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FAQ: Alcohol and Your Health

Experts answer questions about the impact of drinking on cancer risk, heart health, and more.
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

When it comes to your health, is it better to drink or not to drink?

It's becoming an even more complicated question, especially in the wake of several recent studies linking even a little drinking of alcohol to a higher risk of cancers.

In one of them, researchers found that women who had as little as one drink a day boosted their risk of cancer of the breast, liver, rectum, throat, mouth, and esophagus. Meanwhile, numerous studies dating back decades show that alcohol and heart health have a positive relationship.

So what's a health-conscious person to do? WebMD asked experts in cardiology, oncology, epidemiology, and internal medicine who are familiar with the latest research to clarify the risks and benefits of alcohol intake.

While the experts disagree on some answers, they do agree that no one who has or had a problem with alcohol dependency should drink, nor should any woman who is pregnant. Here is what else they had to say about alcohol and health:

From a health point of view, what is the best advice you would give about drinking alcohol now?

"There's no one answer; it has to be individualized according to the specific person," says Arthur Klatsky, MD, a former practicing cardiologist and now an investigator for Kaiser Permanente's division of research in Oakland, Calif. He has published numerous studies on alcohol and health, especially heart health.

It's crucial to take into account age, sex, specific medical problems, and family history, Klatsky tells WebMD.

The research on alcohol's effect on health suggests both harm and benefits, says Gary Rogg, MD, an internal medicine specialist at Montefiore Medical Center and assistant professor and assistant director of the department of internal medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York. "The studies show links to breast cancer [and] links to liver cancer [with alcohol intake],'' he says, as well as to other cancers. "If you reduce alcohol intake you can reduce the incidence of head and neck cancer and colorectal cancer. Having said that, there seems to be a benefit with [alcohol] and heart disease."

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