet can influence well-being, we’re constantly learning more about how food and drink impacts organ function and life expectancy.
While drinking excessive amounts of any kind of alcohol is never advisable (and is indeed associated with widespread damage to the body), a responsible and moderate intake of whisky is associated with these 10 exciting perks.
1. It Has Cardiovascular Benefits
As you get older, you become more and more likely to suffer from heart disease or experience a stroke or heart attack. However, there are dietary and lifestyle factors that strongly influence the magnitude of your risk.
Interestingly, a wide range of studies have shown that drinking 1-2 whiskeys per day is associated with as much as 50% decrease in the risk of both heart attacks and strokes. This benefit naturally comes with an increased likelihood of living longer, but what explains it? The main hypothesis on the table at this point is that alcohol seems to relax the arteries, which in turn reduces the chances of dangerous blood clots developing. Further, it seems that whiskey can increase the amount of HDL (i.e. “good”) cholesterol in your bloodstream. This type of cholesterol actually helps you to get rid of LDL (i.e. “bad”) cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
Of course, there are also plenty of other things that you can do to help keep your cardiovascular system in great shape well into old age. Staying active is one of the most important choices you can make, so commit to doing cardiovascular exercise at least a few times each week. You don’t have to pound the pavements if running isn’t your style; cycling, swimming and even dancing are all great ways to promote good cardiovascular function. Further, monitor your blood pressure and do what you can to keep it within healthy limits. Practices like meditation can help with this, as can a generally healthy diet.
2. It Supports Digestion
Perhaps one of the most surprising health benefits of whiskey is that it seems to have a positive influence on the digestive system. While indulging in too much alcohol will certainly cause feelings of nausea and may even make you vomit, it’s worth trying to drink a little whiskey if you’re suffering from certain common digestive complaints.
In fact, whiskey is a traditional remedy for indigestion and bloating, especially after a rich meal. Try pouring a glass of your favorite whiskey and sipping it slowly after you eat, then note whether it makes any difference to the way your body seems to be processing its food. Meanwhile, it’s also worth remembering that if you choose to drink whiskey with your dinner rather than after it, this may also stop you from eating too much by dampening your appetite. Since overeating can cause digestive complaints too, anything that can help you cut back on portion sizes could also play a role in reducing potential discomfort.
Of course, some digestive disturbances are more complex, and are part of an underlying condition. For example, perhaps you’re actually allergic to one of the common ingredients in your food (such as gluten or lactose), or maybe you have an undiagnosed digestive disorder like irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis. If you start experiencing unpleasant symptoms like stomach cramps, diarrhea and strapped wind on a regular basis, talk to your doctor to find out if you need to have any tests performed or might benefit from starting to take a new medication.
3. It is An Effective Cold and Flu Remedy
When you’re suffering from a persistent cough or an itchy throat, you may have heard that a drink of whiskey can go a long way towards soothing these unpleasant symptoms. This is one of the more famous medicinal uses of whiskey, but you might have wondered whether it’s just a popular rumor. Happily, the most recent research supports this approach to upper respiratory infections, showing that participants who drank whiskey experienced significant symptom relief.
Try mixing a small amount with hot water and a slice of lemon if you want to experience the most substantial improvements. This is the most basic “hot toddy” you can make, however, so if you like experimenting in the kitchen then there are other versions you might want to try. For example, you can add in some honey, cloves and a stick of cinnamon to make the drink a little more spicy. All of these additional ingredients are said to offer their own additional health benefits that may be useful for treating cold and flu virus infections as well. Honey has strong antibacterial properties, but make sure you choose a dark honey; the darker the honey, the more likely it is to be effective in fighting bacteria. Meanwhile, cloves are said to be an expectorant, which means they help to loosen mucus.
Most people find that it’s best to try whiskey remedies for colds and flus right before bed, which eases symptoms just in time for restful sleep (which your body also needs in order to recover from infection).
4. It Could Lower Your Cancer Risk
Cancer is one of the most common causes of death, and we all worry about receiving a diagnosis (especially if there’s a family history of a particular type of cancer). Lots of factors appear to play a risk in determining your risk of developing some type of malignancy, and not all of them are controllable. However, diet is one factor you definitely can control, and it turns out that whiskey has some important nutritional properties that may be linked to reducing your likelihood of cancer.
More specifically, the antioxidants in whiskey (such as ellagic acid) are connected to a reduced risk of all kinds of cancerous tumors. This benefit comes from the fact that ellagic acid can insulate your DNA from being damaged by toxins that induce the dangerous cell changes that precede malignancy. As a bonus, ellagic acid is also connected to a lower lifetime risk of developing heart disease, so it’s a powerful ally to have on your side as you age.
In order to increase your protection from cancer, take a critical look at the rest of your lifestyle. For example, if you avoid smoking then you reduce your risk of all kinds of cancer (not just those that impact the lungs). In addition, make sure you submit to regular screening tests that can check for the beginnings of common cancers. A breast, bowel or prostate cancer screening may be uncomfortable, but it offers you peace of mind and maximizes your chances of getting treatment at the earliest possible stage.
5. It Can Help You Avoid Gaining Weight
As you’ll know if you’ve ever tried to shift some excess pounds that just don’t seem to want to go, weight loss is a tricky business. It involves changing your approach to both food and exercise, and yet experts caution that if you deprive yourself of all the things you love then you’ll be less likely to succeed with your weight loss efforts in the long run. When it comes to alcohol, you may be in two minds about whether to give it up entirely or just focus on cutting back on the nutritional density of your drinks.
