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The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women

Other Factors That Affect Heart Disease

Recent research suggests that moderate drinkers are less likely to develop heart disease than people who don't drink any alcohol or who drink too much. Small amounts of alcohol may help protect against heart disease by raising levels of HDL "good" cholesterol.

If you are a nondrinker, this is not a recommendation to start using alcohol. Recent studies show that alcohol use increases the risk of breast cancer. And, certainly, if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or have another health condition that could make alcohol use harmful, you should not drink. Otherwise, if you're already a moderate drinker, you may be less likely to have a heart attack.

It is important, though, to weigh benefits against risks. Talk with your doctor about your personal risks of breast cancer, heart disease, and other health conditions that may be affected by drinking alcohol. With the help of your doctor, decide whether moderate drinking to lower heart attack risk outweighs the possible increased risk of breast cancer or other medical problems.

If you do decide to use alcohol, remember that moderation is the key. Heavy drinking causes many heart-related problems. More than three drinks per day can raise blood pressure and triglyceride levels, while binge drinking can contribute to stroke. Too much alcohol also can damage the heart muscle, leading to heart failure. Overall, people who drink heavily on a regular basis have higher rates of heart disease than either moderate drinkers or nondrinkers.


For women, moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink per day, according to the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans." Count the following as one drink:

  • 12 ounces of beer (150 calories)

  • 5 ounces of wine (100 calories)

  • 1½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (100 calories)

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Last Updated: February 29, 2012

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