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Cancer Health Center

FAQ: Alcohol and Your Health

Experts answer questions about the impact of drinking on cancer risk, heart health, and more.
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Are some risks and benefits of alcohol different for women than for men?

Research suggests there is a gender gap when it comes to drinking alcohol and health risks, but experts tend to disagree on the extent of it. For instance, Klatsky says, "even light to moderate drinking is associated with female breast cancer. [But] for men we could say light to moderate drinking in all likelihood is not related to risk of cancer. It's not protective but it won't increase risk.''

That may be generally true, Rogg says, but other individual factors, such as living in an area where pollutants are at a high level, may boost cancer risk.

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.

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