RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Downing dirty martinis, daiquiris, and goblets full of Drambuie every night is no way to toast to good health, that much is obvious. But a recent review of studies finds that even occasional binge drinking can erase all the heart benefits associated with light to moderate drinking, and increase your risk of heart problems, according to a study published this month in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
THE DETAILS: One or two drinks, particularly if you're drinking red wine, may provide protection against coronary heart disease. But the science hadn't been clear on how occasionally drinking more than that could affect those benefits. Researchers analyzed 14 studies looking at the health effects of occasional binge drinking, classified as 60 or more grams of ethanol or five standard drinks per occasion, and found that compared to regular moderate drinking (up to one drink a day if you're a woman, two if you're a man), irregular heavy drinking corresponded with a 45 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease. The study authors concluded that "the cardio-protective effects of moderate alcohol drinking disappears when, on average, light to moderate drinking is mixed with irregular heavy drinking occasions." Binge drinking as little as once a month erases the benefits, the study found.
WHAT IT MEANS: By all means, if you don't drink alcohol already, don't start now to gain heart-protecting health benefits. You can generally get the same positives by drinking grape juice, without running the risk of liver damage and alcoholism. Besides that, too much alcohol does all sorts of disservices to your body. It raises the levels of blood fats called triglycerides, can induce high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, and can lead to calorie overload, opening the door to ailments like diabetes and even some cancers. If you do drink, aim for moderation, since this study demonstrates that those extra cocktails undercut any benefits you may be getting.
Here's how to strategically sip to enjoy the benefits of alcohol.
• Know what one drink looks like. Before you pull out your 7-Eleven Super Big Gulp and fill it to the brim with red wine for your "one" drink a day, understand what is generally considered one serving of alcohol. According to the American Heart Association, one drink constitutes a 12-ounce beer, four ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, or a single ounce of 100-proof spirits.
• Beer or wine? You've probably heard a lot about the antioxidants in red wine, and how it is considered a staple of the Mediterranean diet, an eating plan that researchers believe helps people live longer. But beer has its perks, too. Just like wine, it contains phytochemicals called flavonoids; research has also ID'd helpful compounds in beer that can boost your metabolism, clean out arteries, and possibly ward off cancer. Dark beer may also protect against heart disease. If you're having trouble deciding between beer and wine, read our This or That? Beer or Wine? analysis.