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How much alcohol is safe? It varies from one person to the next

November 1, 2014

A decent body of research has made the phrases "consume alcohol in moderation" and "good for the heart" go together like gin and tonic. But moderate drinking may not be good for everyone, so a personalized approach is best, reports the November 2014 Harvard Men's Health Watch.

"For some people, depending on what medications you are taking and other factors, even light drinking might not be a good thing," says Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, associate professor of medicine at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "For other people, moderate drinking could plausibly be beneficial." “Moderate” when applied to alcohol means no more than two drinks a day for men and no more than one a day for women.

Healthy drinking?

Many studies have found a statistical link between light to moderate drinking and better health. Moderate drinkers appear to suffer fewer heart attacks and strokes, less diabetes, and stronger bones in older age, compared with people who drink lightly or not at all. In addition, some research finds that people who consume between two and six standard drinks per week—an average of less than one drink per day—are less likely to have cardiovascular disease.

But these findings don't necessarily mean that alcohol itself is responsible for the healthy pattern. Perhaps moderate drinkers also eat healthier foods, exercise more, and control stress better.

Or, it might be that people who don't drink are generally in poorer health, so they don't drink alcohol because it interacts badly with their medications. That would tend to make moderate drinkers look healthier in comparison.

Drinking too much spells trouble. In men, the health effects show up as increased heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers—although part of this may be due to the fact that heavy drinkers may also use tobacco.

A personalized medicine approach starts with a conversation with a trusted doctor about whether moderate drinking is safe and prudent for you. "That's a question well worth asking your physician," says Dr. Mukamal.

Read the full-length article: "How much alcohol is too much?"

Disclaimer:

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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