Is alcohol good for your health?
For many reasons, this is a question without simple or clear-cut answers. Humans have used alcohol safely and enjoyably for thousands of years, and it continues to occupy an important place in many religious ceremonies and social celebrations. In addition, moderate alcohol use can provide certain health benefits, particularly with regard to coronary heart disease.
However, alcohol consumption is also associated with serious risks. Drinking too much alcohol contributes to accidents and injuries and can lead to liver disease, certain types of stroke, high blood pressure, various cancers, and birth defects, among other health problems. Thus, understanding the possible risks and benefits of alcohol is essential to make an informed decision about alcohol use.
Alcohol abuse is discussed separately. (See "Patient information: Alcohol use — when is drinking a problem? (Beyond the Basics)".)
HOW MUCH IS ONE DRINK?
Alcoholic drinks come in multiple forms and contain differing amounts of pure alcohol (ethanol); in the United States, one portion of alcohol is defined as approximately 10 to 15 grams of ethanol, which can be found in:
One 12 ounce bottle or can of beer (roughly equivalent to the 330 mL cans of beers sold in some countries) One 5 ounce serving of wine (about 150 mL)
One shot (1.5 ounces) of 80-proof distilled spirits (about 50 mL)
In general, studies that evaluate the health effects of alcohol designate different drinking patterns (eg, heavy, moderate, or light drinking) based upon the number of drinks consumed per day or week. Moderate drinking is generally defined as 3 to 9 servings of alcohol per week.
Internationally, there is a broad range of what defines a “standard drink,” ranging from 8 grams in the United Kingdom to 19.75 grams in Japan .
HEALTH CONDITIONS AND ALCOHOL
Multiple studies suggest that consuming alcohol can affect the risk of developing certain health conditions.
Cardiovascular disease — Cardiovascular disease, including disorders of the heart, blood vessels, and blood circulation, is the leading cause of death in the United States. However, several studies suggest that moderate alcohol use, as compared to heavy drinking or abstaining, decreases the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and the most common type of stroke (ischemic stroke) by 25 to 40 percent.
High blood pressure — People who consume more than two drinks per day have up to a twofold increase in the incidence of high blood pressure compared with nondrinkers. However, the effect of drinking less than two drinks per day on high blood pressure remains unclear. (See "Patient information: High blood pressure in adults (Beyond the Basics)".)
Heart attack — Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol is associated with lower risk of having a heart attack. (See "Patient information: Heart attack recovery (Beyond the Basics)".)
Peripheral vascular disease — Peripheral vascular disease can cause pain in the calves with walking, also known as claudication. Moderate alcohol use reduces the risk of peripheral artery disease in healthy men. (See "Patient information: Peripheral artery disease and claudication (Beyond the Basics)".)
Stroke — Alcohol consumption has been shown to affect the risk of stroke in contradictory ways, depending upon the amount of alcohol consumed and the type of stroke. A stroke occurs when brain tissue dies as a result of a sudden, severe disruption of blood flow and insufficient oxygen. Strokes may be due to a blockage (ischemic stroke) or rupture and leakage (hemorrhagic stroke) of one of the blood vessels supplying the brain.
Heavy alcohol use increases the risk of both ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke. Moderate alcohol use is associated with fewer ischemic strokes; the risk appears to be lowest in people who consume one drink or less per day. In contrast, the risk of hemorrhagic stroke appears to rise even with...
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