DEAR DR. ROACH: I have read about the benefits of having a glass of wine per day for women, or two glasses for men. Can you please tell me how your health will be affected if you have more? My husband often drinks a bottle of wine a night, and if we go out he will have cocktails as well.
A: I wish nobody had ever said that a glass of wine a day is healthy. It may be true, but experts disagree.
It is true that people who drink moderately, at or below the one or two drinks level you reference, have decreased risk for some conditions compared with nondrinkers. This includes coronary artery disease, the kind of heart disease that leads to heart attacks. But it's not clear that it is the wine that is doing it. It could be that moderate drinkers have other good health behavior responsible for the better outcomes seen. The definitive study, a blinded, randomized, controlled trial, can't be done. Too many people with problem drinking justify their behavior by saying small amounts of alcohol are beneficial.
What is clear is that excess alcohol, above the level you mentioned, can cause many health problems. I can't even summarize all the potential health harms in an entire column, but some of the most important include heart rhythm problems, such as atrial fibrillation; heart failure; bone marrow suppression; liver disease; neurological and psychiatric illness, including dementia, anxiety and depression; high blood pressure; increased risk for some infections and several cancers, including breast cancer in women and esophageal cancer in both men and women; trauma; and motor vehicle accidents.
A bottle of wine a day is about five standard drinks. Cocktails on top, of course, are even more. That level of alcohol increases your husband's risk of dying from any cause by something like 20%.
If you enjoy your glass of wine, drink in moderation, but I do not recommend drinking alcohol for any health benefit.