updated 5/24/2004 7:20:27 PM ET 2004-05-24T23:20:27

Cheers! A drink or two on a regular basis helps your overall physical and mental health, new research shows. Women seem to benefit the most from moderate amounts of drinking.

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It's an issue that's not been well understood, writes lead researcher Carla A. Green, Ph.D., MPH, with Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research.

Many studies have examined the health problems caused by binge drinking or heavy drinking. Other research has found that light to moderate drinking appears to protect physical and mental health. But researchers say that differences in the metabolism of alcohol and body composition between the men and women may lead to sex-specific consequences. For example, studies have shown that postmenopausal women who drink lightly have greater breast cancer risk when compared with abstainers.

Does drinking alcohol affect men and women differently? Just how much is OK? Green's study investigating these issues appears in the latest issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

She and her colleagues surveyed 3,069 men and 2,600 women about their drinking patterns and their overall physical and mental health.

They found:

  • Light to moderate drinking -- and doing it more frequently -- was associated with better general health, physical function, and mental health for both men and women.
  • The beneficial effects of drinking alcohol for general health and physical function were stronger for women than for men.
  • The beneficial effects for emotional well-being were the same for men and women.

She defines light to moderate drinking as one to two drinks per occasion, two or more times per week.

"The main effects of gender on health were the strongest among abstainers," Green writes. "It is possible that this reflects greater likelihood that women will avoid or stop drinking in response to health concerns than men."

Green says her results do provide greater understanding of the link between drinking alcohol and its effects on health in the general population. They conclude that women's health may benefit more from moderate drinking than men's.

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