Alcohol and Health: myths, facts and little knowns

2016-02-04 17:34

The effect of alcohol on health is one of the most debated topics in medicine. The uncertainty is mostly confined to heart health and the remaining effects are quite well-understood and mostly deleterious. First, understanding the definition of amount of alcohol consumption is important: Moderate consumptions is less than 2 drinks per day for women or anyone over age 65, less than 3 drinks per day for men.

Safe dose of alcohol is defined as no more than two drinks daily for men and one drink daily for nonpregnant women. However we must remember that these definitions focus on the risk of addiction and psychosocial problems rather than physical long term consequences.

Myth #1 - Alcohol Is Good For the Heart
There is no high quality data supporting a beneficial effect of alcohol on heart health. In fact, American Heart Association cautions about limiting alcohol intake 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. It is reminded that that although some limited research based on observation suggested reduction in risk of coronary heart disease, causality has not been proven. (Ref.)

Myth #2 Alcohol Does Not Increase Risk of Cancer
YES, it does. There is clear evidence that breast cancer risk is higher for women consuming both low (Ref.)

Myth #3 Health Problems Associated With Alcohol Consumption Are Just Liver-related
Liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, bone loss, nerve damage (neuropathy) are well-known complications of long term alcohol use. Not to mention the predisposition to trauma, accidents, violence and psychosocial problems.

Myth #4 – There Are No Blood and Immune Risks From Alcohol
Long term alcohol consumption can weaken the immune system and increase tendency to bleed by several ways. Alcohol can directly slow down blood making machinery ( bone marrow), decrease production of clotting proteins from liver, directly paralyze the part of blood ( platelets) that help clotting. People who consume alcohol regularly are at risk for vitamin b12, folic acid and iron deficiencies which are all critical ingredients for red blood cell production. In other words, anemia and chronic fatigue are commons related problems.

The bottom line is that there are clear and significant health consequences from regular alcohol consumption that would out-weigh any potential heart benefits (causality remains unproven). Moderation remains the wisdom word. It is always a good idea to check with your primary care provider if you have concerns about any of the health issues listed above. If alcohol is part of most of your daily routine, many health problems can be detected early by simple blood tests.

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