How much alcohol will become too much?

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Everyone has its own opinion to alcohol. Your gender, height, and weight are just some of the factors that play a part in how alcohol will affect you. Survey results vary, however, 35 percent American adults drink no alcohol, 55 percent light or moderate drinkers and 10 percent drink more than moderately. Alcohol is estimated to cause 90,000 deaths a year directly or indirectly, including more than 11,000 traffic fatalities. And treating alcoholism costs billions annually.

However, drinking also has some benefits. For many people, it’s a part of social, business and family life, an enjoyable and traditional accompaniment to food and merry making. Even medical science has a lot to say about alcohol. While doctors have recognized the harm of too much alcohol, it has also been used medicinally for centuries. Once it was the only antiseptic and anesthetic in the surgeon’s kit.

Healthy maybe, confusing certainly

Researchers have found that drinking alcohol regularly, even in small quantity, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease one of the most common cause of death in the industrialized world. If Americans suddenly stop drinking, thousands of deaths from heart disease would occur each year. Moderate alcohol intake helps in reducing the risk of some other disorders, including type 2 diabetes, gallstones and peripheral artery disease even dementia.

Whether to drink is a personal decision alcoholic beverages cost money and add calories to the diet. More seriously, alcohol also causes accidents, family conflicts, and medical problems. Keeping in mind there’s little or no cardiovascular benefit for premenopausal women or for men under 40 since they are at much lower risk.

How does alcohol protect the heart?

The action is two-fold just like aspirin, alcohol also reduces blood clotting, a transient effect that persists for about a day. When it is consumed regularly, alcohol also raises levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol over the long term; and HDL removes cholesterol from arterial walls, helping in preventing atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”).

For heart health, is it best to drink every day?

It’s not clear which routine is best, except those small amounts of alcohol consumed regularly are better than those larger amounts, occasionally. Some research even suggests that daily drinking is best for the heart, others that drinking every other day is also enough to get the benefits. Some studies have also found that all it takes is half a standard drink a day.

What’s a standard drink?

In the U.S. “drink” is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, which all contain about 14 grams of pure alcohol (ethanol). Of course, nowadays people often serve much larger drinks, especially at bars and restaurants.

What’s moderate drinking?

Moderate drinking is the sufficient amount to confer heart benefits while minimizing the dangers of heavy drinking. In the U.S. this is generally defined as up to one drink a day for women, up to two for a man. It comes from the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which specifies that this refers to the amount consumed on any single day, not an average over several days.

Women are advised to drink less than men because they tend to be smaller –proportionately have more body fat and less body water than men. Thus, a given amount of alcohol will result in the higher blood level of alcohol in women and cause more impairment.

Aren’t these guidelines arbitrary?

They are just guidelines, not a rule because the given amount of alcohol can affect people differently, depending on their body size, age, and many other factors. Older people are affected more by alcohol because their bodies don’t process it as well. Also, alcohol doesn’t mix well with many drugs that older people take. Thus many governments recommend to people over 65 drink less than the official guidelines.

Also, the drinking pattern also matters. It is not okay to abstain during the week days and then consume your whole weekly “quota” on the weekends. This is also known as episodic heavy drinking, a term that has replaced “binge drinking.” Even heavy drinking, confined to special occasions, is dangerous.

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Does moderate drinking pose health risks?

The serious health risks occur mostly from heavy drinking: alcoholism, heart and liver disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, certain cancers (of the breast, mouth, esophagus, larynx, liver and colon, for instance), car crashes and other accidents. But even moderate drinking can affect the coordination and impair your ability to drive, operate machinery, or swim. It also slightly increases the risk of breast and some other cancers; the combination of smoking and drinking multiplies the risk of oral cancers.

Alcohol is clearly a double-edged sword. So use it wisely.

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