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You may enjoy unwinding at the end of a hectic day with a glass of wine. But is it healthy or harmful? The answer can be tricky, and not always the same for everyone.  

Alcohol in moderation appears to have certain health benefits — but sipping too much can lead to problem drinking and other diseases.

If you enjoy an occasional glass of wine, chances are you shouldn’t worry.

Possible Benefits

Some studies suggest that red wine may offer more cardiovascular benefits  than beer or spirits, especially when drunk with a meal. 

Red wine may do a better job of preventing blood clots, relaxing blood vessel walls and preventing the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol so plaque doesn’t build up on artery walls. And it may help lower stress levels as well. 

The key is moderation, defined as one drink a day for women (and two for men). One drink is usually considered to be 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits. 

Other benefits of moderate alcohol consumption may include a reduced risk of:

How you drink also plays a part. Abstaining all week and then gulping down seven glasses of wine on Saturday night isn’t the same as having one drink a day. If you do drink, don’t polish off an entire bottle in one night. Instead, pace yourself and enjoy a glass each night to gain any health benefits. 

Risks

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Those who cross the line into heavy drinking may end up with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease or dying from other conditions. Regular overindulgence can lead to:

  • High blood pressure
  • Liver damage
  • Increased chance of developing breast and other cancers
  • Heart failure
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Sudden heart death
  • Ischemic stroke
  • Bleeding in the brain

And, of course, pregnant women should avoid alcohol altogether because it can lead to birth defects. 

The Bottom Line: A Fine Balance

When it comes to drinking alcohol, there’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation. We all have our own personal histories and health concerns, so the risks and benefits are different for everyone. If you enjoy an occasional glass of wine, chances are you shouldn’t worry. But if you don’t already drink, there’s no reason to start simply to stay healthy. Instead, focus on a nutritious diet, not smoking and getting plenty of exercise. And talk with your doctor about the potential benefits and risks of moderate alcohol use.