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Alcohol research finds women need to drink accordingly

Sometimes I hate being a girl, especially if you’re a girl who enjoys the occasional cocktail.

We all know drinking can have unintended consequences, but it turns out that imbibing poses more risks for us than it does the guys. When women drink, they become intoxicated more quickly than men do, and the alcohol causes more damage.

I always figured that was because women tend to be smaller than men, but the story is more complex, says Sharon Wilsnack, a professor of neuroscience at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine whose research includes a 20-year study of women and alcohol.

There are two things at work, Wilsnack says. The first is an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase that processes alcohol in our stomachs. We don’t have as much of that as the guys do, so more alcohol passes into our bloodstream.

The second factor is water, which dilutes that alcohol once it is in our system. Women’s bodies contain less water than men’s do, partly because we’re smaller, but also because we have more fatty tissue, which doesn’t have as much water as muscle.

So, even if a woman is exactly the same size as the guy she’s with, if she consumes the same number of drinks he does, she’s likely to get drunker.

“Women have lower body weight, less body water and less of the enzyme that breaks alcohol down,” Wilsnack says. “So they have significantly higher alcohol concentrations in the blood, and that’s going to the brain, liver, heart and other organs.”

That’s why moderate drinking is defined as one a day for women, compared to two for men. The federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines one drink as 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits, 12 ounces of regular beer or 5 ounces of wine.

About 60 percent of American women drink, and 13 percent of those exceed the one-a-day recommendation, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. About 5.3 million women drink “in a way that threatens their health, safety and general well-being,” the institute says.

Wow.

Women who drink, especially those who drink heavily, are at greater risk for all sorts of things. Liver disease comes to mind, but also some forms of cancer. According to the alcoholism institute, as little as one drink a day can slightly raise your risk of breast cancer, especially if you’re postmenopausal or have a family history. Moderate drinking has been shown to help lower the risk of coronary heart disease, especially in women older than 55, but long-term, heavy drinking is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease, the institute says.

Because alcohol impairs your judgment, it also puts women at greater risk for drunken driving, violence and sexual assault, among other things. Some researchers also say women are more likely to become addicted than men.

And then there’s the whole mommy thing. Heavy drinking can impair fertility, and drinking while pregnant can cause a whole range of birth defects that fall under the diagnostic umbrella of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Nursing mothers should also be cautious, because alcohol does pass into breast milk.

So what’s a gal to do?

For one thing, don’t try to keep up with the boys, says Natalie Bovis-Nelsen, a spirits expert and author of “Preggatinis” (GPP Life, 2008). Don’t be taken in by movies and celebrities that glamorize excessive drinking, and watch out for oversized cocktails and bottle service that requires the purchase of whole bottles of spirits.

“We can enjoy the glamour of cocktail culture, but in moderation and in keeping with what we know about health, fitness and overall well-being in the modern world,” Bovis-Nelson says. For her part, she alternates cocktails with nonalcoholic drinks on her nights out and makes marathon training a part of her weekly routine.

Knowing yourself is also important, Wilsnack says. Are you at risk for breast cancer? Heart disease? Alcoholism? Trying to get pregnant? Planning to drive home? Then drink, or don’t drink, accordingly.

In other words, think before you drink, and then pay attention to what and how much you’re consuming. Skipping the next round might just save your life.

source: Kansas City

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