Women Now Starting to Match Men's Drinking Habits, and That's Bad

TUESDAY, Nov. 24, 2015 (HealthDay News) — American women are catching up to men when it comes to using and abusing alcohol, a new government report shows.

The researchers analyzed data from 2002 to 2012 and found that reported alcohol consumption in the previous 30 days rose among women, from almost 45 percent to more than 48 percent, while it fell among men, from slightly more than 57 percent to just over 56 percent.

“We found that over that period of time, differences in measures such as current drinking, number of drinking days per month, reaching criteria for an alcohol use disorder, and driving under the influence of alcohol in the past year, all narrowed for females and males,” study leader Aaron White, senior scientific advisor to the director of the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), said in an institute news release.

“Males still consume more alcohol, but the differences between men and women are diminishing,” he added.

The investigators found that the average number of drinking days in the past month also increased among women, from 6.8 to 7.3 days, but fell among men, from 9.9 to 9.5 days.

Binge drinking among college students aged 18 to 25 did not change during the study period. However, among those aged 18 to 25 who weren’t in college, there was a large increase in binge drinking among women but a significant decrease among men. Binge drinking in men is defined as having five or more drinks on a given occasion; in women it’s four or more drinks.

There was only one area of drinking where the difference between women and men increased during the study period.

“The prevalence of combining alcohol with marijuana during the last drinking occasion among 18- to 25-year-old male drinkers increased from 15 percent to 19 percent, while the prevalence of combining alcohol with marijuana during the last drinking occasion among 18- to 25-year-old female drinkers remained steady at about 10 percent,” White said.

The study was published online Nov. 23 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The reasons for the narrowing gap in alcohol use between women and men aren’t clear and don’t seem to be associated with factors such as employment, pregnancy or marital status, the researchers said. They called for more studies to identify the reasons for the trend, and how that might affect prevention and treatment efforts.

“This study confirms what other recent reports have suggested about changing patterns of alcohol use by men and women in the U.S.,” NIAAA Director George Koob said in the news release.

Increasing alcohol use by women is a cause for concern because they are at greater risk than men for a number of alcohol-related health problems, including liver inflammation, heart disease, neurotoxicity and cancer, Koob said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about excessive drinking and women’s health.


Holiday Brunch: This Tropical Drink is Full of Fresh Fruit

This recipe for Four Flowers Mimosa will brighten any party with its tropical flavor.

Makes 12 servings

Prep: 12 minutes

Make the juice the night before, cover, and store in the fridge. Be sure to give it a stir before adding the sparkling wine.

Ingredients:

1 ripe pineapple

2 cups fresh orange juice, divided

4 ripe medium bananas

3 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons grenadine

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

6 cups sparkling white wine

Instructions:

1. Remove the skin from the pineapple. Cut it lengthwise into quarters. Cut off the thick core from each quarter. Slice 2 of the pineapple quarters lengthwise into long spears; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

2. Chop the remaining pineapple quarters into chunks. In a food

processor, puree the pineapple with 1/2 cup of the orange juice. Pour into

a large pitcher.

3. Using the processor, puree the bananas with 1/2 cup of the orange juice. Stir into the pitcher. Add the remaining orange juice, maple syrup, grenadine, and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled.

4. In each of 12 tall glasses, pour 1/2 cup juice and 1/2 cup sparkling wine. Garnish each with a pineapple spear. (Serving size: 8 ounces)

Nutrition:

Calories 177 (1% from fat); Fat 0g (sat 0g, mono 0g, poly 0g); Cholesterol 0mg; Protein 1g; Carbohydrate 26g; Sugars 17g; Fiber 2g; Iron 0mg; Sodium 3mg; Calcium 17mg

Recipes adapted from Sarabeth Levine

Edited by Frances Largeman-Roth

A Tropical Cocktail Under 200 Calories

On a recent trip to Miami for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, I had this gorgeous cocktail at The Tides hotel’s Martini Bar. Try this Tides Royale recipe at your next gathering.

Ingredients:2 ounces coconut-flavored rum1 ounce Midori3 ounces pineapple juice1 tablespoon ChambordEdible flower (optional)

Instructions:1. Combine rum, Midori, and pineapple juice in a shaker with ice.

