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Drinking Alcohol: The Health Pros and Cons

The effects on your body aren’t as simple as you might think

By Jeff Vrabel and

“If you drink and meet the definition of moderate, it might be nice to know that you’re shielding yourself against some things. But there are no public health guidelines that say you should start drinking,” says Bob Wright, director of education at Hilton Head Health, a health and weight-loss facility in the coastal South Carolina town.

Translation: If you’re looking to shield yourself against heart disease, start with exercise and diet, not merlot.

The Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) Dietary Guidelines identify “moderate” alcohol intake as one drink a day for women and two for men, with “one drink” being:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1 1/2 ounces (roughly a shot) of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor

Most importantly, remember that everyone has individualized benefits, risks, genes, behaviors and backgrounds that can influence how alcohol affects them, and you should talk to your doctor about yours. Actually, he or she may start the conversation for you: The CDC in early January began urging physicians to become more aggressive about talking to their patients about drinking. (The Affordable Care Act requires new plans to cover alcohol screening and brief counseling without a co-pay.) 

Below are four benefits of drinking alcohol and five negative effects.

4 Benefits of Drinking Alcohol

Here are four benefits of drinking alcohol:

1. It protects your heart. More than 100 studies have confirmed that alcohol — again, in moderation — can decrease risk of death by cardiovascular causes by a startling 25 to 40 percent. Andrea Paul, chief medical officer of, says that’s because alcohol raises a person’s HDL, or “good” cholesterol. (The Mayo Clinic agrees, as does Harvard.) That slashes the risk of heart attacks, ischemic strokes and death from all cardiovascular causes. 


5. Alcohol affects your thinking. More specifically, Wright says, alcohol gets in the way of you making smart decisions. “I don’t say this judgmentally,” he says, “But it gets in the way of people behaving in a healthful way.”

Jeff Vrabel Read More
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