May 19, 2010

Moderate Drinking And Better Health

According to a major study released Wednesday on the link between alcohol and cardiovascular disease, moderate drinkers enjoy more robust health than either big boozers or teetotalers.

However, researchers cautioned that downing a glass or two of wine or its equivalent every day, may not contribute to enhanced wellbeing.  More likely, it indicates an otherwise healthy lifestyle.

"There's too much talk about the benefits of moderate drinking," Boris Hansel, a researcher at the Hopital de la Pitie in Paris and lead author of the study, told AFP.

"I am not saying that you shouldn't drink. But let's stop using health arguments to justify the consumption of alcohol," he said.

Earlier studies have pointed out the correlation between measured alcohol intake and reduced heart problems, less depression, and even a longer life span.

Some chemicals in alcohol are thought to slow hardening of the arteries, while the anti-oxidant resveratrol has been shown in animal experiments to boost anti-viral treatments and help fight off aging.

All of these studies have led to the widespread belief that a generous splash of alcohol is good for you.

However, so far no experiments or clinical studies have been able to draw a straight cause-and-effect line between moderate drinking and better health.

Hansel and colleagues examined health records of about 150,000 people from the greater Paris area that undertook medical examinations between 1999 and 2005.

The participants were split into four groups: those who did not imbibe any alcohol, along with lower, moderate and heavy drinkers.

"Light" consumption was defined as less than 3.5 fluid ounces of alcohol each day.  One-to-three such doses were considered "moderate".

Subjects in the light and moderate categories of body-bass index, cholesterol and sugar levels, cardiovascular disease, heart rate, stress, and depression scored better than those in the other groups.

The same groups also scored significantly better across a separate range of criteria that had nothing to do with drinking, such as level of physical activity and socio-economic status.

"There is no reason to think that alcohol consumption augments one's social or professional standing," Hansel told AFP.

"What we see, in fact, is that people who drink moderately are people who, at the same time, lead healthier lives."

Consuming alcohol in measured doses could simply be a "marker" of superior well being attributable entirely upon other factors.

The very ability to drink a little bit but not too much may be genetically determined.

"One could imagine that it shows a superior capacity to manage addiction -- once one starts drinking, after all, it is easy to fall into alcoholism," he told AFP.

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests that the apparent benefits of drinking in combating heart disease might be a mirage arising from the misinterpretation of data and influences not taken into account.

"In any case, it is clearly premature to promote alcohol consumption as the basis of cardiovascular protection," Hansel told AFP.

The study was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


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