Klatsky says that for women to figure out what's right for them, they must also take into account their own personal risk for breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. Age, obesity and lack of exercise are risk factors for both diseases. Specific risk factors for breast cancer include family history of the disease, having risk-raising mutations in their BRCA genes, reproductive history (age of first period, number of children, etc.) and certain medical treatments, such as radiation and combination hormone replacement therapy. Specific risk factors for cardiovascular disease include race, family history of the disease, smoking and conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Moderate drinking — moderate, not heavy — seems to do more than lower the risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. Studies also suggest that people who drink moderately live longer and have lower rates of diabetes, dementia, arthritis, enlarged prostate, osteoporosis, gall bladder disease and even some cancers, such as those of the kidney and thyroid. The evidence is not as extensive for these other conditions as it is for cardiovascular-related conditions, but the magnitude of effects is often quite large — reducing risk by one-quarter, one-third or one-half. Concerns about developing these conditions may also factor into deciding whether to drink moderately or not.
All of the benefits discussed above apply to moderate drinking, not heavy drinking — because the harms of excessive alcohol intake are well known: liver cirrhosis, heart attacks, dementia and stroke, and cancers of the mouth, esophagus, liver, colon and breast.