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
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
esophagus, a condition that boosts the risk of esophageal cancer, compared
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.