Health Effects of Alcohol May Vary by Person

Moderate alcohol intake may boost heart health in some, but not in everyone

To the pleasure of beer-lovers and wine aficionados everywhere, a lot of recent research has suggested that moderate drinking might actually be good for you. But those potential health benefits don’t likely apply to everyone.

In fact, alcohol might be pretty bad for you if you’re already sick or you drink too much of it, say the authors of a recent report from Harvard Health.

The messages here may seem a little confusing — some drinking may be great for your heart, reduce your risk of stroke and diabetes, and even keep your bones strong as you age, according to past research. But, if you drink too much, you might have a raised risk of heart disease and liver disease.

The key, says the Mayo Clinic, lies in moderation. But what is moderation, anyway? For men, it’s one to two drinks a day. For women, it’s one drink per day. And don’t get carried away with the super-huge wine glasses — one drink equals 12 fluid ounces of beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine and 1.5 fluid ounces of liquor (80 proof).

Still, the Mayo Clinic says past research that suggests alcohol may have health benefits isn’t certain. And even if some drinkers do see health benefits, not all will, says Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, an associate professor of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

“For some people, depending on what medications you are taking and other factors, even light drinking might not be a good thing,” he said in the recent Harvard report.

For example, if you take warfarin (brand name Coumadin), a medication used to thin the blood and prevent blood clots, drinking might not be such a good idea, according to the report. Alcohol may trigger bleeding, which can get out of hand if the warfarin made your blood too thin.

Also, if you already have high blood pressure, just two drinks could raise your blood pressure to unsafe levels, note the authors of the Harvard report.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you should rush out to dump your wine cooler in the landfill, though. In the end, Dr. Mukamal says, there’s no way to know for sure how alcohol affects your health without talking to your doctor first.

The Harvard report was published in the November issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch.