Respect alcohol, respect yourself

alcohol and society

While inappropriate or excessive drinking causes health and social damage, moderate drinking doesn’t.

The World Health Organisation states: “There are beneficial relationships with coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes mellitus, provided low-to-moderate average volume of consumption is combined with non-binge patterns of drinking. For example, it is estimated that ischaemic stroke would be about 17% higher in the Eur-A sub-region [which includes the UK] if no one consumed alcohol” (World Health Report 2002).

Beer and lung cancer: no connection

alcohol and body

Dr. Marleen Finoulst
Canadian scientist Andrea Benedetti found a connection between beer consumption and lung cancer and made headlines with this controversial finding. According to her epidemiological study, recently published in ‘Cancer Causes and Control’ (March 2006), a moderate to excessive beer consumption increases the risk of lung cancer, while drinking wine supposedly reduces the risk. Benedetti bases her inquiries in approximately 3 700 men and women with lung cancer. Andrea Benedetti immediately relativizes her own research: her study is an epidemiological study, which means that no cause-and-effect relation is demonstrated. It would in fact be rather remarkable if that were possible. The higher incidence of lung cancer in the group of beer-drinkers arises from other factors.

Alcohol abuse is no excuse for violence

alcohol and society

Drunken hooligans often put their aggression down to their drinking, but an alcoholic intoxication is no excuse for criminal behaviour.

Excessive drinking removes inhibitions and causes people to lose control of their actions. However, recent research has shown that drunken test subjects are just as capable of keeping control of their actions as more sober persons. A British experiment has demonstrated that, if subjects receive a reward for displaying a given behaviour pattern, they will do so, drunk or sober. Conclusion: drunkenness cannot be used as an extenuating circumstance for acts of violence.

Source: Alcoholism: clinical and experimental research; 2001.


Silicon in beer helps against osteoporosis

alcohol and body

Much research has been conducted into a possible link between beer consumption and bone density with focus on possible importance of silicon in the beer.

Silicon may influence bone and cartilage formation. This hypothesis is based on the observation in tests on animals that a low-silicon diet stunts the growth and development of the skeleton. Experimental studies designed to find this connection between silicon in the daily diet and increased bone density is still not sufficiently advanced to allow any definitive conclusions to be drawn, but the first results are promising. It has been established, for example, that a silicon supplement in the diet of post-menopausal women suffering from osteoporosis can reduce or even reverse their loss of bone density. Furthermore, new in vitro research suggests that silicon evidently stimulates the cells that produce collagen, which play an important part in bone formation.

Dr. Jonathan Powell from Kings College London has put forward the hypothesis that beer may be a good source of silicon. Using an American data base he was able to estimate the relative contribution of food and drink to the intake of silicon. It emerged that beer gave the largest contribution with approximately 17%, followed by bananas (9.1%), white bread (4.6%), cold cereals (4.5%) and coffee (3.5%). Major differences undoubtedly exist between American and European diet. Among other things, beer consumption is much greater in Europe than in the United States. If there in fact is a link between silicon intake and bone density, then we may also expect to find a correlation between beer consumption and bone density. Dr. Powell’s work in this connection is almost completed and will soon appear in print, but the first results suggest that such a correlation does indeed exist.

Silicon is not, however, the only ingredient in beer that is effective against osteoporosis. In modest doses alcohol is a protective factor, probably due to the effect of alcohol, influencing the concentration of oestrogen in the blood. Oestrogen therapy is used against osteoporosis after all. Finally there is yet another constituent of beer that may protect against osteoporosis. The hop constituent humulone is known to be able to fight the process of bone resorption.

Further research by Dr. Powell will turn around the origin of the silicon in beer. Certain types of beer have a much higher silicon content than others. Some of the steps in the brewing process may explain these differences.

Source:Brauwelt International, 2003/III


Alcohol-free beer helps milk production in nursing mothers

alcohol and body

Many young mothers think that nursing mothers may not drink even alcohol-free beer. This now turns out to be an old wives’ tale. Rather, the opposite is true: alcohol-free beer stimulates milk production. This is the result of research conducted in the children’s clinic of Munich University by Berthold Koletzko and Frauke Lehner.

