Alcohol, Medicinal Jekyll and Hyde
Heart helper or cancer causer? Yes, appears to be the answer. The recent, Million Women Study, linking low to moderate alcohol consumption by women to many cancers has once again raised this question. While the study is alarming, it is important to balance the data from this study with those of other studies.
As a cardiologist, I would note that recent studies have indicated that alcohol, in moderation, two drinks for men and one for women (a medium glass of wine, a 1.5 oz shot of spirits, or a can or bottle of beer), has benefits for your cardiovascular health. Women do not have as much of the enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase, which enables men to clear alcohol from their systems more readily. This is the reason their recommended consumption is less than a males.
Moderate amounts of alcohol consumption decreases the risk of heart disease and stroke from between 40 and 70%. It is found to lower overall mortality by about 20%. It raises levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good” cholesterol), which provides protection against heart disease. It also appears a blood thinning effect and antioxidants may prevent the formation of small blood clots that can block arteries in the heart, neck, and brain, the ultimate cause of many heart attacks and the most common kinds of stroke. The presence of an antioxidant called resveratrol in red wine may provide even greater cardiovascular benefit.
More than the recommended, moderate consumption can take a toll on the body. The more you drink the greater your risk. Heavy drinking can increase blood pressure and damage heart muscle. It can cause inflammation or scarring of the liver. The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research indicate that there is convincing evidence linking alcohol use to cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon and rectum in men, and contributes to liver cancer, breast and colorectal cancer in women. The risk is multiplied for drinkers who also smoke tobacco.
No physician would recommend that a person who does not drink, should begin to drink alcohol for the health benefits but for those who enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or a drink at the conclusion of a busy day there are some recognized cardio benefits. For those concerned with cancer risks linked to alcohol consumption, make informed decisions. Talk with your family physician.