You’ve probably seen stories about the health benefits of drinking alcohol moderately. Some claim a daily glass of red wine per day can be good for your heart or even extend your life. Before you celebrate by buying a case of cabernet, consider what is meant by moderate drinking.
According to recommended guidelines, it’s a maximum of two drinks per day for men and one drink for women. Is it okay to not drink during the week and instead save the four or five drinks for Saturday night? “No,” says interventional cardiologist Elizabeth Pielsticker, M.D. “The guidelines are intended for a single day and not as an average over time.”
Another important factor is how much alcohol equals one drink. Some think a single drink of wine equals as much wine as the glass will hold—but the true measure is very specific.
How much is one drink?
- For wine, it’s 5 oz. (a wine glass holds 8 to 22 oz.)
- One drink of beer is 12 oz.
- One serving of liquor is 1.5 oz.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, drinking beer or wine is not safer than drinking liquor; a single serving of each has about the same amount of alcohol.
Does Alcohol Have Health Benefits?
We hate to burst your champagne bubble, but the American Heart Association says, “No research has proved a cause-and-effect link between drinking alcohol and better heart health.” While flavonoids and other antioxidants contained in red wine may potentially reduce heart disease, you can also get these from foods like berries, nuts, artichokes and dark chocolate.
Similarly, alcohol is known to slightly increase good cholesterol (HDL). “Yet regular physical activity is a more effective way to raise HDL,” says Dr. Pielsticker. “In short, medical providers don’t recommend drinking any form of alcohol for supposed potential health benefits.”
Drinking too much alcohol increases your risk for multiple health problems, such as high blood pressure, blood clots, stroke and irregular heartbeat (arrythmia). Excessive drinking can also cause premature aging of the arteries and lower the heart’s ability to pump blood (cardiomyopathy). The added calories from alcohol also raise the risk for obesity and diabetes.
Moderation Is Key
That’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy a glass of wine, a beer or a margarita. “Just realize you aren’t doing it for your health,” Dr. Pielsticker says. “If you do drink, stay within the limits of moderation, and remember that for some people it’s not safe to drink at all. Talk with your doctor about your specific health risks related to alcohol.”
Are you at risk for heart disease? Find out by taking this five-minute quiz.
Dr. Elizabeth Pielsticker sees patients at Henry Ford Allegiance Cardiology in Jackson, Mich. As an interventional cardiologist, Dr. Pielsticker performs tests and nonsurgical procedures to help people with blocked arteries or congenital (from birth) heart disease avoid having open-heart surgery.