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Is Any Amount of Alcohol Good For Us?

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Bright Side to 'Healthy' Drinking? continued...

Recent studies continue to support alcohol’s benefits. In June, the authors of a study in the journal Circulation reported that men and women who have four to six alcoholic drinks (i.e. 5-ounce glasses of wine or 1.5-ounce cocktails) per week were, respectively, 20% and 44% less likely to develop a potentially fatal ballooning of the aorta.  

And in April, early findings presented at a meeting of the National Kidney Foundation suggested that a little wine a day lowers the risk of chronic kidney disease. People who drank less than one glass of wine per day had a 37% lower risk than those who drank no wine at all.

“The data is convincing that truly moderate alcohol [drinking] does offer many health benefits,” says Moore, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. She researches alcohol’s effects on older groups of people. “For your average healthy person, it is not a bad thing.”

Cancer Risk

There’s less debate among researchers about the role alcohol plays in cancer risk. The WHO declared alcohol a carcinogen in 1988, and U.S. government health agencies have reached the same conclusion.

Alcohol is known to cause several types of cancer, including cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon-rectum, liver, and female breast. According to the National Cancer Institute, the more you drink, the greater your risk of these types of cancer. For example, people who have three and a half or more drinks a day double or even triple their odds of head and neck cancers.

For two cancers, though -- renal cell, or kidney, cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma -- studies have shown that drinking can result in a lower risk.

Still, an estimated 3.5% of U.S. cancer deaths can be traced to alcohol.

Unfortunately, says oncologist Cary Presant, MD, few people get the message.

“There’s a very low level of awareness of the risk,” says Presant, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. “We have to counsel our patients on the risks of alcohol. It’s something I talk about with my patients all the time.”

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