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Alcohol Health Risks

You booze, you lose.

Illustration of hand pushing away alcohol to show alcohol health risks

There’s a lot of research on alcohol health risks that should make anyone question the value of drinking any amount of alcohol when it comes to health measures. Here are some results about alcohol health risks worth noting:

  • Any level of alcohol intake may be associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, according to a study in JAMA Network Open, using genetic and medical data of over 371,000 people. The authors noted that there were minimal increases in risk when consuming zero to seven drinks per week, much higher risk increases when progressing from seven to 14 drinks per week, and especially high risk when consuming 21 or more drinks per week. The findings also suggested that there is an increased risk for cardiovascular disease even when consuming less than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, This brings up the possibility that the supposed benefits of alcohol on heart health among moderate or light drinkers may be due to other beneficial lifestyle choices including healthier eating and more physical activity.
  • Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania analyzed data from more than 36,000 adults and found a link between drinking and reduced brain volume that begins at an average consumption level of less than one alcohol unit a day—the equivalent of about half a beer—and rises with each additional drink. Heavier drinking was associated with an even greater toll. As an example, in 50-year-olds, as average drinking among individuals increases from one alcohol unit (about half a beer) a day to two units (a pint of beer or a glass of wine), there are associated changes in the brain equivalent to aging 2 years. As reported in Nature Communications, going from two to three alcohol units at the same age was like aging the brain by 3.5 years.
  • Men and women who had moderate-to-heavy consumption of alcohol during adolescence had a higher risk of alcohol-related cancer later in life, even if they lowered or stopped their intake in middle age, compared with those who never drank alcohol, according to a study in the International Journal of Cancer.

See also: Debating Alcohol Consumption and Risk


Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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