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
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."
What is the best advice about drinking alcohol if you only consider alcohol's effect on heart health?
Again, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer, Klatsky says. He gives
hypothetical case histories to make the point.
Take a 60-year-old man who has given up smoking but has a family history
attacks, a less-than-ideal cholesterol level, and no dependency problems with
alcohol. If he likes a glass of wine with dinner, Klatsky says, "this man is
better off continuing."
But a 25-year-old health-conscious woman with no risk factors for heart
disease who drinks very little should not boost her wine intake just for heart
health, Klatsky says. "It is not going to do any good heart-wise for 40 or 50
For men 40 and older and women 50 and older "there are benefits [from
alcohol] for heart health," he says. He's talking about moderate drinking,
defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as no more than one drink a day
for women and no more than two drinks a day for men. A drink is 12 ounces of
beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.