Women and Alcohol
Heart disease has traditionally been thought of as a “man’s disease;” unfortunately, it also affects many women.
According to a recent American Heart Association report, alcohol may help prevent 80,000 deaths from coronary artery disease (CAD); however, alcohol is also associated with about 100,000 deaths from diseases and injuries in this country each year. So, with such conflicting information, what do you do?
First of all, if you have never consumed alcohol, you are not encouraged to begin now. Make sure to avoid alcohol if you are pregnant, trying to conceive, or are nursing. If you DO drink, make sure that you restrict your drinking to moderate levels. Weigh the risks and benefits for YOU; consider your age, sex, risk factors, and family history.
Alcohol affects men and women differently. Because women tend to be smaller than men and have proportionately more fatty tissue and less water, a women will get more intoxicated than a man from the same amount of alcohol. That’s because alcohol is distributed through body water and is more soluble in water than in fat, so the blood alcohol concentration from a drink will be less for a man.
Alcohol and Breast Cancer
Several studies have suggested that alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. This has resulted in confusion for women: should you drink moderately to protect against heart disease, or abstain because of alcohol’s potential effect on breast cancer risk? Remember that heart disease kills three times as many women under age 75 as breast cancer and that questions still remain about the link between alcohol and breast cancer.
Alcohol consumption may pose an additional quandary for postmenopausal women on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or estrogen replacement therapy (ERT). A study in December 1996 showed that consuming a large dose of alcohol (equal to about four drinks within 15 minutes) tripled blood levels of estrogen for a prolonged period in 12 women on ERT. But this was just one small study, using only one type of hormone preparation. Presumably, more moderate amounts of alcohol would have much less of an effect on hormone levels in the blood.
Alcohol and Heart Disease
Studies have consistently found that regular consumption of moderate amounts of alcohol helps prevent heart attacks in middle-aged or older men and women by 30 to 50 percent. Moderation means no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks for men. A standard drink is 12 ounces of beer, 4 to 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. In most studies, people who drink a moderate amount of alcohol have the lowest overall mortality rates, especially from heart disease.
In general, men over 45 and women over 55 have a much greater chance of developing heart disease than cancer. The best prevention of heart disease is still proper exercise and diet. Lose weight if you’re overweight; if you’re smoking, stop; eat a low-fat diet; and, if you’re sedentary, start exercising.
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