A study in Archives of Internal Medicine looked back at the results of 34 studies on the effects of drinking alcohol and found that moderate drinking appears to be better for people than no drinking at all.
The studies involved more than a million people from all over the world and found that although moderate drinking is healthy, going above about three drinks a day for men and two drinks a day for women increases mortality rates.
The difference between the amount men and women can consume is due to the way different sexes metabolize alcohol.
"For the same amount consumed, women's blood alcohol levels end up higher than men's" The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay told The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen. "That appears to produce a higher risk in women of liver disease, which of course is a well-known consequence of too much alcohol consumption."
Dr. Senay said the study suggests that wine consumed with meals helps prevent fatty buildup in arteries, which can lead to heart disease, than if wine is consumed without food.
"By contrast, the study calls binge drinking, when it's not mealtime, an unhealthy habit," she said. "So the timing of the drinks a person takes does appear to matter."
When women drink more than two drinks a day and men go over three, Dr. Senay said, the researchers saw a greater risk of cancer and liver disease. In addition, consuming too much alcohol can increase a person's risk for heart attack or stroke, she said. Also, women who drink when pregnant increase the risk for birth defect or miscarriage. Researchers also counted deaths from car crashes and other serious accidents caused by drinking too much.
"The researchers put it this way: heavy drinkers should be urged to cut back," Dr. Senay said. "Drinking too much is clearly dangerous. But people whose drinking is low to moderate are encouraged ... to continue. Of course, the advice they give is for the population as a whole. Individuals need to weigh their own medical conditions and histories, including medications they take that might interact badly, before automatically taking that advice."
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