Ask Dr. H: The limits for alcohol intake

Posted: May 23, 2011

Question: I know that drinking alcohol in moderation can be a good thing, but what would you consider to be the ideal quantity?

Answer: The American Heart Association recently posed that question to 1,000 American adults and found that while 76 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement that wine (not other forms of alcohol) can be good for the heart, only 30 percent knew the American Heart Association's recommended limits for daily wine consumption - no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink a day for women. What defines a drink? Four ounces of wine, one 12-ounce beer, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits, or one ounce of 100-proof spirits.

According to a recent Gallup poll, the average American male consumes 6.6 drinks per week and the average American female consumes 2.9 drinks per week. This varies depending upon which part of the country you're from. For example, folks in the South drink up to 25 percent less than folks in other parts of the country.

Drinking too much alcohol can raise triglyceride levels and blood pressure and contribute to obesity and a higher risk of diabetes.

Excessive drinking can increase the risk of stroke. Drinking also increases the risk of accidents through intoxication. In 2000, alcohol was labeled as a carcinogen, linked to throat and esophageal cancer.

Even a drink a day can increase a woman's chance of developing breast cancer.

If you are drinking wine primarily for its health benefits, those same antioxidants can be found in good-quality grape juice like Welch's.

There is work on a cure for macular degeneration

Q: Is there any new research into an eventual cure for the lost sight caused by macular degeneration of aging?

A: Yes, there is. Researchers from the Schepens Eye Research Institute, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, are the first to regenerate large areas of damaged retina and improve sight using a novel approach of inducing skin cells to transform into multipurpose stem cells and subsequently into retinal nerve cells. This may one day restore sight to those with macular degeneration, plus other retinal diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and retinitis pigmentosa.

Like embryonic stem cells, these stem cells derived from skin cells have the potential to be transformed into any number of tissues throughout the body - not just retinal tissue. However, these stem cells lack the ethical and political issues of embryonic stem cells because they are not derived from fetal tissue.

Although this research is in its early stages (it has been studied only in lab mice to date), this form of stem cell regeneration holds enormous promise in the restoration of lost sight caused by any number of medical conditions. Also, this technology of skin cell-derived stem cells may one day be applied to organ and limb regeneration.


Mitchell Hecht specializes in internal medicine. Send mail to him at: "Ask Dr. H.," Box 767787, Atlanta, Ga. 30076.

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