Donate |

Cheers and jeers for alcohol

Last updated: January 2011

Illustration: Robert Nuebecker

News that alcohol might have health benefits has made it easier to justify an occasional cocktail. But drinking still harms more people than it helps, especially men, who tend to drink more than women and are more likely to binge. Here, the latest pros and cons of getting into the spirit:

PRO Moderate, regular drinking—up to one drink a day for women, two for men—boosts HDL (good) cholesterol and cuts the risk of death from heart disease by about 25 percent. It might also help prevent type 2 diabetes.

 

CON Even moderate consumption is linked to a higher rate of cancer of the colon, rectum, liver, mouth, and throat, and to some breast cancers.

PRO It might prevent a common type of stroke. Moderate drinkers have a lower risk of ischemic strokes, the kind caused by blood clots. That might be because alcohol, like aspirin, helps to thin the blood.

 

CON It increases the risk of other strokes—namely hemorrhagic strokes, the kind caused by bleeding in the brain. And it can contribute to birth defects and depression.

PRO It might help women keep weight off. Normal-weight women who drank one to two alcoholic beverages a day had a 30 percent lower risk of becoming overweight over a 13-year period than women who drank no alcohol, according to data from the ongoing Women's Health Study. The strongest result came from red wine.

 

CON It can make men eat more. In one study, men who drank a glass of beer a half-hour before lunch consumed 15 percent more calories (not counting the beer's calories) at the meal than men who had a nonalcoholic drink. One possible reason: The body might metabolize alcohol differently from other nutrients.

Bottom line. Any benefits come from moderate drinking. The risks of heavy intake include damage to the liver and heart and a higher chance of accidents and addiction. Benefits appear to be strongest for people at risk of heart disease. People on medication should be aware of interactions with alcohol. Everyone should know that mixed drinks pack as many as 300 calories, and that alcohol lowers inhibitions, which can lead to overindulgence in all sorts of things.

   

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters!
Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Latest From Consumer Reports

SAVE AT THE SUPERMARKET
8 ways to keep rising prices from eating into your budget Some food is more expensive, but there are ways to cut costs when you shop.
CHAIN SAW REVIEWS
Get out your chain saw because 'Sharknado 2' is hereVideo This time you can create an interactive light show while watching at home.
SAVE ON CAR RENTALS
Head-to-head in car-rental wars: Zipcar vs. Hertz Is Zipcar's innovative approach to renting a car a good deal for you?
CAR SEAT REVIEWS
6 best new convertible seats for your toddlerVideo Our tests will help you find the best seat for your growing child.
DIGITAL CAMERA REVIEWS
5 questions to ask before you buy a point-and-shoot Your answers can help you determine what your camera needs are.
CARS NEWS
Why Toyota should recall the Camry Hybrid Brake problems on 2007-11 models warrant a stronger company response.

Connect

and safety with
subscribers and fans

Follow us on:

Cars

Cars New Car Price Report
Find out what the dealers don't want you to know! Get dealer pricing information on a new car with the New Car Price Report.

Order Your Report

Mobile

Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more