Women and Alcohol : Not much leeway between healthful and harmful drinking

BOSTON, MA — Various studies suggest that moderate drinking helps prevent cardiovascular disease and lowers the risk for dementia. What hasn't made the headlines are the downsides of alcohol for women. The July issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch reports on the risks of alcohol, and why women, especially older women, are particularly vulnerable to them.

There is solid evidence for benefits from moderate drinking. For example, studies have shown that one drink per day, compared with no drinking at all, can reduce a woman's risk for heart disease and stroke by as much as 50%. Other research suggests that older women who drink moderately have better cognitive skills.

But there are also risks. Even as little as one-half drink per day increases the risk for breast cancer, possibly because alcohol raises estrogen blood levels, which can promote the growth of breast tumors. Women are also quicker than men to become dependent on alcohol and to suffer the consequences, including damage to the brain and other organs, psychiatric problems, and accidents. One in 13 adults in the United States has a serious alcohol problem, and at least six million of them are women.

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