Women More Prone than Men to Heavy Drinking Health Risks

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Although alcoholism is more common in men, female heavy drinkers face more serious health risks compared to males. So says a review of worldwide alcohol consumption research conducted by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences. Alcoholism is a major global issue that leads to about 2.5 million deaths per year. The review, published in the Journal of Women’s Health, looked at data from 24 previous studies from Asia, Europe, Australia, and the U.S., involving almost 2.5 million participants with follow-ups ranging from 4 to 23 years.

The prevalence of drinking was higher among men in each study analyzed, and, in general, Europeans and Americans drink more than Asians.

Research shows that worldwide, 6.2 percent of all male deaths were attributable to alcohol, compared to 1.1 percent of female deaths. The problem is that among heavy drinkers, women have a 7 percent higher risk of death than men.

The discrepancy is attributed to biological differences between men and women. The differences include:

  • slower alcohol metabolism, resulting in more alcohol being absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • lower total body water content and less dilution of alcohol, resulting in blood alcohol levels as much as 30 percent higher than men.
  • a higher generation of alcohol-related compounds by the body that are toxic to the liver.

 My Viewpoint: Women generally tend to drink less than men, but those who do drink regularly and heavily need to know they are more vulnerable than their male drinking counterparts. Because of physical differences, women’s bodies process alcohol somewhat differently than men’s, and this can lead to more damage. Over the years, I noticed that many of my female patients who were drinkers tended to underestimate the amount of alcohol they consumed and they also seemed to develop more complications, something that the research suggests.

 What This Means to You: Anyone, male or female, needs to be aware that drinking too much can be destructive to the body. Drinking more than one or two drinks a day increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart failure, obesity, diabetes, stroke, and damage to the liver. The risk of breast cancer, suicide, and accidents also goes up.

 Recommendation: Moderation is the name of the game, especially for women. If you like to drink, my recommendation to patients has been a glass of wine four to six times a week. Don’t increase. That goes for any kind of alcohol.

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