2. Shake and strain into two chilled glasses.

3. Add 1⁄2 tablespoon Chambord (it will sink to the bottom) to each glass. Garnish, if desired. (Makes 2 165-calorie servings)


Frances A. Largeman-Roth, RD, is Health’s Senior Food and Nutrition Editor.

Loud Music in Bars Hastens Drinking

FRIDAY, July 18 (HealthDay News) — If busy bars and blasting music seem to go hand in hand, new research from France suggests that might be because loud music encourages more drinking.

The finding is reported in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, and is drawn from research led by Nicolas Gueguen, a professor of behavioral sciences at the Université de Bretagne-Sud in France.

“This is an informative and good study that I think a lot of people will identify with, because it makes a lot of sense,” said Dr. Marc Galanter, director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse at the Langone Medical Center at New York University. “Because it seems that loud music throws people off their game and renders them less in control of their capacity to moderate their drinking.”

Galanter was not a part of the research team, which noted that prior explorations into the effect of music on drinking have already revealed that people spend more time in a bar that plays music than one that doesn’t, and that fast music in particular seems to prompt fast drinking. The style of music played in a bar can also affect drinking behavior, although in varying ways, depending on the cultural setting.

In the current effort, the authors observed 40 male patrons between the ages of 18 and 25 while they visited one of two bars located in the western region of France. Both establishments were local hangouts for young people.

The male participants—unaware that they were being tracked—were chosen for monitoring only if they were sitting at a table in pairs and had initially ordered an 8-ounce glass of draft beer.

The observations took place over three Saturday nights, with the consent of the bar owners who allowed the volume of the bar music—primarily top 40 tunes—to be adjusted randomly (from 72 dB, considered normal, up to 88 dB, considered high) throughout each night.

Finding that higher volumes appeared to egg the men on to drink more and faster, the researchers theorized that louder background sound might be stimulating higher arousal levels among the patrons. They also considered the possibility that louder music might simply make verbal communication less viable, leading to more drinking as a result of less opportunity to interact socially.

Galanter suggested that loud music may be tapping in to, and exacerbating, some of the common social vulnerabilities people bring to a public setting gathering.

“Everybody is subject to using alcohol to cope with anxiety, whether or not they have a problem with alcohol,” he said. “And that’s why people drink in social situations. And loud music puts them in a frame of mind where they’re less coherent, and maybe somewhat distracted, and in a somewhat altered state of consciousness to some modest measure. And so then, they’re less able to exercise control over their behavior in order to moderate their drinking.”

For their part, Gueguen and his colleagues pointed out that the majority of automobile fatalities in France involve alcohol. They suggested that consumers should be made aware—through advertising—of the association between loud music and increased drinking, and that bar owners should consider moderating music levels to minimize drinking.

But Galanter cautioned that the latter goal might prove to be an uphill battle.

“I think the bars may have the opposite point of view,” he said with a chuckle. “But I would suggest that people in bars with loud music should think carefully before they even come in about how much they want to drink, so that they won’t drink excessively.”

More information

For more on young adults and drinking, visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

SOURCES: Marc Galanter, M.D., director, division of alcoholism and drug abuse, Langone Medical Center, New York University, and professor, psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine; October 2008, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research

By Alan MozesHealthDay Reporter

Last Updated: July 18, 2008

Copyright © 2008 ScoutNews, LLC. All rights reserved.

Just a Few Drinks a Day May Boost Cancer Risk in Women

Istockphoto

By Jacquelyne FroeberTUESDAY, Feb. 24, 2009 (Health.com) — Attention, libation lovers: Middle-aged women who indulge in just a few alcohol-containing drinks each day may have a higher risk of cancer than those who drink less often, according to a report released Tuesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Although moderate drinking—considered one drink a day for women, two drinks a day for men—is thought to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke versus both teetotaling and heavy drinking, the study highlights that alcohol has risks as well, and those risks increase in tandem with intake.

In the Million Women Study, researchers in the United Kingdom found that middle-aged women who said they drank in moderation had a higher risk of liver, rectal, and breast cancer in the seven years after they completed the study’s questionnaire compared to women who said they drank less than two drinks per week. (The researchers didn’t compare drinkers to nondrinkers since some people stop consuming alcohol for health reasons or due to past problems with alcohol.)

Drinking was also linked to a risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, and larynx, but only in current smokers (not ex-smokers or never smokers.)

