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Baylor College of Medicine News

Moderation key to alcohol consumption

While drinking small amounts of alcohol can have potential health benefits, doctors at Baylor College of Medicine say drinking too much can do more harm than good.

"The key to this contradiction is moderation," said Dr. Jeffrey Steinbauer, professor of family and community medicine at BCM. "Moderate drinking is usually one serving of alcohol per day. While many people can drink more without becoming impaired, drinking higher amounts of alcohol increases the chance of suffering from a number of health problems."

Weight gain

Alcohol constitutes "empty calories," causing weight gain, Steinbauer said. On average, a can of beer has up to 150 calories. An ounce of wine or liquor has between 25 to 65 calories. After a few servings a day, and some unhealthy food or snacks, the calories add up. It only takes 3,500 calories to add a pound of fat to the body.

"Weight gain can contribute to heart problems but alcohol itself is toxic to the heart," Steinbauer said. "It makes the heart muscle less efficient in its contractions and therefore can contribute to congestive heart failure. In addition, alcohol also raises blood pressure, which can increase the risk for heart disease."

Other toxic effects

Alcohol can have a toxic affect on the gastrointestinal tract as well, affecting the digestive system and its related organs.

"Cirrhosis of the liver can be a fatal condition that can be directly related to drinking too much alcohol," Steinbauer said. "While liver cancer is not directly related to drinking, some gastrointestinal cancers, like esophageal cancer, are."

The stomach can become inflamed and sores, or ulcers, can form due to continuous irritation from alcohol. Drinking too much can also cause malabsorption and diarrhea.

Dehydration is another side affect of too much drinking. It inhibits a hormone in the body that conserves water, which can lead to weakness and fatigue.

Steinbauer emphasizes that moderation is the key when it comes to drinking, and your alcohol intake should be discussed with your doctor to determine whether it is healthy or harmful.