Weighing up the benefits of alcohol

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Related tags: Alcoholic beverage

Wine drinkers gain more heart health benefits than those who drink
beer or other spirits, and may also live longer, finds a new
analysis of research into this area.

But all alcohol consumption leads to an increased risk of cancer, says another report.

The studies, part of a series of papers published in an open forum on wine, alcohol and cardiovascular risk in this month's Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis​, reflect the conflicting advice reaching consumers about the potential benefits or harm done by drinking.

They also underline the need to identify the healthy compounds found in these drinks so that advice on drinking can become clearer.

Last year research from Mintel found that more Britons are justifying their drinking habits with the reports that it can be good for their health.

The number of British who drink alcohol because they believe that it can have health benefits has risen from 19 per cent in January 2002, to one in four (26 per cent) consumers questioned in 2004, said the firm.

In a new analysis, a team led by Professor Morten Grønbæk from the Centre for Alcohol Research at the National Institute of Public Health in Copenhagen, Denmark has further confirmed agreement among researchers that any alcohol, in light to moderate intake, puts drinkers at lower risk for cardiovascular disease and death than non-drinkers.

However the author noted: "It is also known from a number of studies that wine drinkers in many cultures are from a higher socio-economic status and have a better diet than non-wine drinkers."

But in another article in the same journal, Professor Carlo La Vecchia, from the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, Italy, notes that consumption of alcohol, including wine, increases the risk of several common cancers, even though many studies confirm a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease from alcohol intake.

"Moderate alcohol drinking, less than 25 grams per day, has a favourable role on cardiovascular disease risk. [However] it is associated with increased risk of cancers of the upper digestive tract and larynx, and also of the intestines, liver, and breast,"​ says Professor La Vecchia.

The article, based on a review of 156 different studies, lists primary liver cancer, cancers of the female breast and of the large bowel in both sexes, as being associated with alcohol drinking.

Further death from diseases including cirrhosis, chronic pancreatitis, hypertension and stroke are strongly related to alcohol drinking.

The risks are shown to increase with the amount of alcohol consumed yet the overall evidence does not determine "whether there is any threshold, below which no effect is evident,"​ said the researchers.

The findings suggest that further research should be carried out into the substances in wine that offer cardio-protective effects.

Some supplement companies are already offering wine polyphenols, like resveratrol, in capsules so that consumers can gain the benefits from these compounds without the health damage seen from drinking.

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