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Quick Facts


What is alcohol?

Alcohol is the product of fermented carbohydrates (sugars and starches). It is colorless and flammable, and acts as a depressant on the central nervous system. Your body has no need for it, and in large amounts, it is toxic.

The calories in alcohol are called "empty" because they carry no nutrients with them; nonetheless, they are there. There are 7 calories in a gram of alcohol -- one 1-ounce shot of hard liquor contains 80 to 90 calories.

What is considered a safe level of alcohol consumption?

For people who are not alcoholics and who have no liver damage, doctors say it is safe to drink 1-2 ounces of alcohol daily. This is the same amount of alcohol found in a 12-ounce beer, a 4-ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot of hard liquor, such as brandy, gin or vodka.

What are the risks of alcohol consumption?

If you habitually drink a lot of alcohol, this overuse may lead to alcoholism, and can destroy your liver (cirrhosis). Alcohol abusers are also at higher risk for cancer of the esophagus. Alcohol also impairs your body's ability to absorb vitamins.

Doctors do not recommend that pregnant women drink any alcohol at all during their pregnancy, since doing so could cause their infants to be born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Children with fetal alcohol syndrome have lower IQs, stunted growth and malformed heads.

And, people who are taking medication should talk to their doctors before they combine alcohol and any drugs -- this means both prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs, including painkillers like aspirin and acetaminophen. Drinking alcohol heightens the effects of some medications, and cancels out the effects of others.

Are there any benefits to drinking alcohol?

For people who do not abuse alcohol, a number of studies have shown that a few drinks spread over a week, not in one sitting, may lower the risk of heart disease, particularly in people over 50.

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