Harvard Heart Letter

Alcohol's cardiac effects differ by sex

A little alcohol goes a longer way in women "" for good and bad.

Alcohol can be a boon or a bane for health. The difference lies largely in the dose "" a little is generally good, a lot is bad. But the dividing line between a little and a lot isn't set in stone and differs from person to person. It depends on many things, including sex. Women are more vulnerable than men to alcohol's long-term effects on health.

Results from Japan underscore the differences between women and men. In a 14-year study of 84,000 middle-aged men and women from all across Japan, men who were heavy drinkers (four or more drinks a day) died from heart disease at about the same rate as nondrinkers. But they were twice as likely to have died of stroke, especially the kind caused by bleeding into the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). The pattern was different for women. Heavy drinkers were four times as likely to have died from heart disease as nondrinkers, and deaths from stroke were twice as common (Stroke, November 2008). In contrast, deaths from heart disease and clot-caused strokes (ischemic strokes) were lowest among men and women who were light to moderate drinkers (one to two drinks a day).

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