April 24, 2014
   
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Alcohol and Health: A Double-Edged Sword
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Alcohol and Health: A Double-Edged Sword

 
Dr. O'Keefe is Professor of Medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, and Director, Preventive Cardiology Fellowship Program, Mid America Heart Institute. Dr. Lee is Fellow, Preventive Cardiology at the Mid America Heart Institute, Kansas City, MO.


Drinking alcohol can have two completely opposite effects on health. It is the double-edged sword that cuts both ways. Light to moderate alcohol consumption (one-half to one drink daily for women and one to two drinks daily for men) helps the body break down fats and so has cardio-protective benefits. Increasingly excessive consumption results in a worsening of health outcomes.

A diverse and growing body of evidence indicates that light to moderate alcohol use is associated with prolonged life and reductions in risk for a variety of common maladies including coronary heart disease (CHD), diabetes, and dementia.

In these studies, moderate alcohol intake is defined as an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

Additionally, as you can see in Figure 1, daily light to moderate alcohol intake is associated with less atherosclerosis.(1)(2)(3) Light to moderate drinking has also been linked to a decreased prevalence of peripheral arterial disease.(4) On the other end of the spectrum, excessive alcohol intake devastates physical, mental and psychosocial aspects of health, and is the third leading cause of premature death in our society.

In these studies, moderate alcohol intake is defined as an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. A drink is considered 12 oz beer, 5 oz of wine, 1.5 oz of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz of 100-proof spirits, all of which contain approximately 13 to 15 grams of ethanol.

Figure 1.
Alcohol and Atherosclerosis.
Figure 1
The likelihood of having extensive coronary calcification on CT scanning was reduced in those who consumed 1 to 2 drinks daily.(2)

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