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For years the “French Paradox” where a nation with a high intake of saturated fats also had a low rate of coronary heart disease puzzled the medical world. One explanation was they also had a high red wine intake. While it is problematical that this is the only reason it did lead to large scale studies on the effect of alcohol on health. The end result of these studies shows quite conclusively that a moderate alcohol intake does reduce the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke. This article discusses this in more detail and outlines how alcohol can be used to give a positive health outcome if is consumed in moderate amounts.
Alcohol is the most misused drug in the world with its excessive use causing untold misery to families, individuals and communities. Its financial and social costs are huge and it causes a greatly increased death rate from accidents and health related illnesses. Yet its widespread use is still condoned by most communities in the world and there seems little hope of that changing. Prohibition tried many years ago in America did not work.
This article is not written to encourage people to drink but it is saying drink in moderation and the benefits are likely to outweigh the negatives. Doctors have known for years that the occasional drink could be better for health than complete abstinence. Moderate alcohol consumption has been shown by many studies over recent years to have better health and longevity outcomes than total abstinence or heavy drinking. In terms of alcohol type, red wine has been marginally better than beer which has been marginally better than spirits. Some of these studies are.• Alcohol Benefits Begin at 33 : Dr Chris Power - Lancet 2004• Reaping Alcohol's Benefit : National Institute of Health - June 2004 Clinical & Experimental Research• Moderate Alcohol Consumption could help protect women against Osteoporosis : St Thomas Hospital- July 2004 Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases• A glass of wine a day keeps prostrate cancer away : Janet Stanford - Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, Seattle. USA• Regular drink helps the heart after surgery : University of Heidelberg, Germany - Oct 2004 Heart• Glass of wine for longer life : Leisure World Cohort Study - Sept meeting 56Ih American Academy of Neurology• Alcohol may fight heart attack damage : Dr Rod Korthuis - University Missouri-Columbia ( published study)• Alcohol helps older women's grey cells : Dr Graham McDougall - University of Texas 5 year study• Compounds found in wine could inhibit Alzheimers : Dr Michikatsu Sato Govt Alcohol R&D Centre, .Japan - Journal of Bioscience Biotechnology and Biochemistry Vol 67How many drinks provide just the benefits and not the harm? It depends on whether a person is most at risk of heart disease, diabetes or breast cancer. But there is one bottom line: Five or six drinks only on Saturday night will provide no benefits, while a drink or two a night might.
The analysis by the National Institutes of Health sorted out a plethora of sometimes conflicting research on alcohol’s effects. The review was prompted by cardiologists' complaints that patients suddenly were asking if they should start imbibing, and how much. Other research is overturning the dogma that people at risk of diabetes should abstain; still more links even light drinking to breast cancer.
Adding confusion, people are vulnerable to more than one disease as they age. A 50-year old woman with breast cancer in the family might get very different advice on alcohol than one who's pre-diabetic with high cholesterol.
The review states we are not encouraging anybody to start drinking alcoholism remains a major health problem, and people with liver disease may not tolerate even moderate drinking.
Instead, the review is aimed at people who already drink some and concludes that to get alcohol's potential health benefits, how much those people can consume must be customized by their age, gender and overall medical history.
As population-wide advice, consuming two drinks a day for men and one a day for women is linked to lower mortality and unlikely to harm, the review found men shouldn't exceed four drinks on any day, and women three - bingeing is simply bad.
But review's disease-by-disease findings provide better details:• Studies consistently show that in people 40 or older, consuming one to four drinks daily significantly reduces the risk of heart disease, the nation's leading killer. In contrast, five or more drinks daily markedly increase the heart risk.
• However, frequency seems the key, consuming smaller amounts several times a week – one or two daily or every other day - is most heart-protective. It apparently takes low, regular alcohol exposure to help raise levels of the body's so-called good cholesterol, the HDL type, and to thin blood.
• The alcohol-breast cancer link remains controversial. Some studies suggest a small increase in risk that roughly 9 in 100 non drinkers may get breast cancer by age 80, compared with 10 in 100 women who consume two drinks a day. Per person that's a tiny risk. But women whose mothers or sisters had breast cancer, or those taking post-menopausal estrogen replacement are at greater risk from alcohol. Those women must weigh the fear of breast cancer against their risk of heart disease in deciding whether to avoid alcohol.
• One to two drinks a day several days per week seems to lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes, a disease rising at epidemic proportions. Low levels of alcohol apparently help the body use insulin to process blood sugar better. The benefit was seen among the overweight and those with "metabolic syndrome," a cluster of pre-diabetic weight-related symptoms that include high blood pressure and poor cholesterol.
• There's no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, but what about while breast-feeding? Nursing mothers who want an occasional drink should consume it several hours before the next feeding, enough time to metabolize the alcohol so little reaches the infant. And contrary to folklore, alcohol does not aid lactation but temporarily decreases milk production.
• How much is a drink a day? 140 ml of wine, 340 ml of beer or 42 ml of distilled spirits is generally accepted as the standard. That is a glass of wine or a stubbie.
A study recently in Spain showed a significant weight loss from the consumption of red wine in moderation. Of all the alcohol types red wine seems the most desirable. This likely because of the presence of resveratrol in red wine, a compound that has been shown to have definite health benefits and is available in many health food shops in a capsule formulation.
Another study showed a glass of wine a day strengthens bones and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. This result was obtained by a study published on the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, while other alcoholic drinks – such as beer and liquors – do not display the same effect.
The authors of the paper from University of East Anglia in Norwich and from the King’s College in London, UK have verified that the bone density in the spine and hip is higher in wine drinkers than in non drinkers or drinkers of other alcoholic drinks.
The Britannic research team worked on a population of 1000 women, all twin sisters in menopause and residents in the UK.
The reasons for these results have not been fully explained yet, but previous research suggests that the beneficial properties of wine may be due to the high content in polyphenols, which are well known for their anti oxidative effect.
So to sum up, heavy drinkers have the worst outcomes but moderate drinkers, that is, 1-3 drinks for men and 1-2 for woman on a daily basis, have a better life expectancy and health outcomes than total abstainers and the best drink is red wine.