Getting to the Heart of a Healthy Diet: Alcohol
There is no doubt that drinking large amounts of alcohol is bad for your health. However, there is some evidence that some alcohol consumption may have some benefits. Given that, the American Heart Association recommends that adults who drink do so in moderation.
Here are some considerations if you plan on continuing to drink alcohol:
- Consult your physician to discuss its benefits and risks given your family history. Certain people should not consume any alcohol, such as pregnant women, people with liver disease, or those who are on certain medications.
- Moderate intake is considered to be one drink per day if you are a woman and one to two drinks per day if you are a man.
- Periodically review your use of alcohol with your doctor. You may need to change your drinking behavior if you begin to consume too much or experience harmful consequences as a result of drinking alcohol.
- Never drink alcohol if you are going to be driving or operating machinery.
People who drink moderately have heart disease less often than nondrinkers. Alcohol appears to increase HDL, the good form of cholesterol. Some other ways that researchers believe alcohol may help protect the heart include:
- The alcohol or some other substance in alcoholic drinks may prevent platelets in the blood from sticking together. This, in turn, will reduce clot formation and the risk for heart attack or stroke.
- Flavonoids and other antioxidants in red wine may protect the heart and arteries.
However, there are many negative health effects associated with alcohol intake, as well. This is especially true with heavy alcohol consumption. These include:
Moderation is essential with alcohol because many chronic health problems can develop, or be exacerbated, from alcohol abuse. One drink equals no more than 1/2 ounce of pure alcohol. For example:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 4 ounces of wine—It is important to note that a glass of wine usually means 8-12 ounces for most people. However the official size of a glass of wine is 4 ounces or 1/2 of a cup. Measure it once, into your wine glass to see what that amount actually looks like.
- 1-½ ounces of 80-proof spirits
- 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits
However, if you choose not to drink, you are not missing out. In fact, you should consider alternatives before picking up the bottle. You can get antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, and the flavonoids in red wine are also in red grapes and grape juice. Regular exercise also increases HDL levels. If blood clotting is a concern for you, talk to your doctor about taking aspirin on a regular basis.
- Michael Woods, MD
- Reviewed: 05/2014
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