Do You Drink Too Much?

Healthy drinking tips

Now that you're engaged and maybe living with your fiancé, you're likely not doing frat-house binge-fests—but you'll want to be sure your "social sipping" is as safe as you think. Though drinking in moderation is generally fine, there are risks to even small amounts. A 2007 study from the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Oakland, CA, found that women who have just one to two drinks a day increase their risk of breast cancer by 10 percent. (Alcohol may effect estrogen levels, which can influence breast cancer development.) According to Dietary Guidelines for Americans, women who have two or more drinks a day increase their risk of motor vehicle crashes, high blood pressure and stroke.

Not surprisingly, complications increase as consumption does. "Women who drink heavily (four to five drinks a day, regularly) run the risk of damaging their liver, are at a higher risk of colon, oral and other cancers, and may be more susceptible to memory loss," says Eric Rimm, associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard University's School of Public Health in Cambridge, MA. Also, "Alcohol has a greater effect on women because it metabolizes almost entirely in their blood stream; men metabolize 10 to 20 percent in their stomach." So beer for beer, you'll feel drunk faster than your fiancé—it's best not to try to keep up.

On the flip side, there's no evidence that alcohol damages organs or brain cells when consumed in moderation (for women, that's one drink a day—12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or one ounce of liquor—or less). The opposite may be true: "Studies have shown moderate consumption increases blood flow, improves the quality of the arteries' lining, and slows cognitive decline in older women," says Dr. Rimm. What's more, data from Harvard's Nurses' Health Study found that women who drank an average of one alcoholic beverage a day lived longer than those who didn't, possibly because moderate (but not high) amounts of alcohol can have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system.

"It's important to point out that having three drinks at a time once in a while, like at your engagement party, doesn't mean you've automatically increased your risk of breast cancer or other health problems," Dr. Rimm says. "But if you're drinking that much on a regular basis, you may be."

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