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Alcohol in Moderation: Why Each Person is Unique

Fellows of the American College of Cardiology (FACC) 2007 Research Review: Moderate alcohol consumption is defined differently depending on the culture and industry you ask. When it comes to your internal health, Dr. James O’Keefe et al. concluded the level of safe, or moderate, intake of alcohol after compiling data on over 1 million subjects. A light to moderate level of daily drinking, 0.5-1 drinks for women and 1-2 drinks for men, is associated with the lowest risk for several diseases: coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, congestive heart failure, stroke, dementia, Raynaud’s phenomenon, and all-cause mortality. When the data is graphed, it forms what the authors call a “J” curve. Risk levels drop at low levels of daily drinking and linearly increase with rising alcohol intake.

One Drink Definition: 1.5 oz of 80-proof spirits, 1 oz of 100-proof spirits, 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or any drink containing 13-15g of ethanol.

What the Results Tell Us: To drink above moderate levels, even if done infrequently, such as in binge drinking, is a health-risk. For example, it is better for an average man to drink 1 drink every other day, than to drink 4 drinks in one day.

What the Results Do Not Tell Us: The American Heart Association cautions people to not start drinking as a form of treatment if they currently abstain. The benefits listed above can be achieved through diet and exercise instead. Alcohol may cause problems in people with diseases such as heart failure, cardiomyopathy (abnormal heart muscle function), high blood pressure, diabetes, arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm), stroke, obesity, or high triglycerides. Certain medications may react to alcohol, minimizing the medicine’s benefit and possibly creating more severe side effects. Pregnant women and those with a history of alcoholism should not drink at all.

Moderate Drinking for Your Body: For those who partake in moderation and will continue to do so, be aware that tolerance levels change with age. With age, organs shrink for everyone. It is common that skeletal and muscle tissue also degenerate. When organs shrink, metabolism is less efficient and the body cannot break down alcohol as quickly. Drops in lean body mass reduce water absorption and the body’s ability to stay hydrated.

If you need help determining how much alcohol is safe for you to drink, talk with your primary care physician.

By Josette Taglieri, D.O.Kyla Bauer, Exercise Physiologist
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