Guest Author - Maria Hester, M.D.
Alcohol consumption has the potential to confer positive health benefits on one hand, and the potential to cause life-threatening illnesses on the other. The quantity consumed is very important.
What is a healthy dose of alcohol?
Scientific studies fail to give an unequivocal "best dose," though some studies suggest that men can safely drink more than women, likely due to the ability of the male liver to metabolize alcohol more efficiently. It is believed that a safe dose of alcohol is around 6 grams daily. Note, close to 10 to 15 grams of alcohol can be found in a glass of wine, one mixed drink, or a can or bottle of beer.
Regarding alcohol's potential to lower heart attack risk, a large scientific study showed that the benefits of alcohol consumption "max out" at 1/2 of a drink per day. The researchers found no additional benefit of drinking more than this amount. Another study found that the lowest mortality rate was associated with consuming between 5 to 7 grams daily. However, the largest study to date comparing alcohol and mortality demonstrated the maximum benefit to occur at one drink daily for both men and women.
I have yet to see a study that recommended more than 2 drinks per day for men and more than 1 drink per day for women.
Conditions in which alcohol use should be limited include:
Esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus)
Active gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining)
Strong family history of breast cancer
Pre-cancerous conditions of the gastrointestinal tract, such as Barrett's esophagus
Conditions that generally require total abstention of alcohol include:
Personal history of alcoholism
Family history of alcoholism
Prior hemorrhagic stroke (stroke due to bleeding into the brain)
Disease of the liver
Disease of the pancreas
Operation of dangerous equipment
While moderate alcohol consumption has the potential to decrease heart attack risk, higher amounts of consumption have the potential to cause or worsen a variety of serious illnesses, including the following:
Congestive heart failure
Acute and chronic pancreatitis
Breast cancer - evidence suggests that women who drink three or more alcoholic beverages daily have a higher risk of breast cancer
Cancers of the mouth, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, and liver
Injuries from motor vehicle and other accidents
Like everything in life, moderation is the key. It is perfectly okay to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner at night, but drinking excessively has the potential to cause a host of medical, social, and psychological problems.
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