Could the health benefits of alcohol be achieved with vinegar?

In most cultures, alcohol consumption has been part of socializing for thousands of years. And while the U.S. doesn’t top the list of alcohol-consuming countries — that honor belongs to the average Luxembourgish, who drinks about 15 liters of alcohol every year — the average American consumes about four alcoholic beverages per week (8.6 liters of alcohol per year).

Much has been written about the health benefits of alcohol, which have been attributed to increasing the blood concentration of HDL, or “good” cholesterol. But that may not be the whole story. More recent evidence suggests the increased life expectancy associated with consuming alcohol doesn’t have anything to do with its HDL-raising effects.

So what’s going on? There is great interest in the metabolic fate of alcohol, after it has entered our stomachs and been absorbed into our blood and cells. We know a lot already.

The human body absorbs alcohol quickly giving rise to a slight change in consciousness people call a “buzz.”

Quickly consuming two alcoholic beverages on an empty stomach, alcohol blood concentration peaks within thirty minutes but is removed from the blood within four hours.

Consuming alcohol with fat-containing foods slows alcohol’s absorption and extends the time it takes to get to peak blood concentration, thereby reducing the buzz — but making it last longer.

Alcohol is degraded in the liver, where two enzymes convert alcohol to acetate, the main component of white vinegar. Many of the physiological effects of alcohol can be duplicated by consuming acetate — except for the drunkenness part. Additional research may show that consuming acetate, an ingredient in many foods, including salad dressing, may be away to increase life expectancy without intoxication.

Some people are alcohol-intolerant because they lack adequate amounts of one of the enzymes that degrade alcohol to acetate. As a consequence, an intermediate product of alcohol metabolism called acetaldehyde accumulates in the blood and gives rise to an alcohol flush, a reddening of the skin.

Many of the positive health benefits tied to alcohol may come from acetate, the main component in white vinegar Click To Tweet

A big question for scientists is: How does alcohol protect against heart attacks? One guess, with some experimental support, is that alcohol through its product acetate alters metabolism in fat cells. Future research will reveal whether this hypothesis is valid and whether acetate is a healthful substitute for alcohol.

3 science-backed ways to improve your sleep

You toss and turn and can’t get to sleep. The next morning, instead of being alert and ready to take on the day, you find yourself dragging—dependent on coffee for a morning boost. For many, something as integral to our nature as sleep seems elusive.

Night Owl Surfing the Net
Are you a night owl? If you are, your body may produce less melatonin, a hormone tied to sleep and wake cycles that’s also a potent antioxidant.

From weight gain to increased cardiovascular risk to even accelerated aging, poor sleep quality can be disastrous to your health.

Improving your sleep can boost your immune system, increase athletic performance and improve your memory.

Here are three ways to improve your sleep and make sure you get a good night’s rest.

Minimize your exposure to blue light after sunset

The pineal gland in your brain produces the hormone melatonin. In turn, melatonin helps regulate sleep and wake cycles, causing drowsiness at appropriate times.

Not only does melatonin help sync sleep patterns, it functions as a potent antioxidant that is as effective as vitamin E and has been found to significantly reduce cellular stress and damage. The best part? It’s naturally produced by your body.

Melatonin helps regulate sleep, but is disrupted by artificial light from devices like tablets and smartphones Click To Tweet

For melatonin to be produced, you must be exposed to natural patterns of light, meaning lots of bright light during the day and minimal blue light at night. To maximize melatonin production, consider following these tips:

  • Wear amber-tinted, blue-blocking sunglasses after sunset if you’re exposed to electronic screens or bright lights
  • Studies in 2009 and 2011 found that wearing these kinds of glasses help combat disruptions in melatonin
  • If you have a sleep disorder or do shift work, replace house lights you use in the evening with amber light bulbs
  • Install blue-blocking software like Twilightf.lux or Redshift  on your computer, tablet and/or smartphone
  • Make your bedroom as dark as possible by covering windows with heavy drapes
  • Turn electronic devices that emit light off or away from your bed

Eliminate late-night meals and snacking

Don’t raid the fridge after dark or eat dinner too late. A 2011 study found that eating late in the evening extended the time it took individuals to get to sleep and reduced overall sleep quality.

Research shows that eating too late at night disrupts melatonin production, as well as raising levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is naturally supposed to be high in the morning, not evening.

Research shows that eating late at night extends the time it takes to get to sleep and reduces sleep quality Click To Tweet

So, what seems to be the sweet spot for meal timing at night? Research leans toward keeping your evening meal about four hours away from bedtime.

Don’t drink alcohol near bedtime

While many like a nightcap, it’s not the best idea as far as sleep goes.

A small amount of alcohol (such as a glass of wine) may make it easier to fall asleep, but any amount of alcohol disrupts the second half of your sleep cycle, which is important for concentration, motor skills and memory.

While alcohol may seem to help you fall asleep, it results in a less restorative sleep cycle Click To Tweet

Ladies take special note: You metabolize alcohol differently than men, absorbing 30% more in your bloodstream. This means alcohol disrupts sleep more in women than in men.

Interested in learning more about sleep? Follow our Sweet Dreams board on Pinterest.

Follow Houston Methodist’s board Sweet Dreams on Pinterest.

Reviewed by Aparajitha K. Verma, M.D.