Women and Alcohol

Woman drinking glass of white wine, alcohol, health
Women are constantly hearing mixed messages about drinking alcohol. One report says a moderate amount is OK, another study says to avoid it all together.

The Saturday Early Show's Dr. Mallika Marshall helped sort out the facts from the fiction.

Marshall says it's very important that women know their medical history. Among other things, it will allow them to decide whether an occasional cocktail, or a glass of wine or beer is okay. Marshall says that a moderate - not excessive - amount of alcohol is safe. But she says women tend to be more susceptible to the hazards of drinking including, addiction and damage to organs such as the liver.

Here are some assumptions about women and alcohol and women that Marshall helped to clarify:

Wine is good for the heart
Studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption, and not necessarily just wine, decreases a woman's risk of heart disease by between 25 and 30 percent. Alcohol raises good cholesterol levels. It also slightly thins the blood, which reduces the risks of clots forming. Clots are a cause of heart attacks and strokes. Studies have also shown that young women who drink moderately may be less likely to have high blood pressure.

Alcohol leads to breast cancer
A recent study found that women who drank moderately, one to two drinks a day, had higher levels of two hormones that are associated with breast cancer. But, Marshall says the risk could be lower if women make sure to get enough Vitamin B folate in their diet. The recommended dosage is about 400 micrograms a day. Marshall says if you have a history of breast cancer in your family, you'll want to want to weigh the risks before having a drink.

Never drink alcohol when pregnant
For years, doctors have been telling women to never drink when pregnant. But, some still do. Alcohol can cause serious damage to an unborn child. The most serious risk is fetal alcohol syndrome. Other problems can arise such as a low birth weight. Marshall says it's important that women know that alcohol can do the most damage during the first trimester. As soon as you think you may be pregnant, Marshall recommends you stop all drinking.

Alcohol impairs fertility
While it is known that heavy drinking impairs fertility, the evidence about moderate drinking and fertility is mixed. A study came out in the British Medical Journal in 1998, saying that couples were about 40 percent less likely to conceive when the woman had about five drinks a week. But a year later, another study in the same journal said moderate drinking had no impact. Marshall says the bottom line is to play it safe. If you are trying to conceive, stay away from alcohol.

Moderate drinking inhibits Alzheimer's disease?
There have been several studies that suggest moderate drinking may protect women against Alzheimer's Disease. The theory is that alcohol may help aid in the circulation of oxygen and estrogen, which is good for the brain.

Alcohol prevents diabetes
A recent study out of Harvard suggests that women who had about a drink a day were about a third less likely to develop diabetes than women who didn't drink. Those who drank about two glasses a day cut their risk by nearly 60 percent. That said, the best way to prevent the disease is to eat properly, exercise and keep your weight under control.

Alcohol is fattening
Alcohol can be fattening. A glass of wine or beer contains about 100 calories. Many people have mixed drinks, which adds even more calories. If you are trying to lose weight, it's a good idea to stay away from alcohol. Also, when people are drinking, they are more likely to overeat. And, the body tends to burn fat more slowly when alcohol is in the system.