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A little alcohol goes a longer way in women than in men—in good ways and bad, from the Harvard Heart Letter

A little alcohol goes a longer way in women than in men—in good ways and bad, from the Harvard Heart Letter

Posted: Monday, October 6, 2008 10:25 pm

BOSTON—Alcohol can be a boon or a bane for health. The difference lies in the dose—a little is good, a lot is bad. But the dividing line between a little and a lot differs from person to person. It depends on many things, including sex. Women are more vulnerable than men to alcohol’s long-term effects, reports the October 2008 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter.
Women break down alcohol more slowly than men do. If a woman and a man drink identical glasses of wine with the same meal, she will have a higher blood level of alcohol, and for a longer time. This means her tissues are exposed to more alcohol per drink than a man’s. Results from a study in Japan suggest that too much alcohol is bad for a woman’s heart and arteries, and earlier work shows it can be hazardous to breast tissue too.

What constitutes “healthy drinking”? Current guidelines say it is one to two drinks a day for men and no more than one a day for women, notes the Harvard Heart Letter. Keep in mind that this recommendation is for the average person. How you respond to alcohol depends on your genes, your diet, and the medications you take.

If you drink, consider taking a daily multivitamin/multimineral supplement. Alcohol blocks the absorption of folic acid and inactivates this important vitamin in the bloodstream, so drinkers need extra folic acid.

Also in this issue:

•    Dial 911 to start treating heart attack
•    Checking blood pressure at the ankle
•    Less invasive valve surgery speeds recovery
•    Coffee and good health
•    CT scans may interfere with pacemakers
•    The power of potassium
•    Can blood pressure medicines change the sense of taste?
•    How is a blocked stent fixed?

The Harvard Heart Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $24 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).
Posted 10.6.08

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