(MayoClinic.com) It sounds like a mixed message: Drinking alcohol may offer some health benefits, especially for your heart. On the other hand, alcohol may increase your risk of health problems and damage your heart.
So which is it? When it comes to drinking alcohol, the key is doing so only in moderation. Certainly, you don't have to drink any alcohol, and if you currently don't drink, don't start drinking for the possible health benefits. In some cases, it's safest to avoid alcohol entirely — the possible benefits don't outweigh the risks.
Here's a closer look at the connection between alcohol and your health.
Moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits. It may:
Even so, the evidence about the possible health benefits of alcohol isn't certain, and alcohol may not benefit everyone who drinks.
Moderate alcohol use may be of most benefit only if you're an older adult or if you have existing risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol. If you're a middle-aged or younger adult, some evidence shows that even moderate alcohol use may cause more harm than good. In fact, if you're a woman and drink alcohol, talk to your doctor about taking supplemental folate to help reduce the risk of breast cancer associated with alcohol use. You can take other steps to benefit your cardiovascular health besides drinking — eating a healthy diet and exercising, for example.Guidelines for moderate alcohol use
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that if you choose to drink alcohol you do so only in moderation — up to one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men.
Examples of one drink include:
Keep in mind that moderate use of alcohol doesn't mean that using alcohol is risk-free. For example, if you binge drink — such as having four or five drinks in the space of a few hours — you face serious health problems. Likewise if you drink and drive.
Here are other situations in which the risks of alcohol use may outweigh possible health benefits:
Some situations are less clear-cut. Use alcohol only with great care and after consulting your doctor if:
Although moderate alcohol use may offer some health benefits, heavy drinking — including binge drinking — has no health benefits. Excessive drinking can cause potentially serious health problems, including:
The latest dietary guidelines make it clear that no one should begin drinking or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits. So don't feel pressured to drink alcohol. But if you do drink alcohol and you're healthy, there's probably no need to stop as long as you drink responsibly and in moderation.
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