The majority of the risks and benefits of alcohol consumption relate to women and men alike. However, on average, most women respond to alcohol faster than men because their bodies react to alcohol differently. Also, excessive drinking may be more risky for women than for men; one example is an increased risk to their personal safety.
A woman’s body is different than a man’s. The following factors may contribute to gender-related differences in how much alcohol reaches the bloodstream, known as Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC).
- The average female body has 10% more fat cells than the average male body. Body fat contains little water and alcohol is absorbed by water in the body’s tissues before it reaches the bloodstream
- Women produce less of a certain enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the stomach
- Because of their smaller size, women have less blood to dilute the alcohol once it reaches the bloodstream
It is impossible to predict exactly how any individual will respond to alcohol because every person and every situation are unique (ex. height, weight, amount and timing of food intake, genetics, medications, health status, etc).
However, as a woman you may be exposed to greater health risks if you drink as much as a man. That is why government guidelines recommend lower ‘moderate drinking’ levels for women than for men. Women should never try to match a man drink for drink.
Pregnant women should either not drink alcohol or seek medical advice before doing so. There is currently no consensus on how much alcohol is safe for a pregnant woman to consume before causing risk to the fetus.
Women who are breastfeeding should be cautious about drinking alcohol, if they drink alcohol at all. According to the United States Dietary Guidelines (2010), if the infant’s breastfeeding behavior is well established and the child is at least three months of age, a mother may have a single alcohol drink if she waits at least four hours before breastfeeding. An alternative is to express breast milk before consuming the drink and feed the expressed milk to the infant later.
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