Compared to those who consumed only a drink or two a week, the cancer risk rose with each additional daily drink, and it was higher for those who consumed 15 or more drinks per week (or more than two drinks a day) than those who said they consumed between seven and 14 drinks per week (or between one and two drinks per day).

For example, breast cancer risk increased 12% and rectal cancer risk rose 10% with each daily drink, which would translate into 11 extra breast cancers per 1,000 women up to age 75 and one extra rectal cancer case per 1,000 women up to age 75. (The researchers estimate that 118 per 1,000 women in this age group develop the types of cancers included in the study.)

Next page: Wine is no better than beer or mixed drinks

Overall, nearly 13% of the UK’s cases of these types of cancer in women may be caused by alcohol, and the type—beer, wine, or mixed drinks—doesn’t seem to matter, the researchers conclude.

“The risk of cancer was similar in women who drank wine exclusively and in women who drank a mixture of alcoholic drinks,” says study author Naomi Allen, D.Phil, from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford. “This suggests that alcohol, rather than other substances contained in specific alcoholic beverages, is the most important factor in determining cancer risk.”

Breast cancer risk has long been known to be higher in drinkers, but beyond that, there’s has been little research done on alcohol and cancer in women, says Allen. Although it’s not clear how alcohol may increase cancer risk, Allen says, “there is evidence that moderate alcohol intake—at the levels studied here—increase circulating levels of sex hormones, which are known to be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.”

In the study, about 1.3 million women, with an average age of 55, who visited UK breast cancer screening clinics between 1996 to 2001 answered a variety of questions, including the type and frequency of alcohol consumption, smoking, body mass index, exercise, and use of oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy.

Next page: Were some women binge drinking?

Michael S. Lauer, MD, director of the Division of Prevention and Population Sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Md., notes that the study does have some limitations. “We have no way of knowing how much alcohol these women actually drank. We only know what they told us,” says Dr. Lauer, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. “This is an observational study, this is not an experiment.” In addition, it’s not clear how many of the women drank in moderation or were binge drinking.

Dr. Lauer notes that inherent limitations (the accuracy and pattern of alcohol consumption; the fact that the women were from breast cancer screening clinics) are factors in all studies of this type, but the large sample size of the Million Women group makes it unique. “I don’t think one study is enough to make major policy changes right now,” Dr. Lauer says, referring to recommendations on whether small amounts of alcohol are good or bad for health. “But this is a very well done study, and when policy is being made they are going to have to pay a lot of attention to this.”

Susan M. Gapstur, PhD, vice president of epidemiology for the American Cancer Society, says women who are concerned about both heart health and their risk of cancer risk should discuss the potential pros and cons with a health care provider.

“Researchers remain concerned about the pattern of consumption,” says Gapstur. “It is unclear, for example, whether someone who drinks several glasses of wine on one day during the week has the same risk as someone who drinks one glass of wine per day with a meal.”

The American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association currently recommend that if you do decide to drink, you should do so in moderation, meaning one drink (12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits) per day for women and two for men.

“Individuals that chose to drink should do so in moderation and because they like to, rather than expecting a health benefit,” says Gregg C. Fonarow, MD, codirector of the UCLA Preventative Cardiology Program. “The American Heart Association does not advocate consumption of alcohol of any type to reduce cardiovascular risk.”


Related Links:Are Alcohol’s Effects Different on an Airplane?Is Alcohol Actually Good for You? What’s Right and Wrong With DrinkingType 2 Diabetes and Alcohol: Proceed With CautionSneaky Ways to Just Say No to Alcohol

Red Wine No Better Than White Wine in Terms of Breast Cancer Risk

Istockphoto

By Anne HardingMONDAY, March 9, 2009 (Health.com) – Attention red wine drinkers: Drinking moderate amounts of any kind of alcohol (including wine, beer, and liquor) is associated with a slightly increased breast cancer risk—and the rosy-hued beverage is no exception. That’s the conclusion of a new study that dashes any hope that red wine is less likely than other alcohol-containing drinks to increase breast cancer risk, or that it might even protect against the disease.

“If a woman chooses red wine, she should do so because she likes the flavor, not because she thinks doing so will reduce her breast cancer risk,” said Polly A. Newcomb, PhD, of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, who led the research. “It might be good for other things, but it definitely is not conferring any protection against breast cancer.”