If you’re going to be drinking alcohol at all, whiskey is a pretty good choice in terms of calorie content. While rich wines, sugary cocktails and hoppy beers will all cause you to gain weight if regularly consumed, whiskey is low in carbohydrates and contains absolutely no fat. This means it’s compatible with almost all approaches to weight loss, so you can have a tipple without feeling guilty! In addition, a little goes a long way when it comes to something as strong and flavorful as whiskey, so you’re not likely to want to drink as many servings when you’re having whiskey. This will also reduce your overall calorie intake. Finally, remember that drinking whiskey can also help to suppress your appetite to a degree, so it may strengthen your willpower when it comes to resisting the urge to eat a huge slice of cake or break into a bag of fatty potato chips.
6. It May Protect You From Dementia
Remember ellagic acid, which is at the center of exciting studies connecting whiskey to a potentially lower risk of developing cancer? There is also evidence that this powerful acid can help to keep your mind sharp well into older age.
For those who are concerned about developing Alzheimer’s and other degenerative neurological diseases in later life, whiskey could be an important ally (especially when it comes to improving memory). This may be particularly good news if you have Alzheimer’s in your family and are worrying about how you can minimize your own risk. The studies that support the hypothesis about whiskey and dementia remain controversial in the medical community, but there is compelling evidence that ellagic acid can help to prevent neural damage caused by dangerous free radicals. In fact, some studies even suggest that whiskey can actively boost cognitive performance over time. Of course, these benefits only come from drinking whiskey in moderation, as excessive alcohol consumption will dramatically reduce cognitive function (impacting on all crucial brain functions, especially memory and concentration).
If you want to do more to reduce your risk of suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, make sure you spend plenty of time doing things that challenge and hone your mind. Even simple exercises like Sudoku puzzles and crosswords give your brain a workout and keep essential processes active; just 10-15 minutes per day might make a difference. It’s also worth noting that you can easily download brain training apps for your smartphone, many of which turn mental stimulation into fun games that target memory, focus and vocabulary.
7. It Can Reduce Stress Levels
As you probably know, chronic levels of stress are linked to everything from mental health problems (e.g. depression and anxiety) to increased risk of heart attacks. While it isn’t smart to rely on alcohol as the sole cure for your stress, many people feel that a relaxing drink at the end of the day can be a powerfully effective way to calm down.
If you agree with this sentiment, you might want to choose whiskey over the other alternatives. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that an occasional glass of whiskey can complement other stress-busting activities. Whiskey is proven to dampen anxiety and induce relaxation at the same time as increasing bodily circulation, and all of these subtle physical changes can help to reduce the damaging impact that chronic stress can have on your body.
When you find that stress is a daily part of your life, it’s well worth taking a look at other things you can do to improve your well-being. For example, the practice of mindfulness exercises receives a lot of positive press, and with good reason. Over time, mindfulness actually changes and reshapes the brain, influencing how you process and respond to stress and other negative emotional experiences. However, even just making time to pursue your hobbies can plan a major role in stress reduction. In this fast-paced world, many of us are guilty of failing to spend enough time properly looking after ourselves. Whether you love to lose yourself in a good book, dance to your favorite songs or spend quality of time with a pet, don’t neglect these important elements of self care.
8. It Is Safe For Diabetics
As mentioned earlier (in relation to weight loss), whiskey is low in carbohydrates. This makes it an especially good drink to order if you have been diagnosed with diabetes. This low carbohydrate content will leave your blood sugar levels within healthy limits, unlike many other popular alcoholic drinks. Many common cocktails are very high in sugar, which is not good for anyone but especially dangerous for the diabetic. Drinking a little whiskey is a way to enjoy yourself without putting your health at risk.
In addition, it’s worth noting that those who don’t have diabetes may be less likely to develop a case of type 2 diabetes in later life if they consume a small amount of whiskey on a regular basis. In particular, some studies show as much as a 30-40% reduction of diabetes risk, owing to improved insulin regulation. Keep this significant result in mind if you have a family history of diabetes and want to preserve your health.
Since up to 80% of cases of type 2 diabetes are said to be preventable, it’s also worth taking stock of other risk factors that you can influence. If you are overweight or have a high body mass index, doing what you can to cultivate a healthier figure could leave you dramatically less likely to develop diabetes in your lifetime. In addition, ensuring that you eat a balanced diet that is comprised of around 20% protein will help you to regulate your blood sugar levels and stay in shape at the same time.
9. It Could Even Lengthen Your Life
Finally, there are those who say that regular but modest alcohol consumption leads to a longer life. When those who drink moderately are compared to both heavy drinkers and non-drinkers, it’s the group of moderate drinkers that tends to have the longer life expectancy. This surprising result is supported by a 2010 study conducted by the Research Society on Alcoholism, among other similar research projects. So, if you want to be healthy, it may be smart to have a little whiskey every now and again instead of cutting alcohol out altogether. You could live to be at least a few years older than you might have otherwise been!
10. It Could Boost Immune System Function
There is at least some compelling evidence that whiskey may improve immune system function, helping your body to fight against invading viruses and bacteria. It appears that the combination of antioxidants and trace vitamins in whiskey explain this association, and that whiskey has some anti-bacterial properties in particular.
As you can see, whiskey isn’t just a delicious, warming beverage; it also comes with powerful benefits that make it an excellent inclusion in a healthy diet. However, there are some important caveats to consider. For one thing, you need to check that any medication you’re taking is compatible with alcohol consumption. Alcohol can stop some drugs from working properly, and can interact with others in a way that can pose a risk to your health. In addition, while whiskey might be good for the majority of people, it isn’t a wise choice if you have any form of liver disease (or another condition associated with impaired ability to process alcohol). Meanwhile, if you ever find yourself feeling dependent on whiskey or any other mood-altering substance to cope with stress or otherwise regulate your emotions, consider talking to your doctor or to a therapist about your relationship.