- Drinking alcohol in excess potentially escalates the risk of heart disease and cancer.
- Many study findings suggest that the main factor that influences risk is actually the amount of alcohol that is consumed.
- In general, it is recommended that people in good health consume moderate amounts of alcohol—if any—and maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine.
The link between alcohol consumption and personal health has long been a controversial subject. For several decades, research has found conflicting evidence regarding alcohol’s physical effects—often resulting in ever-changing headlines and diet trends. Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, a senior clinical nutritionist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, discusses the risks and benefits often associated with alcohol.
How much is too much?
There is a prevalent misconception that various types of alcohol, such as beer or wine, have different levels of disease-advancing elements. However, many study findings suggest that the main factor that influences risk is actually the amount that is consumed. Drinking alcohol in excess potentially escalates the risk of heart disease and cancer.
The standard sizes of one alcoholic drink are: 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. The disparity in recommendations for alcohol intake between men and women is often attributed to differences in body weight and metabolism. Kennedy says that other factors involved may include genetics, hormones, social factors, and varying dose responses to alcohol.
Does it matter how often?
Women who consume alcohol on a daily basis, for example, are more likely to develop breast cancer than those who do not for both low- (one drink per day) and high-intake (three or more drinks per day) consumers. Consistent alcohol consumption also increases the risk of colon and rectal, liver, esophageal, as well as head and neck cancers. To manage disease risks, researchers conclude that women and those older than 65 should have less than one drink per day, and men who are under age 65, should have less than two.
“It’s certainly okay to have alcohol on occasion,” says Kennedy. “But when individuals drink alcohol regularly, they should speak with their health care provider to assess their personal risks.”
Is red wine the healthiest option?
Some studies suggest red wine provides benefits associated with antioxidants like resveratrol. Resveratrol is a phytonutrient- or plant-based nutrient- found in the skin of red grapes, resveratrol was once considered to be heart-protecting and anti-aging, but current research shows no associated, concrete benefits. When drinking red wine, nothing truly outweighs the negative risks of the alcohol. Kennedy says that while “balanced diets that include antioxidant-rich, plant-based foods have been shown to be beneficial to general health and wellness, when you take a closer look, evidence that suggests red wine is the go-to source for resveratrol’s benefits, may not actually the case.”
What’s right for me?
Every person is different, so while in treatment, cancer patients interested in drinking on occasion should speak with their care team about their alcohol intake or habits. For cancer survivors, depending on health history, type of cancer, and other conditions such as risk factors. In general, it is recommended that people in good health consume moderate amounts of alcohol—if any—and maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine.