Health Q&A: Why Do Alcohol Intake Limit Recommendations Differ by Gender?

Oct 4, 2007

Q: You always hear that men can have two drinks per day and women can only have one. Why is that?

A: Dr. Tim Naimi, a researcher for the Center for Disease Control responds:

"These recommendations come from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, put out jointly by the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. The evidence for [specific limits] comes from a combination of many studies over the years which show when men drink more than two drinks, or women drink more than one drink a day [ed: defined as 4 to 5 ounces per serving of wine], that their risk of disease and death starts to increase.

"There are strong sex-specific differences in the way that alcohol affects women versus men. Part of it has to do with the fact that on average, women weigh less, but also women have less alcohol dehydrogenase per unit of body mass. Alcohol dehydrogenase is an enzyme that metabolizes ethanol. Even if you take a comparably sized woman and man, women will metabolize alcohol more slowly, which means they have a greater cumulative exposure to alcohol.

"The key point about these dietary recommendations of two drinks for men and one for women is that they are for people who choose to drink alcohol. [The guidelines] do not recommend that people start drinking alcohol for their health."

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Health Q & A

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