The researchers ascribe this agreeable characteristic to the presence of hops and barley. The hop induces rest and relaxation, while barley aids production of the hormone Prolactin, which is known to start up milk production. Other healthy constituents are also present in beer: carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, all valuable nutrients for young mothers. According to Prof. Koletzko, alcohol-free beer is helpful for breastfeeding. Beer can help to stimulate the milk production during the first days after giving birth.

Source: Berthold Koletzko, Frauke Lehner, ‘Beer and Breast-feeding’ in Adv. Exp.Med Biol 2000; 478-28


Drink frequency more important for health than exact quantity

alcohol and body

One glass of beer, wine or spirits per day reduces the risk of heart attack by one third, or so says a recently published study in a reputable scientific journal. The researchers demonstrated that not so much the quantity, more the frequency of the drink pattern makes the difference.

The 12-year study involved 40 000 healthy men between 40 and 75 years of age. Those who drank alcohol three or four times a week were 32 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack in comparison with the men who enjoyed alacohol less than once a week. Those who drank alcohol once or twice a week were 16 percent less at risk. The researchers found that half a glass per day has the same effect as two glasses, which is a surprising new discovery.

Source: The New England Journal of Medicine 2003; 348:109


Moderate alcohol consumption minimizes risk of diabetes

alcohol and body

Dr. Ming Wei and colleagues studied a group of 8 663 subjects 30 to 79 years of age. They were patients who had been examined at least twice in the de Kuiper Hospital in Dallas, Texas U.S.A., between 1979 and 1995. They were mainly persons with a sedentary profession.

Patients were excluded if they had an abnormal at-rest and/or exertion ECG or if their case histories included diabetes and/or heart conditions. Alcohol consumption was determined by reference to a questionnaire designed to gauge drinking habits.

The patients were divided into five groups: non-drinkers and four groups of drinkers: Group 1 included patients with a consumption of 1 g to 61 g alcohol per week, which is roughly equivalent to a consumption of one to five drinks per week. Group 2 had a consumption of 62 g to 122 g alcohol per week, equivalent to 5 tot 10 drinks. Group 3 had 123 g to 276 g alcohol per week, which is equivalent to 10 to 21 drinks. Finally, the fourth group had more than 277 g alcohol per week, which is equivalent to 22 or more drinks per week. A total of 149 persons in the studied group developed diabetes. The relation between alcohol consumption and risk of diabetes followed a so-called “U-shaped curve”.

The subjects in the second group (with a moderate alcohol consumption of 5 to 10 drinks per week) were lowest-risk for diabetes.

Subjects in the third and fourth groups had, respectively, a 2.2 and a 2.4 times higher risk of diabetes than the second group. Compared with the first group (non-drinkers), the risk in Group 3 and 4 increased by a factor of 1.8.

Anyone who changes his or her alcohol consumption to go from Group 3 to Group 2 reduces the risk of diabetes 25%!

Source: Diabetes Care 2 3 :1 8–22, 2000


Folic acid and vitamin B recommended for women who drink

alcohol and body

Higher levels of folic acid and, probably also, of vitamin B6 in the plasma should reduce the risk of breast cancer. Such the conclusion of the authors of a study conducted in Harvard University.

Folate and folic acid are water-soluble forms of vitamin B. They occur for instance in yeat extract and in spinach. Dr. Feigelson and his associates researched the data of a large-scale American breast cancer research for indications that the increased risk of breast cancer due to alcohol consumption can be reduced by an appropriate intake of folate.

The researchers looked for possible relations between (i) breast cancer, alcohol consumption and intake of and (ii) multivitamin preparations.

The connection between breast cancer and alcohol was confirmed. The risk was 26% higher among women in the top category of alcohol consumption (15 g or more alcohol per day) than among total abstainers. No link was found between the risk of breast cancer and the intake of folic acid or the use of multivitamins.

