A recently released study found that women who drink heavily face more severe, long-term health problems than men, HealthScout reported Dec. 27.

For the study, researchers interviewed 711 St. Louis, Mo., women and men who were found to be heavy drinkers in a National Institutes of Health study conducted 15 years earlier.

The comparison found that the women were in poorer physical and mental health than the men.The women reported greater difficulty with such activities as climbing stairs, walking around the neighbourhood, or caring for family members. In addition, the women had more physical disorders that forced them to decrease the amount of time spent at work or at social activities.

“We were surprised by the magnitude of the difference between males and females,” said Kyle Grazier, author of the study and an associate professor in health management and policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. ” The heavier drinking women were much more disabled than the men. We know women are more prone to depression and mental disorders, but we didn’t expect to see the functional disorders.”

While the researchers found no strong evidence to explain why women are more at risk for problems related to alcohol, they speculated that certain factors, such as metabolism and gender differences, may play a role.

“There are gender differences in gastric metabolism. Women seem to have a little less of an enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the stomach. So even if we drink the same amount, we get a more concentrated dose in the blood stream and that has more effect on all of the organ system,” said Dr. Sharon Wilsnack of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “Also, women have proportionately less body water than men, so the alcohol is less diluted.”

The study’s findings were presented at the First World Congress on Women’s Mental Health meeting held recently in Berlin, Germany.

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