NEWS2U Health & Wellness
Living Healthy in an Unhealthy World

Monday, March 12, 2007

Drinking wine may extend men's life - study

By David Liu

Drinking wine has been known to be heart healthy.
But a 40-year Dutch study has found drinking alcohol in moderation appears also to extend men's life expectancy by up to four years, adding more evidence to suggest that moderate drinking is a good thing for men's health.

The alcohol-drinking and life-expectancy study was conducted by Martinette Streppel from Wageningen University and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands and colleagues and reported on Feb. 28 at the American Heart Association’s 47th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention in Orlando, Florida.

In the Zutphen Study of 1,373 men who were born between 1900 and 1920 and lived in a town known as Zutphen in the eastern part of the Netherlands, researchers wanted to know the impact of long-term alcohol consumption on their health and life-span.

The researchers surveyed the subjects seven times for their alcohol intake over a period of four decades starting in 1960. Some men were tracked until 2000 or until they died. The information covered their lifestyle parameters including drinking, eating and smoking habits, body weight as well as incidence of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancer.

While alcohol drinking has been studied for its effect on cardiovascular health, the current study the researchers said was meant to examine the effect of alcohol consumption on life expectancy and risk of mortality.

Drinking less than a glass of alcohol per day was associated with low rates of death from cardiovascular causes such as heart attack and stroke and overall causes, the study found. Wine seemed more protective than beer and spirits. Drinking just half a glass of wine per day was linked with lowest risk of death.

Additionally, men who drank wine had their life expectancy extended by 3.8 years compared to those who drank no alcohol. Wine drinkers lived on average two years longer than those who drank other types of alcoholic beverages, the study found.

"Our study showed that long-term, light alcohol intake among middle-aged men was associated not only with lower cardiovascular and all-cause death risk, but also with longer life expectancy at age 50," said Martinette T. Streppel, a Ph. D. student and lead author of the study. "Furthermore, long-term light wine consumption is associated with a further protective effect when compared to that of light-to-moderate alcohol intake of other types."

The researchers did not address the risk associated with heavy alcohol drinking in their report as their study was not intended to examine such an effect.

"The main message is that if you already consume alcoholic beverages, do so moderately -- one or two glasses per day maximum,” Streppel was quoted as saying in a telephone interview with Reuters. "And if you have to choose a certain beverage, then at least drink wine, because it has an additional beneficial effect above just the effect of alcohol itself."

The study also found that men who drank up to two glasses of alcohol a day was linked with about a 33% reduced overall mortality risk and risk of death from heart attack and stroke compared to those who did not drink alcohol at all.

Alcohol drinking has been extensively researched for its effect on heart health. Many studies have showed that moderate drinking help protect against cardiovascular disease and possibly reduce risk of heart attack and stroke although the quality of many studies has been scrutinized or even criticized.

In a study report, published in the January 2, 2007 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Dutch research institute TNO Quality of Life and Wageningen University, the Netherlands found that hypertensive men who drank alcohol in moderation had a decreased risk of fatal and non-fatal heart attack.

Another study found that men who had two drinks a day had the lowest risk for heart attack whereas those who drank no alcohol were at the highest risk. Dr. Kenneth J. Mukamal, an associate in medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston and colleagues published their study in the Oct 2, 2006 issued of the Archives of Internal Medicine reporting that about 25% of the heart attack occurred in men who drank less than five grams of alcohol a day.

In yet another study published in the July 24 2006 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, Dr. Cinzia Maraldi of the Institute on Aging at the University of Florida, Gainesville and colleagues analyzed data from nearly 2,500 adults without diagnosed heart disease, aged 70 to 79 and found that light to moderate alcohol drinking was associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

One more study, published in the May 27 2006 issue of the British Medical Journal, followed over 22,400 women and more than 25,000 men aged 50 to 65 years for their drinking habits for nearly six years and found that Men who drank alcohol moderately each day were 41 percent less likely to have heart disease than abstainers. But the association was found in men only.

Streppel was cited as saying that the protective effect of alcohol may be due to an increase in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol or a reduction of blood clotting. As for wine, some polyphenolic compounds have been known to be heart healthy and help prevent the clogging of the arteries that cause stroke or heart attack.

Previous studies have also found that light to moderate drinking reduces serum levels of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein and interleukin-6, which might also explain the protective effect of alcohol drinking against cardiovascular disease.

But all these explanations may be offered for something unreal. The seemingly protective effect of alcohol drinking is not a sure thing yet.

Dr Rod Jackson and colleagues from Auckland University reported in a British medical journal called The Lancet that the seemingly protective effect of alcohol may result from "confused research" or inadequate designs. One typical problem with these studies is that these researchers classified those subjects who had heart disease, but stopped drinking alcohol, as nondrinkers. They said that the benefit, if any at all, from light to moderate drinking is probably too small to outweigh detrimental effects of alcohol on the health.

A review study published in the May, 2006 issue of the journal Addiction Research and Theory has found that the majority of those studies which gave a thumbs-up to moderate drinking are flawed because they failed to take into account the age and the illnesses of those who said they abstained from drinking, according to an international group of researchers from the United States, Canada and Australia.

In response to the current study, a scientist with said that drinking wine is not necessarily better than drinking other alcoholic beverages. One possible explanation why those who drank wine lived a couple of years longer than those who drank other types of alcohol is that wine drinkers likely had a better social status and were more likely to take better care of their health.

Janne Tolstrup and colleagues from Centre for Alcohol Research, National Institute of Public Health agreed that any potential benefit from daily drinking would be offset by the ill effects of heavy drinking, defined as more than a drink or two per day. Adverse health effects of alcohol drinking have been well documented. And the United States Department of Health and Human Services has listed alcoholic beverages as a human carcinogen, an agent that can cause cancer.

In any case, alcohol drinking can adversely affect cardiovascular health, increasing risk of fetal alcohol syndrome, cardiomyopathy, cardiac arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death, according to The American Heart Association. The AHA warns people not to start drinking alcohol inclduing wine if they do not drink. For those who have started drinking, they should drink in moderation. "This means an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. A drink is one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits," the AHA says.

Those who want to reduce risk of heart disease and stroke need to follow an overall healthy lifestyle including eating a healthy diet, which can even reverse heart disease as demonstrated by a few brilliant scientists. The current study was not meant to reveal a causal relation between alcohol consumption and risk of mortality or life expectancy. That means that drinking alcohol does not necessarily help people live a longer and or better life.