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March 10, 2010 | 2 minute read

The Health-Alcohol Conundrum

There’s been a lot of stories this week about a new study linking moderate alcohol intake with lower risk of weight gain. The study makes for some grabby headlines, but alcohol intake and health is a complex issue that scientists agree needs more research. For heart health — and now, possibly to avoid weight gain — moderate drinking (2 drinks for men and 1 for women a day) may have benefits. But when it comes to certain cancers: there’s no amount of alcohol that’s healthy.

The basics of the latest study: Published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the study included about 19,000 women age 39 or older who began the study at a healthy weight. At the start of the study, the women reported how many alcoholic beverages they typically drank per day. Over an average of 13 years follow-up, the women on average gained weight. But normal-weight women who drank a light to moderate amount of alcohol appeared to gain less weight than  the women who did not drink at all.

For people who don’t drink alcohol, this is not a reason to start, the study authors note. More research is needed to identify the many factors than can play a role in how alcohol effects certain individuals.

You’ve probably also heard about another possible health benefit of moderate alcohol intake: some evidence suggests it may protect against coronary heart disease. Although again, experts say there is not enough evidence to compel anyone to start drinking.

The heart-health research is why AICR recommends that if people do want to drink alcohol, to drink moderately — 2 drinks for men and 1 for women a day. For cancer, AICR’s expert report found convincing evidence that any amount of alcohol increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus and breast, as well as colorectal cancer in men.

Hopefully, more research will help individuals decide what’s best for their health but for now, moderate appears to be the key term for alcohol drinkers. You can read more about the link between alcohol and cancer here.

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