Think before you drink for your health

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In our science-via-soundbite culture, it’s easy to glom onto health news that validates the things we love—what? coffee might prevent Alzheimer’s? pass the triple Americano—and ignore headlines that threatens to dampen the fun, such as the drawbacks of drinking.

Everyone’s heard the news that moderate drinking may thwart heart disease. But, as a new HealthDay story points out, in the race to uncork another bottle of vino, people (especially women) shouldn’t overlook alcohol’s downside. “Research showing the heart healthy benefits of drinking has given many women a false sense of security that a couple of glasses of wine a day will keep the cardiologist away,” says Dr. Jennifer Mieres, a cardiologist at the New York University School of Medicine and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. “It’s time to start thinking about the potential health risks of alcohol.”

Specifically, Mieres is concerned about the evidence linking alcohol consumption to an increased risk for breast cancer. “If you’re a women who enjoys drinking,” she says, “it’s time to take an honest look at your risk of heart disease and cancer.” For women with a family history of breast cancer, she recommends cutting back on alcohol significantly. And, by significantly, she means imbibing once a week, not once a day. “If breast cancer isn’t in your family,” she says, “it’s okay to enjoy a glass of wine each night with dinner, but be mindful of the number of ounces.” (Moderate drinking is defined as 1 drink a day for women, 2 for men. The American Heart Association defines a drink as 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, or 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits.) “Alcohol happens to be a lifestyle factor that contributes to a variety of cancers, including breast cancer,” says Susan Gapstur, vice president of epidemiology for the American Cancer Society. “We don’t have as many lifestyle modifications for preventing cancer as we do for preventing heart disease, so cutting back on drinking is one thing you can do.”