Whiskey has been viewed as a panacea ever since it was first brewed back in Scotland the 15th century. Back then, it was used to treat everything from wounds to deafness. By the 1700s, whiskey had become a common treatment for coughs, rashes, and indigestion. In the early 20th century, whiskey had even moved from oak barrels to smaller, more convenient glass bottles so that generous helpings could be doled out as needed at home, since doctors were now prescribing it for numerous ills, reported NPR.
When prohibition rolled around in the 1920s, many physicians kept their practices afloat by prescribing whiskey (via History). Fast forward to today and whiskey is one of the top selling spirits in America. In 2019, sales increased by nearly 11 percent and topped over $4 billion, according to Forbes. Although it may not be the cure-all it was touted to be centuries ago, whiskey still has some health benefits. To find out how your nightly whiskey habit might actually be doing you some good, read on.
Drinking whiskey could help you lose weight
While you may think that everyone who drinks a nightly libation would end up with a beer belly, whiskey has some unique properties that make it much more waistline friendly. For people who are concerned about maintaining their weight, this will come as good news. For starters, whiskey contains no carbs. And depending on the proof, 1.5 ounces of whiskey is between 97-116 calories.
In comparison, the average regular beer has 150 calories. Red wine comes in the middle, at 125 calories. However, both wine and beer contain carbs. As such, Amy Gorin, registered dietitian nutritionist, told Women’s Health that whiskey with water or club soda is a great choice for a low-calorie alcoholic beverage. However, you should keep in mind that whiskey is by no means a "diet" food. If you consume too much of it, you’re still going to gain weight.
A daily dram of high-quality whiskey could help to make your body more resistant to cancer
Tomatoes and spinach aren’t the only antioxidant-packed super foods around. It turns out whiskey contains its own powerful antioxidant — a substance called ellagic acid. This phenol is typically found in wine, cherries, berries, and walnuts, but it also shows up in other places, like oak trees. Since whiskey is typically stored in oak barrels until its ready to drink, that ellagic acid can soak into the spirit as it ages.
Once in the body, that ellagic acid can help to slash cancer risk, waging war on free radicals that cause the disease. "Ellagic acid is a highly effective free radical scavenger that absorbs or eats up rogue cells that occur in our bodies," said Jim Swan, a researcher on the subject, to the U.K.’s The Guardian. His advice: Sip a small amount of a high-quality aged whiskey. And don’t drink in excess, since heavy drinking has also been shown to promote the growth of cancer cells.
Daily whiskey drinking could help lower your risk of dementia
The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 50 million people around the globe have some form of dementia. While there is no cure for the condition, researchers believe that moderate (note: not extreme) drinking may help to slow its development.
According to the U.K.’s National Health Service, drinking some alcohol daily could help to significantly reduce your risk of developing dementia as you get older. When researchers examined the drinking habits of 3,200 Germans over the age of 75, they found that individuals who drank moderately had a lower risk for the disease than individuals who didn’t drink or who drank more heavily.
Researchers at Harvard found similar results in their study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In this review, physicians looked at dementia rates in nearly 6,000 adults over 65 and found that "consumption of 1 to 6 drinks weekly is associated with a lower risk of incident dementia among older adults" compared to those who didn’t drink or who drank more. The exact cause of alcohol’s protective effect against dementia is unknown and still being studied.
Drinking whiskey daily may help your body to better regulate insulin
Drinking whiskey might just help to lower your risk for diabetes. As part of a study published in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, Danish researchers reviewed 20 years’ worth of research on diabetes and individual drinking habits. They found that while binge drinking appears to increase diabetes risk, low to moderate alcohol consumption "reduces the incidence of T2D [type 2 diabetes]."
People with the disease do need to be careful about their alcohol intake, the researchers warned — but they don’t have to give it up entirely. In fact, a daily serving of whiskey may make it easier to manage your blood sugar levels.
As Diabetes Forecast revealed, researchers at Kaiser Permanente surveyed nearly 40,000 people with diabetes about their drinking habits and discovered that individuals who drank one to two alcoholic drinks daily had lower A1C levels than those who abstained or drank more heavily. While researchers aren’t sure of the exact mechanism behind the finding, they believe that alcohol may help to improve insulin sensitivity within the body, making it easier to keep diabetes under control.
