The risks versus benefits of light to moderate drinking may depend on whether you are a 65-year-old man or a 25-year-old woman.
As RedwoodAge reported recently, some researchers have questioned the methodology of the way some studies on the subject have been conducted. They argue that associations are not necessarily causality. Comparing abstainers to light drinkers may be comparing people with entirely different profiles.
Results of some randomized clinical trials will come in during the next few years and give a clearer picture. And it may not matter what form the alcohol takes; whisky, wine or beer.
Redwood Age.com consulted doctors involved in alcohol-related studies; multiple studies have been done on the relationship between alcohol and various diseases. But their cumulative conclusions seem a bit confusing to sort out. Associations have been found, but not necessarily causality.
"It is complicated," admits Dr. Arthur Klatsky, senior consultant in cardiology and adjunct investigator at the Division of Research at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, Calif.
Klatzky has been conducting studies on heart disease and alcohol on the middle-aged since the 1970s. "I do think the risks of light to moderate drinking have been exaggerated," he says. However, people don't drink for their health; they drink for social reasons.
Alcohol marginally raises the risk for breast cancer, a greater concern for younger women than heart disease. So Klatsky discourages younger women from drinking.
On the other hand, past the age of 40 in men and 50 in women, statistically, the risk for heart disease increases, and according to cumulative studies, light to moderate drinking does seem to be associated with a preventive effect. That's defined as no more than a glass of wine a day for women, because they tend to be smaller and have more body fat, and no more than two a day for men.
And a glass of wine a day probably doesn't affect blood pressure. It does lower fasting blood glucose, so might have a preventive effect on diabetes.
According to Klatsky, what does matter is the drinking pattern. A glass of wine a day is different than drinking 6 glasses at sitting.
Heavy drinking, of course, harms your body in many different ways. Studies have found that heavy drinking can increase the risk of liver, head and neck, and esophageal cancers, for example. Heavy drinkers are also more apt to fall down and hit their heads, Klatzky notes.
According to Dr. Luc Djousse, assistant professor of Medicine at Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School., drinking even one glass of wine has specific physiological effects.
"When it comes to individual risk, it is necessary to use a global perspective approach," said Djousse. "For people who are already drinking moderately, it is important to know that even among people with high blood pressure, studies have reported a lower risk of coronary disease and heart failure with moderate drinking comparing to abstainers."
The bottom line in weighing the various risks of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer according to Djousse, is to go over your individual risks with your primary care physician.
While studies draw conclusions from groups of people, your individual profile should determine your decision making. "For some, moderate drinking would be a wise thing to do while for other it would be better to abstain from alcohol." said Djousse.