Drinking in moderation has been linked, in numerous studies, to a wide variety of health benefits — lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cholesterol. But it’s also possible to get too much of a good thing, experts say.
So what exactly is drinking in moderation?
According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate alcohol consumption for women is one drink per day — a beer, glass of wine, or cocktail. For men, it’s two drinks, but after age 65 men should limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day.
Drink size depends on the type of beverage. In general, one beer is 12 fluid ounces, a glass of wine is five fluid ounces, and distilled spirits are 1.5 fluid ounces.
But keep in mind, even drinking in moderation isn’t risk free in certain situation — for example, getting behind the wheel, even after one or two drinks, could be dangerous.
“It’s a very dose-dependent thing,” notes Dr. James O’Keefe, a cardiologist and director of preventative cardiology at the Mid America Heart Institute. “While a little [alcohol intake] can be helpful, a lot is worse than nothing.”
O’Keefe tells Newsmax Health that plenty of scientific evidence has shown that, in small amounts, alcohol can raise the “good” HDL cholesterol, reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes, and lower cardiovascular risks, like heart attacks and related deaths. Alcohol consumption may even reduce the risk of ischemic stroke.
Additionally, certain types of alcohol may carry greater health benefits.
“Red wine is probably the most beneficial since it’s got more antioxidants than any other type of alcohol, and it tends to be low in sugar,” O’ Keefe explains.
“It’s always been a traditional part of the Mediterranean diet. The benefits of red wine seem to be stronger when [consumed with] a meal — like a glass of red wine with dinner.”
But he warns that drinking in moderation can be a challenge for some people.
“The main problem with alcohol is that it’s what I’d call a slippery slope,” O’ Keefe explains. “A lot of people start off thinking they’re just going to drink one glass of wine a day and can’t control it, so they end up drinking way too much.
“At amounts greater than two drinks per day, alcohol does all sorts of things. It raises blood pressure, it increases the risk of stroke, heart failure, inflammation, and can even cause premature death from a number of causes, including accidents.”
Additionally, high alcohol consumption is associated with a higher risk of developing cancer. The 14th Report on Carcinogens, released in 2016 by the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, lists alcohol consumption as a known human carcinogen.
Other research indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks, the higher their risk of developing cancers of the head and neck cancer, esophagus, liver, breast, and colon. A person’s risk of developing alcohol-related cancers is influenced by their genetic makeup, especially in genes that encode the enzymes involved in metabolizing alcohol.
In addition, there are certain groups of people for whom the risks of drinking will far outweigh the benefits.
“The main group of people who should be avoiding alcohol are people who have had a personal or a family history of alcohol abuse, because it does tend to run in families,” O’Keefe explains.
“If you’ve had trouble with alcohol in the past, you’re not going to do well with it again when you take it in the future.”
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