There’s good evidence showing that women who consume alcohol have a slightly greater risk of breast cancer than teetotalers, and the risk is higher with heavier drinking. But research in animals and some human studies had suggested that red wine might not carry the same risks as other forms of alcohol or could even be protective. This is certainly possible, Newcomb and her team noted in their report in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, because red wine contains more potentially beneficial plant chemicals, such as resveratrol, than white wine does.

To find out if this was true, the researchers looked at 6,327 women with breast cancer and 7,558 women who had never been diagnosed with the disease. Risk rose with the amount of alcohol consumed, no matter whether it was wine, beer or liquor. The heaviest drinkers—women who reported having 14 or more drinks a week—were 24 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than nondrinkers. In comparison, smoking may increase the risk of breast cancer by 32 percent, and having a close relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with the disease is associated with a 200 percent higher risk.

Next page: Lighter drinking potentially a problem too

Lighter drinkers who consumed about a drink or two a day (7 to 13.9 drinks per week) were 11 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than women who didn’t drink at all, but there was no greater breast cancer risk when alcohol intake was less than four drinks per week. And neither white wine nor red wine drinkers had a lower risk of breast cancer than nondrinkers, Newcomb and her colleagues found.

“It really looks as if the pattern is far more important than the beverage,” said Arthur Klatsky, MD, an adjunct investigator with Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s research division who has long studied the relationship between alcohol and health. In a large study released in December, Dr. Klatsky and his colleagues also found a steady rise in breast cancer risk with alcohol consumption, with no difference in risk between wine, beer, or liquor.

While Dr. Klatsky said he thinks having three or four drinks a week seems unlikely to increase breast cancer risk, he added that there also doesn’t appear to be any “threshold effect,” meaning a minimum level of consumption that’s entirely safe.

“The findings from this study do show that alcohol itself is important, and there doesn’t seem to be a strong difference between the types of drinks you consume,” said Naomi Allen, D.Phil., a cancer epidemiologist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Allen and her colleagues are following 1.2 million UK women 50 and older participating in the Million Women Study. This month, they are reporting findings that echo those of Dr. Klatsky and Newcomb and their colleagues: moderate to heavy drinking boosted risk of breast cancer, with the same risks seen for women who drank wine and those who drank other types of alcohol.

“The message is pretty simple,” Allen said. “Moderate drinking increases breast cancer risk, and it seems that the more you drink the higher the risk.”

There are a handful of things women can do to modify breast cancer risk, Newcomb noted, including maintaining a healthy weight and not using hormone replacement therapy. And alcohol consumption looks like another breast cancer risk factor that’s under women’s control, she added.

“We found that recent alcohol consumption was very relevant in terms of determining breast cancer risk, so reducing alcohol consumption or eliminating it probably is going to impact upon a woman’s future risk of the disease,” Newcomb said. “This is something that you can do today to reduce your future risk.”


Related Links:5 Simple Ways to Cut Your Breast Cancer RiskFor Even Healthy Men, Alcohol Seems to Lower Heart Attack Risk10 Celebrities Who Battled Breast Cancer3 Ways Breast Cancer Can Screw Up Your Sex Life

3 Ways to Cut Liquid Calories and Lose Weight

By Shaun ChavisFollow me on twitterSo long lattes, farewell soda. My doc recently told me to eliminate caffeine just as cool brew iced tea became my favorite way to hydrate. Drat! The silver lining? I was forced to examine my drinking habits.

How many calories have you had to drink today? Can’t remember? You’re not alone. Many Americans don’t think about it, and new research from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine suggests we should.

The weight-loss effect from cutting liquid calories was stronger than the weight-loss effect of cutting solid food calories, according to the study published in the April issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The average American now drinks as many as 300 liquid calories daily.Istockphoto

It’s not hard to see how drink calories can pile up in a day: A 12-ounce skim latte from a coffee shop (about 100 calories), a soda to shake off the afternoon slump (about 145 calories), and a glass of Pinot Noir with dinner (121 calories) add up to 366 calories―a lot extra if you haven’t planned for them. And, about that afternoon soda: If you choose a diet drink instead, it’ll save you calories, but diet sodas are controversial when it comes to weight loss. Some research suggests artificial sweeteners may make you gain.

