Alcohol: If you drink, keep it moderate

Moderate alcohol use has possible health benefits, but it's not risk-free.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

It sounds like a mixed message: Drinking alcohol may offer some health benefits, especially for your heart. On the other hand, too much alcohol may increase your risk of health problems and damage your heart.

When it comes to alcohol, the key is moderation. Certainly, you don't have to drink any alcohol, and if you currently don't drink, don't start drinking for the possible health benefits. In some cases, it's safest to avoid alcohol entirely — the possible benefits don't outweigh the risks.

Here's a closer look at the connection between alcohol and your health.

Possible health benefits of moderate alcohol use

Moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits, such as:

  • Reduce your risk of developing and dying from heart disease
  • Possibly reduce your risk of ischemic stroke (when the arteries to your brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow)
  • Possibly reduce your risk of diabetes

Even so, the evidence about the health benefits of alcohol isn't certain, and alcohol may not benefit everyone who drinks.

Guidelines for moderate alcohol use

Moderate alcohol use for healthy adults means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.

Examples of one drink include:

  • Beer: 12 fluid ounces (355 milliliters)
  • Wine: 5 fluid ounces (148 milliliters)
  • Distilled spirits (80 proof): 1.5 fluid ounces (44 milliliters)

Moderate alcohol use may be of most benefit if you have existing risk factors for heart disease. However, you can take other steps to improve your heart health besides drinking — eating a healthy diet and exercising, for example, which have more robust research behind them.

Keep in mind that even moderate use isn't risk-free. For example, drinking and driving is never a good idea.

Aug. 30, 2016 See more In-depth