A daily serving of whiskey might help you live longer
While we can’t guarantee you’ll make it quite as long as Grace did, a study published in Alcoholism reported that moderate drinkers had a nearly 50 percent lower risk of death from all causes over a 20-year period than individuals who either drank heavily or didn’t drink at all. Researchers made the discovery after tracking 1,800 adults over two decades, monitoring their health and drinking habits. The finding jives with additional research carried out by neurologist Claudia Kawas at the University of California, Irvine.
According to The Independent, Kawas has long been studying the diets and lifestyle habits of people who live into their 90s. The result she keeps coming back to? People who live to 90 or older often drink moderately. "I have no explanation for it, but I do firmly believe that modest drinking improves longevity," Kawas revealed at the 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science conference (via The Independent).
Regular whiskey consumption may be good for your heart
The CDC estimates that one person dies every 36 seconds from some form of heart disease. However, drinking whiskey may help to lower your risk for the disease. A study published in the journal BMJ reported that moderate alcohol consumption — one to two drinks per day, max — may help men and women reduce their heart disease risk by up to 25 percent (via WebMD). Reviewing the data, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told the site that "moderate alcohol consumption could be part of a heart-healthy lifestyle."
Additional studies, including one 2015 study published in the European Heart Journal, revealed that moderate alcohol consumption can lower the risk of heart disease and heart failure. Whiskey drinkers, in particular, may reap the most benefits. One study compared wine, aged malt whiskey, and freshly distilled whiskey and found that the aged malt — which had the highest concentration of antioxidants — provided the greatest overall heart protecting benefits (via BBC News).
A daily nip of whiskey might help to keep your cholesterol levels in check
Cholesterol comes in two forms. There’s "bad" LDL cholesterol — tiny dense particles that travel through your arteries and are likely to clog them, causing heart disease and strokes — and then there’s the "good" HDL cholesterol. You can essentially think of good cholesterol as big fluffy monsters that push through your arteries and help to keep them clear of blockages, reducing heart disease risk.
The good news for lovers of the Old Fashioned or Manhattan? The whiskey in these cocktails can increase levels of the good HDL in your blood. According to the experts at the Mayo Clinic, moderate consumption of alcohol has been linked with higher levels of HDL cholesterol. For healthy adults, a drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65 and up to two drinks a day for men under 65 may help to increase HDL cholesterol levels, the site advised.
In addition to increasing HDL levels in the body, researchers at Harvard reported that alcohol, including whiskey, in turn "prevent the formation of small blood clots," thus also preventing heart attacks and strokes. Another win for the potent firewater!
Whiskey could help relieve your cold symptoms
Turns out there may be some science behind the delicious hot toddy you whip up whenever you’re feeling a little under the weather. By combining hot water, lemon, honey, and whiskey, you’re actually creating the perfect combination of ingredients to help ease the symptoms of a cold.
Water, of course, is essential to fighting a cold because it helps to keep you hydrated. Fluids also help to break down mucus so you recover from your illness faster. Honey may be as potent as cough syrup or even antibiotics, according to a study cited by CNN. The lemon slices you add to your hot toddy are packed with immune system-boosting Vitamin C; they’re also antiviral and antibacterial (via Livestrong).
As for that whiskey? Dr. William Schaffner, a preventive medicine professor at Vanderbilt University, explained in an interview with ABC News, saying, "The alcohol dilates blood vessels a little bit, and that makes it easier for your mucus membranes to deal with the infection." It’s not going to keep you from getting sick or help you get better any faster, he explained, but it can provide "some modest symptom relief."
A regular serving of whiskey could help to make your immune system stronger against infections
Besides being healthier overall and having a stronger cardiovascular system, people who drink moderately may also have hardier immune systems. That’s also the takeaway from a study on rhesus macaque monkeys conducted by Oregon Health & Science University. Their researchers’ finding: "Moderate drinking may actually bolster our immune system and help it fight off infection" (via OHSU News).
To perform the study, which was published in the journal Vaccine, researchers taught a lucky group of monkeys how to drink alcohol and then let them have as much as they wanted, whenever they wanted. Like humans, some monkeys drank excessively, some drank moderately, and some didn’t like the alcohol and avoided it entirely.
The results of this bizarre trial? After seven months, the bodies of the monkeys who had been drinking moderately produced the most antibodies — meaning their immune systems were also the strongest overall. While studies on humans are still underway, this study may just mean that for the person who doesn’t overindulge, a daily serving of alcohol (like whiskey) can improve immune system health, said the study’s author Ilhem Messaoudi.
