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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diet and Nutrition > Alcohol
      Category : Health Centers > Alcoholism


Alternate Names : ETOH

Overview & Description | Functions and Sources

Alcohol is a class of chemical compounds containing hydroxyl, also called oxygen-hydrogen, groups.


Each person's body tolerates alcohol in its own way. What is moderate intake for one person may be too much for someone else. So it is hard to give advice on how much alcohol is safe to drink. Each person needs to know how much alcohol he or she can tolerate. The US Department of Health and Human Services defines moderate drinking as:

  • no more than 2 drinks per day for an average healthy man
  • no more than 1 drink per day for an average healthy woman
  • In small doses, alcohol may have some benefits. Small amounts of wine may help protect against heart disease, especially coronary artery disease. Experts aren't sure why, although there are many theories. They believe that phytochemicals, which are plant chemicals in wine, may protect the heart and its blood vessels. Some studies have tested how well alcohol raises HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is the so-called good cholesterol. Other studies have looked at the blood-thinning properties of alcohol.

    Despite these benefits, alcohol has a more harmful effect when it comes to cancer. In fact, heavy drinking is linked with a number of cancers. In women, even moderate drinking is linked with a higher risk of breast cancer.

    Women who are pregnant should always avoid alcohol. Drinking during pregnancy increases the chance that the baby will have a low birth weight and fetal alcohol syndrome, which is also known as FAS. FAS results in poor growth, delays in development, and altered facial structure.

    People have enjoyed wine, beer, and other fermented drinks for more than 5,000 years. Many people like alcohol because it can improve mood, sensation, and behavior. And most people use alcohol in moderation. However, about 1 in 9 who drinks will abuse alcohol.


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    Alcohol: Functions and Sources

    Author: Clare Armstrong, MS, RD
    Reviewer: Kathleen A. MacNaughton, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 09/30/02

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