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Nutrition Articles  ›  Special Concerns

The Truth about Alcohol and Heart Health

Is Drinking Actually Good for You?

-- By Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietician
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What's the Definition of "Moderate" Alcohol Consumption?
A moderate alcohol intake is defined as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. One drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol and is defined as:
  • 12 fl. oz. of regular beer (5% alcohol)
  • 4-5 fl. oz. of wine (12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 fl. oz. of 80-proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol)
  • 1 fl. oz. of 100-proof distilled spirits (50% alcohol)
Are Certain Types of Alcohol Better Than Others?
While a few research studies suggest that wine maybe more beneficial than beer or sprits in the prevention of heart disease, most studies do not support an association between type of alcoholic beverage and the prevention of heart disease. At present time, drinking wine for its antioxidant content to prevent heart disease is an unproven strategy. It still remains unclear whether red wine offers any heart-protecting advantage over white wine or other types of alcoholic beverages.

Health Risks of Drinking Too Much
While moderate drinking may have some health benefits, heavy or binge drinking can have a toxic effect on your health and your heart.

Heavy drinking is the consumption of more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week for women and more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week for men. Heavy drinking in particular can damage the heart and lead to high blood pressure, alcoholic cardiomyopathy (enlarged and weakened heart), congestive heart failure, and stroke. Heavy drinking puts more fat into the circulation in your body, raising your triglyceride level. It's also associated with an increased risk of cirrhosis of the liver, cancer of the gastrointestinal tract and colon, breast cancer, violence, drowning, and injuries from falls and motor vehicle crashes.

Binge drinking is the consumption within 2 hours of 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men. Binge drinking is also associated with a wide range of other health and social problems, such as sexually transmitted disease, unintended pregnancy, and violent crimes.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • For me, having 'functional' alcoholic parents, my brother and I have somewhat grown up saying that would never be us.
    The thing for me, is that as a teenager, I always did what I was told to not do. I found myself liking the taste of liquor.
    No, I never drove while intoxicated, (only 1 dui).
    Long story short, I have been alcohol free for almost 6 years.
    It's hard when you prefer for the individual to have that bottle, because without it there mood and attitude is horrible. - 12/15/2013 9:47:26 AM
  • First of all (after reading all of the comments) this article is JUST informational (it is not implying or pushing that you must drink one drink a day!) for those of you who choose not to drink...it wasn't a message to you saying that you should or you need to drink one drink a day. Lighten up!
    Now for those of us who enjoy a glass of wine every now and again. I enjoyed this article. Do I think drinking is healthy? NO! Will I still have my glass of wine every now and again...yes!

    Oh my goodness...how an article can send people into an uproar. It is just an article...simply that. - 11/6/2013 2:15:30 PM
  • Ive heard this almost my whole life and always wondered about it. Id always heard Italians drink wine everyday and have much lower rates of heart problems, but they also cook with olive oil, eat alot of seafood, fresh produce, and eat less refined grains lol.

    I think its obvious that alcohol does have many benefits in terms of personal health namely occasional stress relief, but there are definitely healthier and safer ways to increase your heart health than drinking alcohol. Anything can become an addiction if you use it as a cure for something, be it alcohol, food, video games, or even exercise. - 10/4/2013 11:04:21 AM
  • Food for thought. Thanks for sharing. - 6/22/2013 7:27:16 AM
  • ALDEBARANIAN
    The study I'd like to see, and probably much more to the point, would compare drinking red wine with eating concord, red, or other grapes. I'll bet it would show that you can get all same antioxidants, plus many other healthy substances (such as phytonutrients) that are destroyed by the sterilization, fermentation, and pasteurization that wine undergoes, in an inexpensive and healthy package.
    I think I'll stick to bread sauerkraut, and miso for my fermented foods. - 9/18/2012 3:58:18 PM
  • As a physiologist, we talk a lot about this in my field. We concern ourselves with heart health primarily. The benefits of ONE drink seem to diminish any possible negative effects. What seems most important is to be an informed consumer, as we should with anything, and do what seems right for us and our bodies and being an adovate in our own health. ONE drink is also great for stress reduction and promoting relaxation, all of which also promote better immunity and counteract dangerous side effects of stress-related illnesses. Just some food (or drink) for thought! - 9/18/2012 1:19:20 PM
  • SVELTEONE8
    Alcohol also increases Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. There are many internet articles supporting this statement. - 9/18/2012 5:41:19 AM
  • RONNIER3
    Very timely article with a good message. - 9/18/2012 1:47:48 AM
  • FITALLEY
    It makes me crazy that people still push alcohol. In my family there is a history of cancer and alcoholism. The American Cancer Society begs people to completely avoid alcohol as it increases various cancers tremendously (especially breast cancer). And any family that has dealt with alcoholism knows how completely destructive it is. I would personally rather die of a heart attack. There are plenty of other ways to improve your heart health that have no ill side-effects, and I would highly recommend trying out those avenues first. - 9/18/2012 12:34:55 AM
  • In my family is a history of cancer. My two grandmas died of breast cancer, two aunts with mastectomy and I'm waiting for the surgeon. Never drinks. - 8/20/2012 10:42:54 PM
  • hmm.. now I don't usually drink, but my DOCTOR actually recommend me have one glass of red wine a day to lower my blood pressure, help with my anxiety, help with the heart diease that runs in my family, and lower your risk of alzheimers as well. But of course anything in moderation and like the article said heavy drinking and binge drinking can cause more problems then this can help, but one glass of red wine a day seems to have been helping with my blood pressure, anxiety and chlorestrol over the last year. - 10/30/2011 8:39:39 PM
  • CIRANDELLA
    There's a family history of breast cancer, so I don't drink. - 10/30/2011 10:18:47 AM
  • Excellent article - 9/21/2011 11:45:13 AM
  • PAMMIEWAMMIE
    Women should know that daily alcohol use is a risk factor for breast cancer (much higher risk than long term hormone use) so as a gynecologist I tell patients to limit alcohol to once or twice weekly. - 9/21/2011 8:42:31 AM