The Holidays and Healthy Alcohol Consumption

What does moderate alcohol consumption mean?

Studies continue to show that moderate alcohol consumption can provide heart health benefits for some. With the holiday season fast approaching, it is important to pay attention to your alcohol consumption and remember that moderation is key.

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On closer inspection, the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption vary based on a person’s age and medical history. What we know from studies is that moderate drinking may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in men over 40 and post-menopausal women. Because younger people don’t tend to have heart issues, the common belief is that alcohol consumption for younger adults has little health benefit—and in fact, it can have increased risks due to accidents and a tendency to binge drink.

And because we metabolize alcohol less efficiently as we age, older drinkers should be cautious. Drinking two or three beers at the age of 70 has about the same effect as drinking four or five at the age of 50.

Keep in mind that experts define moderate drinking as one drink per day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. This includes wine, mixed drinks and beer.

Actual amounts per drink for moderate consumption are as follows:

  • 5 fluid ounces of wine (100 calories),
  • 12 fluid ounces of regular beer (150 calories),
  • 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (100 calories)

And remember that too much drinking all at once – or heavy drinking over a long period of time—can actually damage the heart, causing irregular heart beats (arrhythmias), high blood pressure and stroke.

To avoid over drinking during the holidays, the recommendation is to drink slowly and to socialize and eat enough food while drinking.

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Scientists believe the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption come from increased levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) and a reduction in blood clotting. Study data also show that red wine is the most healthy form of alcohol. While some studies attribute special properties to red wine, it appears that the alcohol in the wine, rather than wine color, is the key factor.

In the Heart 411 book by Cleveland Clinic doctors Steven Nissen, MD, and Marc Gillinov, MD, they provide this “prescription” for alcohol consumption. Here is what they say:

1. If you already drink: drink in moderation; do not binge drink (more than four drinks a day); and consider red wine your drink of choice

2. If you don’t or can’t drink:  maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle in other ways through diet and exercise, etc.

3. The American Heart Association recommends that every person discuss the risks versus benefits of alcohol with their physician based on their own medical history. It has been found that people at risk for certain cancers should not drink at all.

More Information

Learn more about coronary artery disease (CAD)

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Learn more about arrhythmias (abnormal heart beats)

Learn more about the Heart 411 book

Calculate blood alcohol levels online

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