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


Alcohol as medicine?

alcohol and body

Can alcohol be prescribed as medicine for heart patients? According to the editorial of the New England Journal of Medicine, this question merits the necessary attention. Targeted research is therefore recommended.

The direct cause of the question was the American study indicating that the incidence of cardiovascular diseases fell considerably with regular and moderate alcohol consumption. The suggestion will come under heavy fire, especially from doctors who argue that the most well-intentioned recommendation to drink alcohol may be the first step on the slippery slope that leads to excessive drink abuse. Others wonder whether this chemical substance might not be used as a medicine since it offers are potential advantages for the health. People all over the world take aspirin as a preventive against heart attacks every day, despite the fact that this product can also have harmful side-effects, such as stomach bleeding.

The editorial states that the epidemiological data is corroborated by indications about the way in which the health-enhancing effect is caused, namely by the increase of the HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”) in the blood of moderate drinkers, and changes in the coagulation of the blood.

However, the question remains as to whether it would be prudent, on the grounds of the two types of proof, set up a new trial as is customary for new drugs and medicinal products. This would mean dividing a group of test subjects into two sub-groups, one of which is given alcohol while the other is not allowed to drink alcohol. The incidence of heart conditions in both groups could then be tracked over time. A positive result should incline doctors to recommend drinking alcohol on the basis of stronger argument. However, the New England Journal of Medicine suspects that such a therapy would find few adherents among many doctors since it may lead to thousands of additional deaths each year due to cancer, traffic accidents and liver diseases.

The editorial nonetheless suggests such research with a view to the treatment of patients already suffering with heart trouble and receiving suitable medication. The side-effects of alcohol should be more acceptable for those patients.

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


Beer at least as healthy as wine

alcohol and body

Men who regularly drink beer, wine or spirits are less prone than non-drinkers to heart attack. Just one beer a day is enough to decrease the risk.

The positive effects of moderate alcohol consumption have been confirmed yet again, this time in a large-scale study involving 38 000 men over a period of 12 years. The researchers, working at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, also examined the benefits of different drinks separately. They came to the conclusion that wine is certainly not better for health than beer, nor even better than spirits. The long and the short of it: never drink too much at any one time, and drink regularly.

Source: New Engl Journal of Medicine, Jan 2003


Alcohol and strokes

alcohol and body

A recent scientific analysis of 35 studies published between 1966 and April 2002 on alcohol consumption and cerebral haemorrhages or reduced brain blood saturation (ischemia) has demonstrated that there is a considerable increase of the risk of brain injuries among heavy drinkers, while the risk decreases among moderate drinkers.

It was long suspected that there was some connection between high alcohol consumption and the risk of a stroke. However, a moderate exposure to ethanol is generally considered to have a protective effect, although not everyone would agree. Hence the extensive meta-analysis to which the recent publication has been subjected in this connection.

The results confirm that, in comparison with total abstainers, heavy drinkers (more than 60 g per day, which corresponds to five to six ordinary glasses of beer or equivalent units of other alcoholic beverage) were 65% more likely to suffer a stroke. The risk of transient ischemias was found to be 69% greater and the risk of cerebral hemorrhage is 218% greater. However, a reduced risk was observed for a moderate alcohol consumption (less than 12 g a day), showing scores of 17%, 20% and 28% respectively. This brings out the dangers of excessive drinking and the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. It’s all a question of dosage.

Source: Reynolds K “Alcohol consumption and risk of stroke. A meta-analysis”. Jama 2003; 289


Alcohol influences your sex life

alcohol and body

Alcohol and sex seem to go together well. As most of us know, alcohol has a numbing and therefore disinhibiting effect. This can make you do things you might not dare to do when sober. You chat people up, you respond spontaneously to a declaration of love, you find yourself more easily talked into having sex, even with someone you maybe do not entirely trust. You wake up feeling very sorry the following morning.

