Are 'Wellness' Cocktails Actually Better for your Health?

If the start of 2019’s health trends could be summed up in two words, it would be “monetizing wellness.” Everyone is stressed — approximately 80 percent of Americans — and everyone wants to throw money at their problems. Alcohol has long been acknowledged as a socially acceptable form of stress-relief, but it’s not very Goop-y to sip on a tall-can of PBR. The good news? You can still maintain a semblance of a balanced, yogini lifestyle with new beverage options such as CBD-spiked cocktails.

In addition to an addiction to wellness, Americans can’t seem to get enough booze, particularly women. In fact, alcoholism among women in the U.S. increased by 83.7 percent between 2002 and 2013. Plus, there’s a growing thirst for craft cocktails. In the U.S., it’s a $44 billion industry that’s predicted to grow to $58 billion by 2022; that’s a six percent increase every year. As usual, millennials are being cited as the driving impetus behind this trend: They consume 32 percent of spirits alone, and this is anticipated to increase as millennials work their way up the corporate ladder.

In short: Millennial women don’t want to drink dad’s boring “lite” beer. They have a thirst for the artisanal, and it can be deliciously delivered in a cocktail priced in the double-digits. This pairing of wellness and booze has led to cocktails such as gin-infused “matcha blossoms,” algae and chaga mushroom cocktails, and even kale ginger daiquiris. Plus, an increasing number of liquor companies are crafting “organic” booze, such as a quinoa-based vodka infused with antioxidant powerhouse goji berries.

“I think consumers as a whole are more concerned with health and wellness, and social media has added to the propagation of wellness trends,” said Julia McKinley, Beverage Director at Chicago’s Young American Bar. “It only makes sense that this health-focused outlook would trickle down to drinking.”

Let’s get the first question out of the way: Are these options actually healthier? The short answer is no, said Dr. Sara Gottfried MD, a three-time New York Times bestselling author; her latest book is Brain Body Diet.

On top of raising cortisol levels and reducing the quality of your sleep, alcohol can also impact your waistline by causing your liver to burn alcohol for fuel instead of burning fat in your body, Gottfried said. This may slow down your rate of fat burning by more than half. And it doesn’t stop there.

“Once that’s off, the hormone estrogen gets disrupted, causing inflammation and abnormal growth, like breast cancer, endometrial cancer, diabetes, fibroids, and endometriosis,” sand Gottfried. “Beer, wine, and bourbon are all phytoestrogens that can raise a woman’s estrogen load regardless of age, putting her at risk of estrogen-sensitive conditions like those mentioned.”

Okay, so booze isn’t exactly medicine. But what about negating some of these issues with, say, an adaptogenic cocktail? Here’s where it gets a little more complicated, said Jeffrey Egler, MD, medical director and chief physician at Parsley Health Los Angeles. “It may be a matter of semantics or perspective, but I would not go so far as to say that you are negating the potential toxic effects of some of the ingredients in a cocktail,” Egler said. “The ingredients, if toxic, are still toxic.”

That being said, there may be a way to create a balance. Egler suggests steering clear of wheat-based alcohols such as whiskey, ryes, and scotch, and opting instead for “cleaner” choices like tequila, vodka and mescal. He also encourages adding ingredients such as aloe, burdock, cayenne, dandelion root, dill, ginger, horseradish, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, saffron and turmeric.

“Try to add anti-inflammatory agents and/or antioxidants to combat the way in which toxicants affect the body in a negative way,” Egler said. “Consider even infusing the drinks with vitamins and minerals either directly with supplement or more naturally with fruits and vegetables.”

Ariane Resnick, author of The Thinking Girl’s Guide to Drinking: (Cocktails Without Regrets), agrees that while you can’t necessarily cure an ailment with a cocktail, consumers can make smarter choices when hitting the bars.

“I don’t think healthier cocktails are implicitly healthy,” she said. “They’re meant to be better alternatives, like a doughnut that’s baked instead of fried.”

Again, this doesn’t mean you should be slamming ginger-infused Moscow Mules night after night. When it comes to consumption patterns, limit your intake to two servings per week—that’s approximately 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits, such as vodka or tequila.

Alcohol may never be the panacea we all want it to be. Life isn’t all about perpetual betterment, though. Sometimes you just want a cocktail for the sake of, well, drinking a cocktail. Just make sure you’re consuming responsibly and for the right reasons, said Gottfried.

“I ask my patients to consider why they are reaching for a drink,” Gottfried said. One of the most common things I see is our tendency to reach for a glass of wine to relax after a stressful day juggling work and family life.”

Plus, it’s all about moderation—and plenty of water paired with your wellness cocktail.

“The best way to drink in a way that is optimal is to enjoy your drink, but only one (or two if you must push it),” Egler said. “Drink more if you like, [but] let’s just not pretend and call it ‘healthy’ regardless of what yummy agents might be in it in addition to alcohol.”

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