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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Can alcohol benefit your health? It depends on how much you drink.

You've likely heard to drink in moderation, but what does that mean? And why is moderation important?

Moderate alcohol use seems to offer some health benefits, particularly for the heart. But too much alcohol raises the stakes, putting you at risk of adverse health consequences.

Whether you drink is up to you and your doctor. But here are some points on alcohol consumption to consider.
Benefits of moderation

Moderate drinking is defined as two drinks a day if you're a male 65 and younger, or one drink a day if you're a female or a male 66 and older. A drink is defined as 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of beer, 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine or 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 80-proof distilled spirits.

Moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits. It may:

Reduce your risk of developing heart disease, peripheral vascular disease and intermittent claudication
Reduce your risk of dying of a heart attack
Possibly reduce your risk of strokes, particularly ischemic strokes
Lower your risk of gallstones
Possibly reduce your risk of diabetes

Risks of excessive drinking

Though moderate alcohol use seems to have some health benefits, anything more than moderate drinking can negate any potential benefits. Be cautious because excessive alcohol consumption can lead to serious health problems, including:

Cancer of the pancreas, mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus and liver, as well as breast cancer
Pancreatitis, especially in people with high levels of triglycerides in their blood
Sudden death in people with cardiovascular disease
Heart muscle damage (alcoholic cardiomyopathy) leading to heart failure
High blood pressure
Cirrhosis of the liver
Fetal alcohol syndrome in an unborn child, including impaired growth and nervous system development
Injuries due to impaired motor skills

Who shouldn't drink alcohol?

People with certain health conditions shouldn't drink any alcohol, as even small amounts could cause problems. Don't drink alcohol if you have:

A history of hemorrhagic stroke
Liver disease
Pancreatic disease
Evidence of precancerous changes in the esophagus, larynx, pharynx or mouth

If you have a family history of alcoholism, be particularly cautious when it comes to drinking, as you're at higher risk of alcoholism. And if you're pregnant, avoid alcohol entirely because of the health risks for your unborn baby.

Also, alcohol interacts with many common prescription and over-the-counter medications. Check with your doctor if you take:

Diabetes medications
Anti-seizure medications
Beta blockers
Pain relievers
Sleeping pills

If you combine alcohol with aspirin, you face an increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. And if you use alcohol and acetaminophen, you increase your risk of liver damage. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration requires all over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers to carry a warning label advising those who consume three or more drinks a day to consult with their doctors before using the drug.
Drink in moderation — or not at all

Above all, don't feel pressured to drink. Few medical experts, if any, advise nondrinkers to start drinking. But if you do drink and you're healthy, there's no need to stop as long as you drink responsibly and in moderation

Pumping milk while you're away from your baby can help you continue breast-feeding for as long as possible. Here's help maintaining your milk supply.

Breast-feeding is based on supply and demand. The more you breast-feed your baby, the more milk your breasts will produce. The same goes for pumping milk while you're away from your baby.
Tips for pumping success

Pumping milk while you're away from your baby can help you continue breast-feeding for as long as possible. Here are some suggestions to keep your milk supply on track.

Relax. Stress can hinder your body's natural ability to release breast milk. Find a quiet place to pump. It may help to massage your breasts or use warm compresses. You may want to think about your baby, look at a picture of your baby or listen to relaxing music.
Pump often. The more you pump, the more milk you'll produce — especially if you're using a high-quality pump. If you're working full time, try to pump for 15 minutes every few hours during the workday.
Pump both breasts simultaneously. Pumping both breasts at once will save you plenty of time. It may also increase your body's production of prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production.
When you're with your baby, breast-feed on demand. The more you breast-feed your baby when you're together, the greater your supply will be when you pump. Try more-frequent evening, early morning or weekend feedings. Pumping after a breast-feeding session can help boost milk supply, too — even if you pump but no milk is produced.
Avoid or limit formula feedings. Formula feedings will reduce your baby's demand for breast milk, which will lower your milk production. Remember, the more you breast-feed your baby or pump while you're apart, the more milk you'll produce. It also helps to pump extra milk — either after or between breast-feeding sessions — and freeze it for future use.
Drink plenty of fluids. Water, juice and milk can help you stay hydrated, which promotes milk production. But limit soda, coffee and other caffeinated drinks. Too much caffeine can make your baby irritable and interfere with your baby's sleep. If you choose to have an occasional alcoholic drink, avoid breast-feeding for two hours afterward.
Don't smoke. Aside from the well-known dangers of smoking, smoking can reduce your milk supply — and the nicotine in your breast milk may change the taste of the milk and interfere with your baby's sleep. If you smoke, ask your doctor for options to help you quit. In the meantime, avoid smoking just before or during a feeding.
Consider your birth control options. Birth control pills that contain estrogen may interfere with milk production. While you're breast-feeding, you may want to use condoms or other forms of birth control. Ask your doctor about the options.
Take good care of yourself. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Get some exercise every day. Sleep when the baby sleeps — and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

Breast-feeding is a commitment, and your efforts to maintain your milk supply are commendable. If you're having trouble maintaining your milk supply, ask your doctor or lactation consultant for other suggestions. Counselors from La Leche League and similar organizations can help, too.


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