Here’s the flip side: You’ve still gotta drink something. Staying hydrated is important for your health (because of my personal experience, I’m mindful that dehydration can contribute to blood clots). We’ve all heard the eight 8-ounce glasses of water advice. But if you grew up as a Kool-Aid kid, like me, then you understand why a glass of cold, filtered water a few inches past the delete key is just not that appealing. I’ve got a thirst for flavor, even though my tastes have matured beyond Mountain Berry Punch.

I’ve learned that good taste is hard to find—without unwanted calories. A squirt of lemon? Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s just played out. Flavored water―with or without sugar substitutes―can be pricey if you’re trying to drink 64 ounces a day. And I’ve yet to try one that’s tasty enough to sip regularly. I’ve got a few cheap tricks, but honestly, I could use more ideas. Here are my suggestions―leave me a comment with yours!

Tea time: I keep cool brew iced tea at work and put a bag in my glass of water. The flavor and aroma are enough to help me chug-a-lug, calorie free. Now I need to find a decaf variety, doc’s orders.

Go natural: Step beyond the squirt of lemon and make your own flavored citrus water, taken from the Four Seasons in Atlanta. In a large pitcher, combine a gallon of water with two sliced lemons and a sliced orange, and chill for 1-2 hours. Strain out the fruit after two hours. Cucumber and mint make a delicious combination, too.

Low-cal cocktails: Looking for a guilt-free alcoholic drink? Check out our April issue for the scoop on shochu, a Japanese distilled liquor that has only 26 calories a shot. The 100-calorie shochu, lemon, and berry cocktail tastes awesome if you swap the red raspberries for blackberries or black raspberries. And it’s not a bad calorie count when you consider other alcoholic drinks.

Fighting Alcoholism With a Pill, Building a Better Burrito, and the Tummy Tuck Tax

Wikipedia’s latest enemy? Shrinks. In June, 10 Rorschach prints were posted on the site, as well as some popular responses to the common psychological test. Since then, doctors have been angrily debating the right to publish the reproductions, claiming they are a cheat sheet for therapy patients. [New York Times]

Fast-food burritos are just about big enough—and often have enough calories—to feed a small family. But that doesn’t mean we’re not tempted! To indulge in Mexican grub a little more wisely, we plan on following these tips for building a better burrito. [FitSugar]

Researchers are testing a new way to fight alcohol addiction. Instead of 12 steps, there’s only one: Swallow. A pill called baclofen, currently approved to treat muscle spasms, seems to have anti-craving side effects that are powerful enough to sway even the heaviest of drinkers away from the bottle. [Time]

Breast cancer can be an emotional roller coaster, and patients often express their feelings through activities like writing or art. Choreographer Tyce Diorio put that technique to work when he created this tribute to one woman’s journey with the disease for the reality TV show So You Think You Can Dance. [Huffington Post]

Americans spent almost $11.8 billion on tummy tucks, nose jobs, and face-lifts in 2008. It’s no wonder then that the Senate may try to cash in on cosmetic surgery. Adding a 10% tax to medically unnecessary procedures could help finance the $1 trillion price tag on Obama’s health-care plan. [CongressDaily]


Previous news from Around the Web:

Women Get Prettier, Teen Overdoses on Nicotine Gum, and What Wine Has in Common With Toilet CleanerTooth Implants That Increase Libido, Denny’s Sued Over Salt, and the Health Risks of DivorceHot Dog Warning Labels, Eating Your Hydration, and When Marriage Is As Scary As Sharks

Why Taken Guys Really Are The Best, 5 Harmful Natural Supplements, and a Shocking New Cure for Cellulite

We know lots of reasons why we’re tossing and turning, and we do our best to make falling asleep as easy as possible. One technique: Lay off the booze before bedtime. Too much alcohol before bed can wreak havoc on your z’s. Doesn’t seem like a big surprise, right? And yet more than half of drinkers are unaware of these effects. [BBC]

When it comes to the little blue pill’s healing powers, we thought we’d heard it all, from lagging female libidos to bodybuilding to heart damage. But a new study suggests that Viagra may be a possible cure for cellulite. [NeverSayDiet.com]

We’ve all heard it plenty of times before: Guys are like parking spaces—the best ones are always taken. A new study supports this age-old female complaint. Researchers found that women are much more interested in pursuing a relationship with a guy who’s already attached than with a bachelor. [New Scientist]

Like many of our favorite things, exercise is best in moderation. Overdoing it can actually be addictive, studies show, much the same way that drugs can. Scientists think that if addiction to exercise triggers similar reactions, then maybe addicts could exercise instead of taking drugs. [Science Daily]

