bulletOnly 29.8% of women consumed no alcohol in 1980.
bulletConsumption of up to one ounce of alcohol per day reduced female mortality rates about 15%.


Medical Sciences Bulletin Contents

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Light to Moderate Drinking of Modest Benefit to Women

Reprinted from Medical Sciences Bulletin , published by Pharmaceutical Information Associates, Ltd.

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Epidemiologic studies have indicated that light to moderate intake of alcohol reduces mortality among men, primarily by reducing the risk of coronary artery disease. Whether this benefit also applies to women has been in question. A recent report of a large, prospective study has now clarified the effects of alcohol on mortality among women.

Charles S. Fuchs, of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and colleagues examined data from the Nurses' Health Study, which began in 1976. The study employed questionnaires to elicit information about the health of more than 120,000 nurses in the United States, and it has collected follow-up information every 2 years since 1976. In 1980, a dietary questionnaire included questions about alcohol consumption.

Fuchs's team analyzed data from 85,709 women 34 to 59 years of age in 1980 who had no history of myocardial infarction, angina, stroke, or cancer. Of this population, 29.8% reported no alcohol consumption in 1980, whereas the majority reported low-to-moderate intake; about 1% reported alcohol consumption greater than 50 g a day. In 12 years of follow-up, 2658 women died, including 503 of cardiovascular disease, 1495 of any cancer (including 350 of breast cancer), 203 of injuries, 52 of hepatic cirrhosis, and 405 of other causes.

Analysis of mortality rates showed a U-shaped distribution relative to alcohol consumption. The relative risk of death was 0.83 for women consuming 1.5 to 4.9 g of alcohol a day (1 to 3 drinks a week) and 0.88 for women consuming 5.0 to 29.9 g a day, compared with a relative risk of 1.0 for women not consuming alcohol. The relative risk of death was 1.19 for women consuming 30 g or more a day. These relative risks were determined after allowing for other predictors of mortality. As in men, the reduction in mortality associated with light-to-moderate drinking resulting largely from a lower risk of fatal cardiovascular disease. However, as alcohol consumption increased in the study group, the risk of dying increased, primarily because of increasing incidence of noncardiovascular causes of death, such as breast cancer and cirrhosis of the liver.

The apparent benefits of light-to-moderate alcohol consumption appeared to be limited to women over age 50 and to those with one or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Among women 34 to 39 years old, relative risk of death actually increased slightly for all levels of alcohol consumption, but the number of deaths in this age group was small, and between-group differences did not reach statistical significance. (Fuchs CS et al. N Engl J Med. 1995; 332: 1245-1250.)

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Beer contains 5% alcohol, so a 12 oz can of beer contains 0.6 ounces or 0.021 grams of alcohol*.


(*One gram = .035 ounces)