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Originally published Monday, March 11, 2013 at 4:30 AM

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Two glasses of wine for women is one too many

Women metabolize alcohol differently than men, so — fair or not — they should drink less. And that includes wine.

Special to The Seattle Times

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On Health

You put in a full day of work at the office or at home, eat dinner, put your feet up, and have a glass or two to unwind. OK, if you really think about it, maybe you also had a glass worth of sips while cooking your meal.

What could be wrong with that?

Aside from the fact that the number of calories in two five-ounce glasses of red wine is equivalent to those in a single Snickers bar, if you’ve had two drinks, you are already drinking more than you should ... for a woman. I’ll be the first to have my feathers ruffled when someone tells me I can’t do what the guys do, but in the case of alcohol use, it really is true.

Moderate drinking is defined as one alcoholic drink (12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor) a day for women and two for men. Why the difference? Women metabolize alcohol differently and are generally smaller than men, so they feel the effects faster.

Many women I see in my clinic for the first time are not even aware that they engage in binge drinking, which is consuming four or more alcoholic drinks in a two- to three-hour period. Often done in the company of friends, drinking like this from time to time may seem harmless, but it increases the likelihood of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, getting pregnant, or getting into an accident due to intoxication. Blacking out and not remembering what happened between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.? That’s a dangerous predicament.

Young adults are not the only ones engaging in binge drinking. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this behavior is also more likely in women with household incomes of $75,000 or more.

Hard liquor and beer have taken the heat for bad behavior and adverse health consequences. But wine is not necessarily innocuous. And with excessive drinking portrayed on reality TV shows and the U.S. leading the world in wine consumption, this drink is not to be overlooked.

Drinking heavily on a regular basis can cause liver damage (cirrhosis) and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. But even light drinking has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, according to a recent publication in the Annals of Oncology. In fact, your doctor may recommend avoiding alcohol altogether if you have a strong family history of breast cancer.

There are other, lesser known effects of alcohol worth mentioning. Alcohol can raise your body temperature, causing (or worsening) hot flashes. Irritability, mood changes and depression can be worsened or caused by alcohol use, as well. And if you’ve ever found yourself waking up every night around 2 a.m., your evening drink could be the culprit. Alcohol prevents you from getting into the deeper stages of sleep, so you are more likely to wake up in the middle of the night, even though you feel sleepier initially.

In short, put your feet up, have a drink and relax. But try to keep it to just one. Cheers to good health.

Linda Pourmassina, MD, is an Internal Medicine physician who practices at The Polyclinic in Seattle. She authors a blog at pulsus.wordpress.com and can also be found on Facebook and on Twitter (@LindaP_MD).

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