To your health
Drink up, everyone (except you, ladies): A toast helps heart health, but hurtsbreast health
People have been arguing about the benefits and consequences of booze for almost as long as we've been drinking the fermented beverage—just about 10,000 years, really. But depending on how much you drink, alcohol can be a tonic or a poison.
If you drink "in moderation," you may decrease your risk of cardiovascular diseases, like heart attacks. If you are a "heavy" drinker you can pickle your liver, turn your brain to mush, kill your heart, increase your risk for cancer or die in a violent horrific traffic accident (and maybe taking a few innocents along with you).
But, since about 60% of us drink to various degrees, we should be aware of the risks and benefits—if not for our own health, then for the benefit of our loved ones and community.
At the outset, one problem we face is how we define "moderate" alcohol intake. My definition may not be the same as yours. To me, three or four drinks a week is "moderate"; my Dad would have called me a teetotaler because he had three or four drinks after work, which he considered "moderate."
The latest consensus among those who study alcohol's effects defines "moderate" drinking as no more than one to two drinks per day for men, and no more than one drink per day for women. Thus, I would be a teetotaler and my Dad... a drunk.
Anyway, moderate drinking has an astounding protective effect on the heart and circulatory system, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease by about 40%. It protects not only those with no evidence of cardiovascular disease, but also people at high risk for heart attack or stroke (like diabetics). Plus, it doesn't matter what your drink preference is; beer, wine, hard liquor, they all work.
The key is moderation!
Regularity is also key. Having seven drinks on Saturday night doesn't offer any protection—that's called binge drinking. Spacing drinks over time is what's important.
Now, here comes the downer, at least for women. Drinking in moderation can increase your risk for breast cancer by about 15%. That doesn't mean that 15% of women who drink will get breast cancer. If you're not at increased risk, about 13 out of every 100 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Drinking in moderation can increase the incidence to about 15 out of every 100 women.
Heart disease, on the other hand, will affect one in two women, and it kills ten times as many women (460,000) as breast cancer (41,000). Interestingly, despite the statistics, women seem much more concerned about getting breast cancer than heart disease.
If you're worried about alcohol's effect on breast cancer, you can calculate your risk by going to the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool online.
So, what should we do besides ignore all of this and pour a stiff drink?
First, if you don't drink, I wouldn't recommend starting, because alcohol can be addicting and many people cannot limit their intake. There are about 18 million alcoholics who can attest to this. If you're a 30-year old man, your chances of dying in an alcohol-related accident far outweighs any benefits from alcohol. And, if you're pregnant or a recovering alcoholic you definitely shouldn't drink.
Whatever you do, before you make any decisions about drinking, talk it over with your doctor. Be sure you aren't on any medications that can interact with alcohol and you don't have any health issues that may be exacerbated by drinking. And, if you do drink, please do so in moderation.