You don’t need to have a daily drinking problem to get into trouble with alcohol. A brand-new report reveals that in some parts of North America, one in three adults knock back beer, wine and liquor intermittently, but to dangerous levels. “We’re going in the wrong direction,” notes the lead researcher. We agree.
Overall, about one in six Americans binge-drink. Binge-drinking is downing four or more drinks for women, five for men, in about two hours, four or more times per month, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For many folks, it doesn’t look like a health problem because their weekly drink tally still might be within a healthy range. Yet more and more research says this kind of overconsumption can have serious downsides that fly under the radar. Binging, near-binging and having “just one more” are all getting linked to a broad range of health issues:
• For women, research shows that sipping two to three drinks a day on a regular basis increases odds for breast cancer by 20 percent; regularly having five a day raises it an extra 50 percent, compared with women who skip alcohol.
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• For men, a recent study from Finland found that those who drank enough to have a hangover even once a year were at increased risk for a stroke. The same researchers found that men who binge-drink had a bigger buildup of gunky, heart-and-brain-threatening plaque in artery walls.
Even if you overdo it only on Friday night, Saturday night and/or Sunday brunch — while keeping your weekly drink total to a respectable level — those big doses of alcohol can age your immune system, trigger heart-rhythm problems and raise levels of LDL cholesterol as much as 40 percent.
These steps can help you enjoy alcohol without hurting your health:
Pour wisely. You’ve no doubt heard that women should stick to one drink per day, men up to two drinks per day, max. But the definition of one serving may surprise you: It’s 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces (one shot glass) of liquor. That means plenty of the drinks served in bars, restaurants and at home are equal to one and a half servings or more! Steer clear of big goblets and short, wide glasses: In one study, people overpoured in those, but gave themselves 20 to 30 percent less when using a tall, narrow glass.
Look at the big picture. If you’re a woman at higher-than-average risk for breast cancer or if you’re just worried, talk with your doctor about alcohol. If you’re a woman or man who drinks moderately but you have other heart disease risk factors, you also might want to talk with your doc about cutting back. One to two drinks a day for men, one a day for women, decreases overall cardiovascular disease risk.
In a recent University of Pennsylvania review of 50 studies involving 260,000 people, those who drank 17 percent less than the average weren’t as likely to have high blood pressure, heart disease or be overweight. “Reduced consumption of alcohol, even for light to moderate drinkers, may lead to improved cardiovascular health,” one of the researchers noted.
Working long hours? Don’t reward yourself with extra. In a recent study looking at the working hours and drinking habits of 333,693 people in 14 countries, an international research team found that those putting in more than 48 hours per week were about 12 percent more likely to overdo it than those working 40 hours. Blow off steam with exercise, a date with your spouse, a night at a comedy club or viewing a funny movie instead.
If you’re a smoker, quit. There’s a reason smokers are five to 10 times more likely to develop a drinking problem: Nicotine turns up the volume on alcohol cravings, according to a recent study from California’s Scripps Research Institute.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.