Moderate whiskey consumption could reduce your risk of developing gallstones
Whiskey appears to be able to fight off painful, pesky gallstones. Quick anatomy lesson: Your gallbladder is a small, bile-producing pear-shaped organ found just beneath your liver that aids in digestion. Gallstones are hardened lumps of bile that sometimes form in the gallbladder. They can be small like a grain of rice, or giant like a golf ball, according to the Mayo Clinic. They’re also very common, occurring in 10-15 percent of the adult population. Once a gallstone develops, it can cause sudden intense pain in the abdomen and below the breastbone or back pain between the shoulder blades. Gallstones can also cause nausea and vomiting, and usually need to be surgically removed.
Sounds scary, right? Well, the good news is that regular moderate alcohol consumption appears to reduce a person’s risk for developing gallstones. "Health researchers in the United Kingdom have found that drinking two units of alcohol per day reduces the risk of developing gallstones by a third," ScienceDaily noted. Researchers are still working to determine the exact link between alcohol consumption and reduced gallstone risk (via Healthline).
Drinking whiskey regularly may help you to have more intense memories
There’s a reason so many people have such vibrant memories of the first time they drink, or can so easily recall a favorite night out drinking with friends. It’s because whiskey and other alcohols can actually alter the way memories are formed in our brains, Forbes explained. Researchers at Brown University made the discovery not by studying humans but instead by tracking the memory formations of a bunch of happily buzzed fruit flies. Apparently, we share many traits with the tiny insects, including the way we create memories over things our brains find rewarding and things our brains tell us to avoid.
After analyzing fruit flies exposed to alcohol (which they loved due to the natural sugars found within it), the scientists found that alcohol can change the structure of proteins in the brain responsible for forming a memory, making the memory seem stronger and more positive. This may be why memory is often linked to intense positive memories, said the study’s author Karla Kaun, but it can also set the stage for alcohol addiction if people begin to crave alcohol as a way of reproducing those feel-good memories.
Stress could feel less "stressful" when you drink whiskey daily
A shot of whiskey may seem like an ideal way to end the day and relax a little bit. And for many people, it can be. Whiskey’s stress-busting properties come from its role in the body as a depressant, which means it slows down brain functioning and neural activity, both of which spike under times of stress. Alcohol also increases circulation, helping to spread oxygenated blood throughout the body, allowing you to calm down and regain control of your emotions. Finally, whiskey can also act as a barbituate, helping to sedate you and make you feel ready for bed. No wonder it’s such a popular nightcap for so many!
While alcohol can help you to alleviate symptoms of stress, remember that it doesn’t make them go away. So although you can use your drink as a temporary reprieve from the stresses of the day, be careful not to overdo it. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has warned that around 20 percent of people with social anxiety disorder also suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence. It’s very easy to develop a problem if you’re not careful.
If you drink whiskey daily, you probably also exercise daily
Researchers aren’t sure why but people who drink moderately tend to be more physically active than people who don’t. This finding comes from a survey of over 230,000 Americans published in the American Journal of Health Promotion. The study found that moderate to heavy drinkers worked out 10 to 20 minutes longer each week than individuals who were light drinkers or who rarely drank at all (via ScienceDaily). "Alcohol users not only exercised more than abstainers, but the differential actually increased with more drinking," the study’s lead author Michael French told ScienceDaily.
A similar review of alcohol and exercise rates among men and women published in Frontiers in Psychiatry confirmed the finding, reporting that a link between drinking and increased athletic activity in college students has been documented for decades. In these studies, researchers link celebration of wins and commiseration of losses in sports to the increase in active people who drink.
For people who don’t play sports, the researchers speculate that drinkers may exercise more to offset the effects of alcohol, or because of vanity — they want to look good when they are out drinking.
You might feel sexier or more confident if you drink whiskey regularly
It’s no surprise that drinking too much whiskey can drastically change your mood, making you weepy, angry, or even turning you into a dancing fiend. The effect is due to alcohol’s ability to alter our brain chemistry, according to DrinkAware. As these changes take place, our emotions can change as well. Sometimes that effect is negative, but according to a study in the British Medical Journal, there can be positive changes to our mental state that come from drinking as well.
To complete the study, researchers in the U.K. surveyed 200 regular drinkers, asking them how their mood changed when they drank. They found that about 30 percent of respondents reported feeling aggressive, more individuals had positive reactions to their favorite spirit, with 59 percent of individuals saying that drinking regularly made them feel more confident and 42 percent reporting a regular drink made them feel sexier. The findings suggest that "whether they realize it or not, people may be choosing their drinks based on their emotional state or how they expect a certain beverage to make them feel," Time revealed in review of the findings.