Responsible Drinking for Women (Harvard Medical School Guides)
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Heavy alcohol use has also been linked with several cancers: The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research indicate that there is convincing evidence linking alcohol to cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, breast, liver, colon, and rectum. Even moderate drinking carries some risks. Alcohol interacts in potentially dangerous ways with a variety of medications, including acetaminophen, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, painkillers, and sedatives.
Overcoming Alcohol Addiction
It is also addictive, especially for people with a family history of alcoholism. There is convincing evidence that alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer, and the more alcohol consumed, the greater the risk.
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A lack of folate in the diet or folic acid, its supplement form, further increases the risk of breast cancer in women. Folate deficiency, as can occur with heavy alcohol use, can cause changes in genes that may lead to cancer. Alcohol also increases estrogen levels, which fuel the growth of certain breast cancer cells. An adequate intake of folate, at least micrograms a day, when taking at least 1 drink of alcohol daily appears to lessen this increased risk. Alcohol blocks the absorption of folate and inactivates folate in the blood and tissues. Getting extra folate may cancel out this alcohol-related increase.
Mixed drinks that add juice, tonic, or syrups will further drive up calories, increasing the risk of weight gain over time. However, a prospective study following almost 15, men at four-year periods found only an increased risk of minor weight gain with higher intakes of alcohol. It was noted that calorie intake not from alcohol tended to increase along with alcohol intake. More than prospective studies show an inverse association between light to moderate drinking and risk of heart attack, ischemic clot-caused stroke, peripheral vascular disease, sudden cardiac death, and death from all cardiovascular causes.
However, increasing alcohol intake to more than 4 drinks a day can increase the risk of hypertension, abnormal heart rhythms, stroke, heart attack, and death. It applies to people who do not have heart disease, and also to those at high risk for having a heart attack or stroke or dying of cardiovascular disease, including those with type 2 diabetes, [32, 33] high blood pressure, [34, 35] and existing cardiovascular disease. The idea that moderate drinking protects against cardiovascular disease makes sense biologically and scientifically.
Moderate alcohol consumption has also been linked with beneficial changes ranging from better sensitivity to insulin to improvements in factors that influence blood clotting, such as tissue type plasminogen activator, fibrinogen, clotting factor VII, and von Willebrand factor. Among participants in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, consumption of alcohol on at least three or four days a week was inversely associated with the risk for myocardial infarction. The most definitive way to investigate the effect of alcohol on cardiovascular disease would be with a large trial in which some volunteers were randomly assigned to have 1 or more alcoholic drinks a day and others had drinks that looked, tasted, and smelled like alcohol but were actually alcohol free.
Many of these trials have been conducted for weeks, and in a few cases months and even up to 2 years, to look at changes in the blood, but a long-term trial to test experimentally the effects of alcohol on cardiovascular disease has not been done. A recent successful effort in the U. Although the proposal was peer-reviewed and initial participants had been randomized to drink in moderation or to abstain, post hoc the NIH decided to stop the trial due to internal policy concerns.
Unfortunately, a future long trial of alcohol and clinical outcomes may never be attempted again, but nevertheless, the connection between moderate drinking and cardiovascular disease almost certainly represents a cause-and-effect relationship based on all of the available evidence to date. The emphasis here, as elsewhere, is on moderate drinking. A drink before a meal can improve digestion or offer a soothing respite at the end of a stressful day; the occasional drink with friends can be a social tonic.
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These physical and social effects may also contribute to health and well-being. Instead, it is influenced by several genes that interact with each other and with environmental factors.
There is also some evidence that genes influence how alcohol affects the cardiovascular system. An enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase helps metabolize alcohol. Moderate drinkers who have two copies of the gene for the slow-acting enzyme are at much lower risk for cardiovascular disease than moderate drinkers who have two genes for the fast-acting enzyme.
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This adds strong indirect evidence that alcohol itself reduces heart disease risk. The benefits and risks of moderate drinking change over a lifetime. In general, risks exceed benefits until middle age, when cardiovascular disease begins to account for an increasingly large share of the burden of disease and death. Because each of us has unique personal and family histories, alcohol offers each person a different spectrum of benefits and risks.
The Nutrition Source does not recommend or endorse any products. Skip to content The Nutrition Source. Harvard T. The Nutrition Source expand child menu. Search for:. Is Red Wine Better? Some experts have suggested that red wine makes the difference, but other research suggests that beverage choice appears to have little effect on cardiovascular benefit. Learn more about whether the type of alcohol consumed has any effect on health. One of the biggest is helping to build DNA, the molecule that carries the code of life.
Keep busy. Take a walk, play sports, go out to eat, or catch a movie. When you're at home, pick up a new hobby or revisit an old one. Painting, board games, playing a musical instrument, woodworking — these and other activities are great alternatives to drinking. Ask for support. Cutting down on your drinking may not always be easy. Let friends and family members know that you need their support. Your doctor, counselor, or therapist may also be able to offer help. Guard against temptation.
Steer clear of people and places that make you want to drink. If you associate drinking with certain events, such as holidays or vacations, develop a plan for managing them in advance. Monitor your feelings. When you're worried, lonely, or angry, you may be tempted to reach for a drink. Try to cultivate new, healthy ways to cope with stress.
Be persistent. Most people who successfully cut down or stop drinking altogether do so only after several attempts.
You'll probably have setbacks, but don't let them keep you from reaching your long-term goal. There's really no final endpoint, as the process usually requires ongoing effort. E-mail Address.
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Both groups—the hard-core abusers and the more moderate overdrinkers—need more-individualized treatment options. It also costs the country hundreds of billions of dollars in expenses related to health care, criminal justice, motor-vehicle crashes, and lost workplace productivity, according to the CDC. Have they been proved effective? And for whom—only those at the extreme end of the spectrum? Or also those in the vast, long-overlooked middle? For a glimpse of how treatment works elsewhere, I traveled to Finland, a country that shares with the United States a history of prohibition inspired by the American temperance movement, the Finns outlawed alcohol from to and a culture of heavy drinking.