Summer is here, and so are all those occasions to imbibe that come with warmer weather (40% of all the beer sold in the U.S. is consumed from May to August). A new study, however, may give summertime revelers--especially women--a reason to pay attention not just to how much they drink but also to how and when they drink.
Researchers have known for some time that alcohol consumption can increase a premenopausal woman's risk of someday developing breast cancer. But a new study by researchers at the University at Buffalo suggests that a woman's drinking patterns may be as important as how much alcohol she consumes. A woman who regularly has three or four drinks one night a week appears to have an 80% higher risk of breast cancer than a woman who has three or four drinks over the course of a week. "It could be that the higher alcohol load at one time taxes the body's ability to handle alcohol's potentially toxic effects," says Buffalo epidemiologist Jo Freudenheim.
A study by another Buffalo research team found a similar relationship between drinking patterns and potential liver damage. When researchers analyzed levels of certain liver enzymes that become elevated in response to alcohol, they found that men who drink daily have the highest levels of the telltale enzymes but that enzyme levels in women are highest among those who drink only on weekends. Another gender difference: women who drink on an empty stomach have higher enzyme levels than women who drink and eat. (For men, it doesn't much matter if or when they eat.)
It isn't clear why drinking patterns seem to have a greater impact on women; researchers caution that their results are still preliminary. But common sense suggests that for those who choose to drink this summer, moderation may be in order.