The Effects of Alcohol on Your Health [video]

Video author: Streaming Well
Doctors: To translate this video's captions for your patients, contact us here.

Video Transcript
Toxic Waist: What is a healthy amount of alcohol to drink?

Dr. Derrick Cutting, General Practitioner: Much has been made of the idea that drinking alcohol is good for your heart. Indeed, research has found a direct link between drinking a limited amount of alcohol and reduction of coronary heart disease, but this is not an invitation to drink as much as possible. Heavy drinking increases the risk of liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, cancer, stroke, and yes, even heart disease. Not to mention that heavy drinkers are more likely to die in road accidents or as a result of violence.

The way we measure alcohol intake is through the unit system. You've probably come across it when your doctor asks how many units you drink every week. There are some rule-of-thumb methods used to estimate units. For instance, half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine are approximately 1 unit. If you want to be more accurate, you can use this formula to work out the number of units in a drink. Multiply the volume of the drink in liters, or milliliters divided by 1000, by the percent alcohol by volume, or ABV.

For example, a standard-sized bottle of wine is 750 mL, 3/4 of a liter, and has, say, 12% alcohol by volume. That means that the number of units in the whole bottle is 3/4 of 12, that is, 9 units. Doctors recommend that men drink no more than 4 units a day and women not more than 3. The difference arises because women generally have less water in their bodies to dilute the alcohol, which makes them more susceptible to alcohol intoxication.

It's also important to remember that, nowadays, we have a daily recommended allowance rather than a weekly one. That's because binge drinking is extremely bad for you. It increases blood pressure, puts a strain on the liver, and can actually cause a heart attack. It's much less harmful to have 2 pints of beer on 5 days of the week rather than having 10 pints on a Friday night, but it's best not to drink every day. Give your liver 1 or 2 days off. Drinking a small amount of alcohol protects against coronary heart disease by increasing your HDL cholesterol levels, and that's the good kind of cholesterol.

Alcohol can also influence factors in your blood, such as platelets and fibrinogen, that cause your blood to coagulate. This helps to lower the risk of a blood clot. Don't worry too much about which type of alcohol you choose to drink. Research has shown that the risk or benefit is determined not so much by what you drink, as by the pattern of drinking--how much and how often.

Streaming Well Copyright 2012