which is worse for the liver – beer or vodka?

by oBelIX

One fine Saturday night, a friend of mine and I, sitting at Zeeks pizza, having consumed a little quantity of alcohol wondered – “which is worse for the liver – beer or vodka”. The question arose thus:

me: why do you drink that shit?

friend: why do you drink THAT shit?

me: vodka does the job a lot better.

friend: dumbass. beer is better for the liver. 

It was about this time that a commercial with a rather attractive lady came on the television. Both of us were fully committed to continuing our discussion until the director of the commercial panned to a shot showing generous amounts of cleavage. The conversation segued into other topics.

Anyway, dear reader, I present to you, the most comprehensive attempt to answer this question based entirely on a selection of authoritative sources from the internet. I will highlight that the fact that this is the most comprehensive attempt to answer this question does not say anything about objectivity or scientificness or quality.

Wolfram Alpha

http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=which+is+worse+for+the+liver+-+beer+or+vodka

Wolfram Alpha when asked this question answers like a scientist. It provides information, no judgements or conclusion. I shall attempt to interpret that data for you:

  • Vodka is better for you if you are weight conscious – 65 calories instead 120
  • Beer is better for you if you are bulking up – it contains upto 1gram of protein – 150 glasses of beer is the amount you are looking for
  • Neither beer nor vodka contain any vitamins or minerals – so the argument “I’m using it as a substitute for my multi-vitamins” holds no water.

YAHOO ANSWERS

On yahoo answers, questioner YoYo asks “Are spirits worse for you unit for unit than beer or wine? The sane answer by “Mayor Adam West” highlights:

When used in moderation, alcohol is fine for your liver… Your liver is the most resilliant organ in your body. When abused, much like anything else in this world, it will cause damage.

The more zen answer by MasterPython (clearly written when he was enlightened):

Alcohol is alcohol.

BING

Searching for this on Bing leads to several yahoo answer pages. The logical answer by halsca is:

The vodka will give you a worse hangover on account it’ll dehydrate you more than beer which is mostly water. In moderation there’s fewer calories and carbohydrates vodka won’t make you get fat like beer will.

He/she seems to be hedging his bets though.

However, it seems that the ladyfolk seem to prefer vodka. Commentator “Natalie C” answers:

I’m all about the shots baby!!!!
beer sucks!

Sienna O, a level 2, with a rather fetching picture

image shots of straigh vodka!!

WORDPRESS

A search amongst the blogosphere on this did not yield anything concrete. It did lead me to this – the key points of what alcohol does:

  • increases the risk of gouty arithritits
  • increases the risk of cancer in the liver, pancreas, rectum, breast, mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus (pretty much everywhere)
  • causes behavioural and physical abnormalities in the fetus
  • raises blood pressure but lowers the risk of heart disease in light to moderate drinkers
  • enlarges kidneys (another case of bigger is not definitely better)
  • causes fatty liver
  • causes dementia
  • increases energy intake but not a primary cuase of obesity
  • causes depression, anxiety and insomnia

The post concludes with:

Moderate use of alcohol can be an enjoyable, safe experience if used with caution. If you do choose to drink, sip each drink slowly, and always consume alcohol with food. Spaces drinks out to no more than one drink per hour, and consume plenty of water in between drinks. Never drink while pregnant and never drive when intoxicated.

I felt that this was rather biased against alcohol in general. It did not address specifically the issue at hand – the goodness/badness of vodka for the liver vis-à-vis beer. One reason for this could be that the blog is titled “quitdrinkingsmoking”.

Google

The best link came from Google. The website medkb has a thread on its forums started by Kannan Nair:

One beer bottle in india contains about 6% alcohol so drinking a full
bottle infuses about 60 ml of hard liquor to brain. If one person drinks
3 bottle of beer then gets 180 ml of alcohol. How it compares with a
person drinks directly 180 ml of alcohol diluted with water. Which will
cause more damage to liver? Is drinking beer better or worse?

While not exactly what I was researching it was pretty close. The answer by Robert E Lewis however was the most scientific I found. Excerpts below, the emphasis is all mine.

I’ve always heard this, and it makes sense; and it’s what I was taught in
drug/alcohol awareness class in school as a teen. But I long felt my
experience differed from this, and years ago when I found myself with a long string of Friday nights with nothing better to do, I conducted a little semi-scientific experiment:

On Friday evening at the same time each week I would have the same frozen dinner, so I had the same thing on my stomach. Then I would begin drinking one selected type of alcoholic drink each week – beer one Friday, wine the next, vodka the week after that, and so on.
I used a bartender’s guide for mixed drinks and measured carefully, sizing each drink so I got the same amount of alcohol per drink. I had a friend once who insisted he could safely drink one beer per half-hour without getting drunk, and my aim was to become intoxicated, so I timed myself to have one drink per twenty minutes, drinking it over the twenty minute period, and then starting the next.

After each drink, I sat down at my computer and played a couple of simple computer games. One was a ‘Concentration’ type game, to measure my ability to focus and remember things. The other measured my response time in thousandths of a second - it flashed a light and I hit a key, and it told me how long it took me to respond. I also wrote down generally how I was feeling.

The overall results were similar for most drinks – my scores on the games went up for about the first three drinks each evening, usually, I assume because the alcohol was relaxing me, but perhaps the alcohol wasn’t having much effect and I was just getting into the rhythm of the games. After six drinks, my scores plummeted (and six drinks, in my experience, is the point at which I begin to have a hangover the next morning, whatever I’m drinking).

But the ‘curve’ of my response to different types of alcohol was different. I’ve long since lost the actual data I recorded, but IIRC, with vodka (and tonic), and rum (with caffeine-free Coca-Cola), my ‘improvement’ in the reaction scores to the games increased the most, stayed steady through drink four and had a moderate drop for drinks five and six; I was also less aware of ‘feeling drunk’ even when I was, with vodka. Beer had less effect through the first three or four, but a more noticeable drop from five and six; beer also made me sleepy. Wine had a very gentle curve (as befits a genteel beverage, I suppose!) – not much change for the first few drinks and a more gradual decline after six glasses.

The last alcoholic beverage of my experiment was tequila. I followed the bartending guide for frozen margaritas, calculated a ‘one-dose of alcohol’ serving size, mixed them up and found them to strong for my liking, so I diluted them a bit and recalculated… than I had about a drink and a half and curled up on the sofa and slept it off.

I wasn’t up to drinking straight vodka, whiskey or rum, and I don’t know what effects other components of the drinks have – sugar in the vodka and rum drinks might effect the body along with the alcohol; caffeine (I avoided for the sake of my experiment in my Rum-&-Coke) might speed up metabolism of the alcohol; I’ve heard it’s the carbohydrates in beer that make one sleepy, but that doesn’t sound right to me. I seldom drink hard liquor anymore, and never more than one or two drinks in an evening, and wine I most often drink with meals, influencing its effects. But I still notice a different effects from different kinds of alcoholic beverages.

This is more balanced and scientific. It clearly suggests that drinking vodka or rum is better for you if you plan to play computer games after.

Thank you for reading so far. A further discussion is encouraged in the comments.