Skip to content

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

FAQ: Alcohol and Your Health

Experts answer questions about the impact of drinking on cancer risk, heart health, and more.

Besides heart health and cancer risk, are there any other established links between alcohol and health?

Yes, especially with heavy drinking. Heavy drinking and cirrhosis of the liver are linked, Klatsky points out. Excess alcohol can also cause what Klatsky calls "cirrhosis of the heart,'' a type of heart muscle damage. Too much alcohol can trigger high blood pressure and lead to strokes and heart rhythm disturbances, too, he says.

Drinking regularly may contribute to a weight problem or cause one. "Alcohol is an appetite stimulant," says Ravi Dave, MD, a cardiologist at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital and associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine. "You tend to eat more."

On the plus side, drinking alcohol moderately seems to protect against dementia, Klatsky says, and type 2 diabetes.

What about the relaxation benefits of drinking alcohol?

They can be valuable, experts agree. "In low or moderate amounts, alcohol causes euphoria [and] reduction of stress," says Dave. Stress reduction is good for the heart, he says, but it's not a reason to take up drinking if you're a nondrinker.

You also need to take the setting into account, Rogg tells WebMD. ''If you are sitting at home and having, one, two, three glasses of wine, that's more of an escape," he says. But if you are out with friends, having a glass or two? "That may offer invaluable relaxation." The relaxation, in turn, may foster good attitudes, he says. "People with good attitudes and positive thinking seem to have better [health] outcomes."

A recent study of nearly 20,000 Japanese men ages 40 to 69 showed that the heart-health benefits of light to moderate drinking were more pronounced in those with high levels of social support.

Researchers think that's because those who drank with friends or co-workers not only socialized more but had healthier lifestyles in other ways, such as getting more exercise.

Does the type of alcohol matter?

Some studies show some types of alcoholic beverages may have healthier effects than others. For instance, a recent Kaiser study showed that people who drank one glass of wine a day (but not beer or liquor) had a 56% reduced risk of getting Barrett's esophagus, a condition that boosts the risk of esophageal cancer, compared to nondrinkers.

Some experts say red wine may be better for the heart than white due to antioxidants such as resveratrol found in greater amounts in red wine.

Other recent research hasn't shown differences, for instance, in red or white wine and the effect on breast cancer risk.

In the big picture, the pattern of drinking matters more, Klatsky says, than the type of beverage.

Today on WebMD

Colorectal cancer cells
A common one in both men and women.
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
 
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Ovarian cancer illustration
Do you know the symptoms?
 
Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
Blog
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
 
colorectal cancer treatment advances
Video
breast cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
prostate cancer overview
SLIDESHOW
lung cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
Actor Michael Douglas
Article