Alternative medicine practices are generally very safe, but it is still important to follow directions as to how to take a supplement safely and correctly. Here, five herbs and vitamins that may actually hurt your health. [CNN]


Previous news from Around the Web:Women Addicted to Pregnancy, How Photos of Cake Keep You Slim, and Why Your Dog Could Give You Food PoisoningWhy Our Brains Love Twitter, the 7 Worst Habits of Runners, and Disney’s New Autistic Role ModelWoman Pregnant With 12 Babies, High-Protein Snacks on the Cheap, and How to Give Yourself a Great Massage

Study: Women Who Drink Are Less Likely to Gain Weight

(Getty Images)

By Anne Harding

MONDAY, March 8, 2010 (Health.com) — Some women avoid drinking calorie-filled cocktails, wine, and beer because they’re worried about packing on the pounds. Now, a new study suggests that women who are moderate drinkers actually tend to gain less weight over time than teetotalers.

The risk of becoming overweight or obese falls as alcohol consumption rises, even when factors such as smoking, fruit and vegetable consumption, and physical activity are taken into account, the study found.

Women who consumed between 1.5 and 3 drinks daily had a 27% and 61% lower risk of becoming overweight or obese, respectively, than women who didn’t drink at all, according to the study, which was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

However, the researchers did not look at how the participants’ drinking may have affected their lives besides weight gain. Alcohol use can lead to health problems and “psychosocial problems,” they point out, and they caution that appropriate alcohol intake differs for each individual and depends on a range of factors.

In addition to potentially causing problems at work and with relationships, daily alcohol consumption has a number of health risks, including a small increase in the risk of breast cancer. Experts recommend that women drink no more than one alcoholic beverage a day, and that men limit themselves to two.

Related links:

Is Alcohol Good for You?

Cocktails Under 220 Calories

6 Reasons Why a Little Glass of Wine Each Day May Do You Good

And if you don’t drink, experts say, these findings shouldn’t inspire you to start hitting the bottle. “It won’t change recommendations for my patients, I can say that for certain,” says Scott Kahan, MD, the co-director of the George Washington University Weight Management Program, in Washington, D.C. “If you don’t drink, there’s no reason to start.”

But, he adds, “I think [the study] suggests that there’s no need to quit or avoid alcohol if it’s something you enjoy.”

In the study, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, surveyed 19,220 healthy, normal-weight women about their diet and drinking habits. Nearly 40% of the women didn’t drink at all, and a very small number—just 3%—consumed more than about 2.5 drinks a day. Over the 13-year study period, 4 out of 10 women became overweight or obese.

The women who drank cut down on their calorie intake from food, especially carbohydrates, the study showed. However, total calorie intake did inch up as alcohol consumption increased; women who drank at least 2.5 drinks a day averaged about 1,800 calories a day, compared to 1,670 for teetotalers.

Next page: Calories from food and booze may not be equal

R. Curtis Ellison, MD, the director of the Institute on Lifestyle and Health at the Boston University School of Medicine, says this study is the strongest evidence to date that calories from food and booze are not created equal.

“Many other studies that are not nearly as well done or as large as this suggest that calories from alcohol are metabolized differently,” Dr. Ellison says. “The alcohol calories probably don’t count as much as calories from a Hershey’s bar.”

Dr. Kahan says that the findings challenge the conventional wisdom about calories from alcohol. “The way that the body handles those calories very possibly might be very different from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins,” he says. “It makes you wonder if we’ve been thinking about alcohol as a nutrient a little bit incorrectly.”

One drawback of the study, Dr. Kahan adds, is that the researchers did not examine how alcohol consumption might influence weight gain in women who are already overweight or obese.

Another limitation, according to Dr. Ellison, is that the study contains no information on the role a woman’s drinking patterns might have played—whether, for instance, a glass of wine each day had a different effect than downing several drinks once or twice a week.

Although recovering alcoholics and people with uncontrolled epilepsy shouldn’t drink, Dr. Ellison says, moderate alcohol consumption can have health benefits for people middle-aged and older, especially when it comes to heart health and stroke risk.

For most women, he adds, these benefits will outweigh the small increase in breast cancer risk associated with alcohol consumption. “I am someone who’s a strong believer that substances in wine are helpful,” he says.