A woman with a few drinks inside her is frequently more inclined to having sex. This is because alcohol increases a woman’s testosterone level. This, to put it quite simply, makes her more interested in sex. This is why, under the influence of alcohol, you will go further in bed than you might care to in sober condition. Excessive alcohol consumption may also lead to menstrual disorders.

Men who drink too much may find that their member does not quite “rise to the occasion”. Alcohol reduces testosterone levels in men’s blood. As a man you still have enough of the hormone in your blood to be interested in having sex. However, the reduced testosterone level often prevents you having an erection or ejaculating. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak! This frustration may cause you to fail the next time too. About 8% of male alcohol-dependents have difficulties have an erection. Half will never have one again, despite the fact that they have stopped drinking for good.

Source: Alcohol and Alcoholism Vol. 37, No. 2, pp. 169-173, 2002 , NGZI Nederland 2002


Alcohol and fertility

alcohol and body

Is medically assisted fertilization influenced by alcohol consumption? A multicentre study by Professor Klonoff-Cohen at the University of California seems to show that the risk of failure of a medically assisted pregnancy does in fact increase with the amount of alcohol consumed.

The harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption for women are common knowledge: disturbances of the menstrual cycle, miscarriages, deformations of the foetus, stillbirth, etc. What is less well known is the influence of a moderate but long-term alcohol consumption, including that of the male partner. The available data is also contradictory.

To understand the problem better Klonoff-Cohen and his research team interviewed 221 couples having taken recourse to a medically assisted reproduction because of female fertility problems. They found that every extra alcoholic drink per day, 1 year before the beginning of in-vitro fertilization or GIFT (genetic intrafallopian transfer, whereby egg cells and semen cells are brought together in the fallopian tube) by the woman produced a 13% reduction in the number of aspirated egg cells, an increase of failed pregnancy by 2.86 and an increase of miscarriage by 2.21. For men, an extra drink per day increased the risk of a stillbirth by a factor of 2.28.

However, the researchers still have serious doubts as to the received wisdom regarding the correctness of alcohol consumption, so much so that many results can hardly be described as meaningful. It is difficult to distinguish between factors that can be ascribed to excessive alcohol consumption and factors associated with alcohol consumption from an epidemiological standpoint, such as tobacco, caffeine, medicines and illegal drugs. The conclusions of this study are in fact therefore very limited and even unusable. Seeing that more and more alcohol is being consumed, it is also worthwhile to study the effects of toxicity with moderate doses on human reproduction, which is to be regarded as a public health problem that warrants further good quality research.

Source: Klonoff-Cohen et coll. “Effects of maternal and paternal alcohol consumption on the success rates of in-vitro fertilization and gamete intrafallopian transfer”. Feril Steril 2003; 79:330-9.


Protective pill for pregnant drinkers ?

alcohol and body

Recent discoveries as to the ways in which ethanol affects the development of the foetus suggests that pregnant women who like to drink might benefit from a medication to protect their unborn babies against the harmful effects of alcohol.

Recent experiments with mice gave a team from Harvard Medical School and the Veteran Administration Boston Healthcare System in Massachusetts to understand that a certain form of alcohol is capable of preventing the neurological damage otherwise caused by ethanol. The alcohol goes by the name of octanol. It’s a toxic little number that no-one would have guessed could be used as an antidote for the effects of drinking among pregnant women.

The researchers suspect that the reason why mothers who overindulge in alcohol deliver mentally retarded children may be linked to damage of the L1 proteins by ethanol. A group of researchers from the National Institute of Health, Washington DC, discovered that the unwanted effects of ethanol could be blocked if the mice were injected with the active constituents of two brain proteins, NAP and SAL. These have little in common with octanol. And yet the three substances appear to produce the same effect: that of preventing ethanol from damaging the L1 proteins.

Neurologist Michael Charness would say that L1 has at last been recognized for it’s true worth. This can only increase the chance of finding a more effective, safer treatment for the prevention of foetal alcohol syndrome. Any such medication is bound to spark as much heat as light, as may women will not refuse a glass or three during pregnancy.

Source: New Scientist 28 September 2002