Drinking alcohol in moderation probably has some benefits – mostly cardiovascular – but there are also many problems with excessive alcohol consumption.

One question, however, is trying to determine just what is a safe and reasonable level of consumption and how much is too much.

In the January 2013 issue of ACP Internist, this question is answered very clearly, and additional information is instructive.

The definition of one drink was given as one 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of either red or white wine or 1½ ounces of 80-proof spirits.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends three or fewer drinks per day for women and anyone over the age of 65 years and less than 7 drinks per week for that group.

They also recommend fewer than four drink per day and fewer than 14 drinks per week for men under the age of 65 years.

Women should drink less because they produce smaller amounts of an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol.

The American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society each recommend no more than one drink per day for women and two or less for men.

The benefits “seem limited to the cardiovascular system for those over the age of 50 if they do not exceed the recommended number of servings per week.”

However the risks include breast cancer in women, liver disease, several other types of cancer, stroke, hypertension, osteoporosis, atrial fibrillation and, of course, behavioral problems.

It has been reported that 30 percent of Americans misuse alcohol.

There was a decreased incidence of myocardial infarction in those who drank alcohol as compared to abstainers, but binge drinking was associated with increased cardiovascular risks.

Sudden cardiovascular death was 36 percent lower in women who drank one half to one drinks per day when compared to abstainers.

There is no data to suggest that alcohol consumption prevents cancer, and in those who consume three or more drinks daily there was an increase in all site cancer mortality for men and women.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans, and at least one million die each year.

Alcohol possesses “empty calories” yet seems to help lower LDL or “bad cholesterol” and raise HDL or “good cholesterol.”

Moderate drinkers are less likely to suffer from some forms of dementia, arthritis, type two diabetes and several forms of cancer.

Moderate drinkers tend to live longer than abstainers and those who drink excessively.

So remember, moderate means less than seven drinks per week for women and less than 14 per week for men.

So “To Your Health,” but in moderation, of course.

David Keisler is a gastroenterologist and internist in Aiken.