However, experts from Harvard University did conclude around the same period that a higher concentration of folic acid in the plasma, and probably also vitamin B6, can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. This may be of particularly great importance for women who are more prone to breast cancer on account of alcohol consumption.

Source: Feigelson in ‘Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2003 and Zhang, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 95, No. 5, 2003.


Adolescents adapt drinking behaviour

alcohol and society

American adolescents adapt their drinking according to their good experiences and absence of bad results. Such the conclusion of Julie Goldberg, University of Illinois, and her colleagues from the University of California.

Adolescents see no risks because they think they are indestructible. Warnings about health risks appear to be unable to deter them. J. Goldberg wanted to investigate adolescent attitudes to the risks and the advantages of alcohol and tobacco consumption, how these change with age, and whether experience changed their drinking and smoking habits after six months. 395 students from 18 schools in North California in groups of respectively 10–11, 12-13 and 14-15 years were recruited for the purpose. As was to be expected, the older students were more experienced with drinking: 73% of the oldest drank alcohol, 41% heavily (6 or more drinks per episode). In the youngest group 28% drank, and 3% heavily.

Only 19% of the drinkers in the youngest group were aware of the effects of drinking, and 83% found the experience positive. In the middle group 43% knew about the effects, with 91% saying positive. 84% of the oldest group knew about the effects, with almost everyone (98%) reporting the experience as positive. The advantages of drink came more to the foreground with increasing age, while the risks were thought to be less probable.

Looking at their drinking behaviour six months later, it is noted that probability of drinking decreased by 16% for every 10% increase of estimated risk, while the chance of drinking increased by 16% for every 10% increase of perceived advantage. Most drinking students mentioned definite advantages from drink, contrasting with the typical message of the adolescents on the subject, where the emphasis is more on the negative, often fatal, results.

Younger adolescents were quite aware of the risks and their own vulnerability, but that was more in terms of expectation rather than any actual experience. However, the perceived risks must consciously exceed any experienced advantages of drinking. The lower estimation of risk among older adolescents is perhaps not the result of preconceived ideas about indestructibility. It is perhaps only an adaptation to their often positive experience and the absence of bad experiences.

The authors advocate a new approach toward prevention among adolescents, with the emphasis on safer ways of drinking in order to enjoy the benefits. But then you need to know which particular benefits will interest adolescents most.

Source: The Quarterly Review of Alcohol Research; 2003, Volume II, No. 1.


Influence of sociocultural drinking norms

alcohol and society

Heavy drinkers will tend to overestimate the alcohol consumption of more moderate drinkers. This inclines them to consider their own norm quite normal. This was confirmed in a study by Cameron T. Wild from the University of Alberta, Canada.

The researcher divided a representative sample of male and female inhabitants of Ontario with drinking habits into three groups: regular heavy drinkers, occasional heavy drinkers and moderate drinkers. The first group was made up of persons claiming to drink at least five drinks once per week over the past 12 months; the second group drank five or more drinks at least once in the past 12 months and not more than three times per month, while the third group was made up of moderate drinkers who had never drank more than five or more drinks in the past 12 months.

The heaviest drinkers invariably believed that their colleagues and inhabitants of Ontario generally drank roughly the same amount of alcohol as themselves.

The researchers further investigated how much alcohol “social drinkers” and “problem drinkers” drink in the three different social circumstances: only in a bar; at a party or social occasion; in the evening, at home with the family.

Here again, heavy drinkers – compared with the other social groups – overestimate the amount of alcohol used by social and problem drinkers, and in the different social circumstances. They underestimated the importance of the various psychosocial criteria, such as solitary drinking, weekly inebriation, total drink consumption per occasion, family background of drink-related problems and furtive drinking.

The author suggests that serious habitual drinkers tend to adjust their idea of other people’s drinking habits so as to be able to regard their own drinking habits as normal rather than abnormal. It would be helpful to combat these prejudiced sociocultural expectations and convictions in order to bring the drink problem under more control.

Source: The Quarterly Review of Alcohol Research 2003; Volume II, No. I