As 2009 comes to a close, many of us will celebrate with our favorite alcoholic beverage. So, as we raise our glass and welcome 2010, join me in looking back at what we've learned so far about alcohol and health.
Yes, it's true, sensible drinking may have some health benefits. In moderation, alcohol may protect the brain against dementia and Alzheimer's disease. When it comes to our hearts, alcohol may offer protection by raising HDL or "good cholesterol" , decreasing inflammation, and preventing clots that can cause heart attacks. In some cases, moderate drinking has been shown to lower blood pressure which also protects the heart. Just recently, research has shown that reasonable alcohol intake could even protect your bones by increasing their density and reducing fractures.
The key word here is moderation. In excess, alcohol can damage the brain, liver, bones, stomach and pancreas. So what's moderate drinking? For women this includes 1 drink per day, and 2 for men. One drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
Now the bad news. When it comes to breast cancer, even one drink a day can increase your risk. Some researchers have shown that alcohol increases estrogen. While this same boost could protect your heart, it might also contribute to breast cancer.
So how do you choose between your heart, brain, bones or breasts? Look at your lifestyle and family history. Do you eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains? Exercise and maintain a healthy weight? If you have a family history of heart disease or Alzheimer's, then maybe that daily cocktail is just fine. If your family has a history of breast cancer, then you may want to rethink that glass of wine. We all make decisions every day that carry both risks and benefits. How often do you drive your car? So, if you choose to raise your glass this New Year's Eve, do so in moderation, and don't forget to toast to your health.
Happy New Year!
Kim Kulp, RD
* Journal of the National Cancer Institute; March, 2009
*American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; April, 2009
*Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research; February, 2009