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Heart Disease Health Center

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Moderate Alcohol Drinking May Boost Heart Health

Researchers Say Benefits May Be Related to Effect of Moderate Drinking on HDL Levels

Wine, Beer, and Spirits continued...

The jury is in regarding the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, says Eric Rimm, ScD, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

“It’s time to stop doing these studies and work on our messaging," he says. Rimm recently spoke at a luncheon on the new dietary guidelines hosted by the Distilled Spirits Council, a trade group representing producers and marketers of distilled spirits.

Public health messages need to stress moderate -- not heavy -- drinking. “Some alcohol is beneficial, but you need to stop at some,” he says. “If you choose to drink, stop at moderation.”

The definition of heavy drinking, according to the CDC, is having more than two drinks daily on average for men and more than one drink daily on average for women.

“Don’t let it get this far,” Rimm says.

The reason that the moderate drinking definition is different for women and men is not just because of the size difference between the sexes, he says.

“Women metabolize alcohol differently than men, and there are hormonal differences,” Rimm says. “Women are at higher risk for breast cancer and alcohol can increase breast cancer risk.”

Some may be concerned that alcohol can contribute to weight gain and obesity whether from the calories in alcohol or the effect that it has on inhibition, but this has not been borne out by the research, he says.

Obesity is a complex condition and there are many contributors including lack of exercise and portion control, but alcohol’s role in that is very small, and probably doesn’t exist when alcohol is consumed in moderation,” he says.

Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, says that “moderate alcohol consumption could be part of a heart-healthy lifestyle.” Research shows that it helps boost HDL levels, and this can have profound effects on heart disease risk.

“I never tell people to start drinking if it is not part of their lives,” she says. “It is not a free-for-all.”

Not everyone should drink alcohol, including people with liver disease, blood clotting abnormalities, or addictive personalities, she says.

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