Updates On Wine, Alcohol And Health

Moderate Drinking May Cut Women's Risk Of Diabetes

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - New research suggests that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may help prevent healthy postmenopausal women from developing diabetes as well as heart disease. According to the report, women who consumed one to two drinks a day were better able to respond to insulin, a hormone that helps cells use sugar for energy. These women also had lower levels of insulin in their blood. High blood levels of insulin, as well as decreased insulin sensitivity, are risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

In the study, 51 healthy, postmenopausal women rotated among three 8-week treatment periods in which they consumed either no alcohol, one drink a day, or two drinks daily, in addition to a diet to maintain their body weight. Blood samples drawn from the women revealed that insulin levels were nearly 20% lower after consuming two drinks compared to women consuming no alcohol. Levels of triglycerides, a type of fat associated with increased risk of heart disease, were about 10% lower in the two-drink-a-day group compared with the no-alcohol group. Insulin sensitivity rose by roughly 7% after two drinks. There was no effect on blood glucose.

The researchers attributed the findings to the effects of alcohol, but note that other compounds in red wine may provide additional protection. Whatever the beneficial component in alcohol may be, the findings are consistent with previous reports that have observed improved insulin sensitivity among nondiabetic adults who drink moderately.

Source : The Journal of the American Medical Association 2002;287:2559 (5/15/02)

Moderate Drinking May Cut Dementia Risk -Study

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Moderate drinking may reduce an older person’s risk of developing dementia, a new study suggests. Researchers in the Netherlands found that among the 5,400 older adults they studied, those who had up to three drinks a day were less likely than non-drinkers to develop any type of dementia, including Alzheimer’s diseanse. And it did not matter whether the alcohol was wine, beer, liquor, or a fortified wine such as sherry. However, the relatively few who said they had four or more drinks in a day saw no such protective effect.

Past research has suggested that a drink or two a day might help ward off the mental decline associated with age. Since evidence also shows light-to-moderate drinking may benefit the heart, investigators speculated that alcohol might similarly help maintain blood flow to the brain by reducing clotting or improving cholesterol levels. Another possibility is that alcohol directly affects mental functioning through the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Substantial evidence indicates that ACH affects learning and memory. Low levels of alcohol stimulate the chemical’s release in humans, while higher alcohol levels inhibit it in studies with rats.

In the study, mentally healthy men and women aged 55 and older were followed for an average of 6 years. During the study, 197 participants developed dementia, most often Alzheimer's disease. Those who had said they drank one to three alcoholic beverages a day were 42% less likely to develop any type of dementia, regardless of the other health factors. They were 70% less likely than non-drinkers to be diagnosed with vascular dementia, an impairment caused by significant reductions in the brain’s blood supply.

In addition, a couple of drinks per day showed a protective effect among people who carried the gene variant ApoE4, which is associated with an increased Alzheimer’s risk. The researchers speculated that alcohol, possibly through improving cholesterol levels, might moderate dementia risk among ApoE4 carriers.

Source : The Lancet 2002;359:281-286 (1/26/02)

Red Wine May Keep Prostate Cancer Cells In Check

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Compounds in red wine may keep prostate cancer cells from proliferating, results of a preliminary laboratory study suggest. Researchers from Spain found five different polyphenols, antioxidants found in red wine, tea, and certain fruits and vegetables, inhibited the growth of prostate cancer cells in a test tube and encouraged cancer cells to “commit suicide,” a natural process called apoptosis.

The findings, if confirmed by larger studies, may help to explain the higher rates of prostate cancer in the US and non-Mediterranean European countries. The rate of prostate cancer in Mediterranean countries, where intake of red wine and other polyphenol-containing foods is high, tends to be lower. The Mediterranean diet is considered to be protective against the endocrine cancers (including prostate cancer), and features a low animal-fat and meat content, with a high intake of fresh fruit, vegetables, pasta, and wine.

The study examined the effect of five polyphenols found in red wine--gallic acid, tannic acid, morin, quercetin and rutin--on prostate cancer cells. The researchers added varying amounts of these compounds to a dish containing prostate cancer cells. All five compounds inhibited cell proliferation and promoted apoptosis. The results point to a need for studies investigating the effects of these compounds in humans with the potential goal of developing recommendations for use in cancer prevention. Prostate cancer is the second-deadliest form of cancer for US men, after lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Source : BJU International 2002;89:950-954.

Light Drinking May Help Keep Leg Arteries Clear

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Moderate drinkers may be less likely to develop blockages in the arteries that supply blood to the legs. In a study of almost 4,000 people over 55, Dutch researchers found that all women and non-smoking men who reported having 1 or 2 drinks a day were less likely than nondrinkers to have peripheral arterial disease (PAD). These results complement previous research that suggests light drinking can reduce cardiovascular disease risk.

The strongest effect was noted in non-smoking women who were 59% less likely to have PAD than teetotalers. PAD occurs when arteries in the legs become blocked by a buildup of fatty material, a process known as atherosclerosis. PAD can lead to leg cramps when walking. Atherosclerosis in general can bring on stroke and heart attacks. Alcohol may slow atherosclerosis by inhibiting the oxidation of cholesterol, which prevents it from accumulating inside arteries. Since atherosclerosis can lead to other cardiovascular problems, reducing this process may be the means by which light drinking promotes heart and blood vessel health in general. The benefits of alcohol may stem primarily from red wine. This could explain the stronger effect seen in women, since women tended to choose wine, whereas almost half of men liked beer best.

Source : American Journal of Epidemiology 2002;155:332-338.

Alcohol May Benefit Heart Attack Patients

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Moderate drinking has been linked with a lower risk of a heart attack. Two new studies show that a drink a day may promote survival in patients after a heart attack, as well as help the elderly avoid heart failure. The researchers of both reports found that any type of alcohol had potentially healthy effects when consumed in moderation. Alcohol has been shown to raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol and prevent blood clots from forming.

One study of more than 1,900 adults who had been hospitalized for heart attack found that patients who consumed seven drinks a week in the year before their heart attack had a 32% lower risk of dying compared with teetotalers. And those who consumed less than seven drinks a week lowered their risk of dying by 21% over nearly 4 years, compared with patients who abstained from drinking. The findings suggest that alcohol consumption is probably safe after a heart attack for moderate drinkers. Patients who abstain from alcohol may need more aggressive treatment with drugs such as aspirin, beta-blockers, and cholesterol-lowering medications.

Another study found that elderly people who drank at least 1.5 drinks per day had a risk of heart failure 47% lower than abstainers, regardless of age, race, blood pressure, history of diabetes, smoking, and other factors. The study included 2,200 adults averaging 74 years of age.

Source : Journal of the American Medical Association 2001;285:1965-1977.

Moderate Drinking Helps Preserve Women’s Mental Functioning

TORONTO (Reuters Health) - Consuming less than one alcoholic drink per day may help preserve the mental function of older women. Between 1995 and 1999, 9,072 women in the Nurses’ Health Study, aged 70 to 79, were interviewed. Mental function was assessed using seven different tests. Information about their alcohol use had been collected at the beginning of the study in 1980, and was updated through 1994. After adjusting for other factors that could affect mental function,the researchers found that the women who drank moderately had better average scores on five of the seven tests and on a score that combined all seven tests. The effect seen on cognitive function was the equivalent of being 1 or 2 years younger.

Source : Presentation by Dr. Meir Stampfer (Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health) at the 2001 Congress of Epidemiology.