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Cancer Health Center

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FAQ: Alcohol and Your Health

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

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.

Is there a truly safe level of drinking alcohol?

Not a universally safe level, experts agree. "A safe level for one person may not be for another," Gapstur says.

"Nothing is absolutely safe for everybody," Klatsky says. But, he adds, "I think there is a sensible level of drinking.'' Sensible levels, though, must be tailored to the individual, Klatsky says.

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