What are the benefits and risks to moderate alcohol consumption?

Updated: Nov 27, 2018
  • Author: Warren Thompson, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Glen L Xiong, MD  more...
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Answer

Moderate alcohol consumption (1-2 drinks/d) reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women by approximately 30%. [13, 14, 15] The effect of heavy alcohol consumption on the risk of cardiovascular disease varies in different studies. The person's drinking pattern appears to have an effect on cardiovascular disease. Drinking with meals may reduce the risk, while binge drinking increases risk (even in otherwise moderate drinkers).

Moderate alcohol consumption appears to increase the risk of breast cancer in women. Total mortality is reduced with moderate alcohol consumption but not with heavy alcohol consumption; the cardiovascular benefit is offset by cirrhosis, cancer, and injuries. The amount of alcohol associated with the lowest mortality appears to be 2 drinks per day in men and 1 drink or fewer per day in women. Moderate alcohol consumption reduces the risk of developing diabetes, but heavy alcohol consumption may increase the risk. The cardiovascular benefit becomes important in men older than 40 years and in women older than 50 years. The risk of hypertension is increased with 3 or more drinks daily.

No benefits are noted in people at low risk for coronary disease (men < 40 y and women < 50 y). Recent data suggest an increase in coronary calcification with moderate alcohol consumption in young adults. [16] This effect was exacerbated by binge drinking.


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