Research suggests that pouring yourself a glass now and then can be beneficial to your health-but moderation is key.
If you’ve seen the headlines touting the health benefits of wine-and you’re among the 31 percent of drinkers who prefer a glass of wine to other alcoholic beverages-you’ve probably been thrilled to watch a former vice morh into virtue.But before you get too carried away celebrating.there are a few facts you should know about how alcohol consumption really affects your health.
No matter which studies you look at.any purported benefits associated with drinking are related specifically to “moderate” consumption : one drink per day for women and up to two for men.(Men are allowed more to account for their generally larger size and differences in the way they metabolize alcohol.)For Wine,one drink is 5 ounces.See what that looks like in three glass sizes,at right.
If you stick to those amounts,the evidence is pretty clear that alcohol is linked to heart health.”The association between moderate alcohol intake and lower risk of myocardial infarction(heart attack) has been studied in well-designed observational studies for nearly 50 years.”says Kenneth Makumal,M.D.,M.P.H., a professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School.
Alcohol has been linked to a small increased risk of cancer.A 2015 study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that compared with nondrinkers,moderate drinkers had a 2 to 6 percent higher risk.But the association between moderate alcohol intake and the risk of breast cancer was stronger.Women who drank the amount of alcohol in one-third to one glass of wine per day had a 13 percent increased risk of cancer,mostly driven by breast cancer.
The body metabolizes alcohol into various substances.”Acetaldehyde,the first and most toxic alcohol metabolite, is considered a cancer-causing agent,”says Yin Cao,Sc.D., an instructor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Medical School,and lead author of the BMJ study.”And breast tissue may be more susceptible to alcohol than other organs.”Alcohol might damage the DNA in breast cells.It also increases the amount of estrogen circulating in the body.and higher levels of that hormone are associated with some types of breast cancer.
Once drinking goes beyond the small amounts defined as moderate,the risks quickly start to outweitgh any potential cardiovascular benefits.Higher levels of alcohol intake are linked to increases in heart disease.high blood pressure,heart attack,and stroke,as well as various types of cancer.\
The data on alcohol is very consistent,but most of the studies don’t prove cause and effect.Many are observational-that is,they look at what people do in their real lives rather than randomly assign people to drink or abstain from alcohol,then follow them to see the effects on their health.The latter type of study would be ideal.but creating a placebo for alcohol to give to a control group is tricky.And attemping to separate large groups of subjects and randomly instruct them to drink or not drink for several years has proved to be almost impossible.
Without that clinical evidence,some experts are reluctant to recommend moderate drinking as a health tactic.
“The observational data is good,but what limited experimental evidence we have shows no benefit to moderate drinking,”says Michael Criqui, M.D.,M.P.H., a professor in the division of preventive medicine at the University of California at San Diego.Therefore,the Americans Heart Association and other health organization advise that if you do drink alcohol,do so in moderation.
And if you don’t,you shouldn’t start.
Bottom line:As long as you raise just one glass of wine(or two if you’re a guy),the health risks are small.But rather than kid yourself that your doing something super-healthy,just sip and enjoy– in moderation.