Women are more sensitive to alcohol than men

DOSSIERS
Moderate drinking reduces the risk of heart and circulatory disease Moderate beer drinking is good for the heart and blood vessels
How much should you drink for the maximum protective effect?
How is this protective effect explained?
More scientific research required
Discussion of the threshold value
Women are more sensitive to alcohol than men
Age and alcohol consumption
Beer, wine or spirits?
Good news for diabetics

The quantity of alcohol that still has a beneficial effect on health differs according to age, gender and underlying disorders. Women, for example, are more sensitive to alcohol and become risk drinkers more quickly. Thus the World Health Organisation places the threshold at 21 drinks a week for men and at 14 per week for women. These thresholds are probably artificial and do not take account of individual differences nor the condition to be prevented .

This male/female difference influences the protective effect of alcohol on heart and circulatory disease and mortality by heart and circulatory disease. On the one hand, women already have a lower risk of heart and circulatory disease than men (thanks to the protective influence of the female hormone oestrogen), but on the other hand the alcohol concentration in the blood increases more quickly in women than in men when drinking the same quantity. In addition, it also has to be remembered that alcohol can increase the risk of breast cancer which somewhat offsets the effect on heart and circulatory disease with women.

A large scale prospective study in which more than 85,000 women between 34 and 59 participated, and where the above female specific factors were taken into account, showed that when consuming one to three alcoholic drinks a day the risk of heart and circulatory disease and the mortality through heart and circulatory disease was significantly reduced among women as well. The favourable effect on survival is most pronounced in women over 50 and in women who already have a high risk of heart and circulatory disease as a result of other risk factors such as smoking, obesity, too high a cholesterol level, etc. As soon as women drink more, their mortality risk increases as a result of diseases such as breast cancer.
(N Engl J Med 1995;332:1245-50; copy in appendix).

 

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