24 October 2006

Two new studies on the benefits of drinking

Yesterday was a good health news day for those of us who like to imbibe now and again...

Red Wine May Cut Risk of Colorectal Cancer
By Ed EdelsonHealthDay Reporter Mon Oct 23, 7:03 PM ET

MONDAY, Oct. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Drinking more than three glasses of red wine a week reduced the incidence of abnormal growths and cancers of the intestinal tract by two-thirds, a new study found.
White wine did not have the same protective effect, said study author Dr. Joseph C. Anderson, an assistant professor of medicine at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
"I generally advise against drinking, but if you're going to drink, drink red wine," Anderson said.
The findings were expected to be presented Monday at the American College of Gastroenterology's annual meeting, in Las Vegas.
Anderson's study included 1,741 people seen in his office -- 245 red wine drinkers, 115 white wine drinkers, and 1,381 wine abstainers. Of the red wine drinkers, 176 had three or more glasses a week, as did 68 of the white wine drinkers.
The incidence of colorectal neoplasia -- cancers and polyps that can become cancerous -- was 9.9 percent in the abstainers, 8.8 percent in the three-glass-or-more white wine drinkers, and 3.4 percent in the three-glass-or more red wine drinkers, a 68 percent reduction for that group, Anderson reported.
His is the latest in a series of studies that have found red wine consumption associated with a reduced risk of various forms of cancer -- leukemia, breast and prostate among them -- in animal studies or real life. Like many of the other researchers, Anderson attributes the beneficial effect to the compound resveratrol, which is found under the skin of grapes.
Resveratrol content is higher in red than white wine because the grape skins are removed early in the fermentation process for white wines, Anderson said. The skins stay on longer when red wine is made, allowing resveratrol to enter the wine.
But that might not be the whole story, said Gopi Paliyath, a plant agriculture professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, who has done studies that found a protective effect from red wine against breast cancer.
Resveratrol is a member of the chemical family called polyphenols, many of which are found in red wine, Paliyath said. "It may be a combined action, not only one particular component doing something," he said.
And a study done by one of his students added a potentially different element to the mix -- chemicals found in the oak barrels in which wine is made. They may leak out of the oak into the wine and act in conjunction with the polyphenols, he said.
Whatever the cause of the protective effect, Anderson said he advises people against taking up the wine habit for health reasons.
"People are better off going out exercising than hoping that a glass of wine will help them," he said. "My bias is more toward other things, like running or biking."
But, Anderson noted, his observation is that "wine drinkers are more likely to do those things."
More information
For more on red wine and cancer prevention, visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Daily Drink or Two Cuts Healthy Men's Heart Attack Risk
10.23.06, 12:00 AM ET

MONDAY, Oct. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Research has shown that a drink or two per day can reduce the odds of heart attack in people at risk.
Now, a new study suggests this benefit also extends to healthier men who eat right and exercise.
The finding may help doctors feel a bit better about recommending moderate drinking to a wider range of patients, experts say.
"Most of the discussion about moderate drinking has tended to say that there are better ways to lower one's heart disease risk than drinking alcohol," said lead author Dr. Kenneth J. Mukamal, an associate in medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston. "But what about men who are already doing those other things?" he said.
His team published their findings in the Oct. 23 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
In the study, Mukamal's team collected data on alcohol and heart attacks among nearly 9,000 healthy men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. During the study, the men completed questionnaires about their diet and alcohol use. All these men were nonsmokers, ate a healthful diet, exercised at least 30 minutes a day and were not overweight.
From 1986 to 2002, 106 of the men had heart attacks. Of these men, eight were among the 1,282 who drank about two drinks a day, nine were among the 714 who had over two drinks a day, and 28 were among the 1,889 men who did not drink at all.
The men who had two drinks a day had the lowest risk for heart attack, while those who didn't drink had the highest risk, the researchers found. Twenty-five percent of the heart attacks were among men who drank less than 5 grams of alcohol a day.
Given these findings, Mukamal thinks that guidelines about drinking and heart disease need to be rethought to take into account the benefit of alcohol on healthy men. He also believes the same benefit will be seen among healthy women.
Still, Mukamal is cautious about recommending that nondrinkers start drinking.
"I don't think people should begin drinking based on a finding like ours," he said. "Heart disease is only one of the diseases that people can develop. This study doesn't take into account cancer or any other illness," he said.
Two other experts say they have begun recommending moderate alcohol use to their patients, however.
"Physicians have been leery about suggesting to people that they drink," said Dr. Richard A. Stein, a clinical professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York City. "What I ask patients is: 'Do you drink routinely?' If so, then I would continue to drink the equivalent of two drinks for a man and one drink for a smaller woman."
Stein does, however, routinely recommend a drink a day to people who have already had a heart attack. "Generally, I have begun to do that because the studies have been very powerful in suggesting that alcohol reduces risk of heart attack," he added.
"There now have been numerous convincing studies showing that alcohol consumption lowers the risk of having a heart attack," added Dr. Byron K. Lee, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Cardiology.
However, doctors are reluctant to recommend it to their patients, Lee said. "Nevertheless, patients should be informed of the facts. I tell all my patients that, in terms of preventing heart attacks, a moderate amount of alcohol is probably good," he said.
More information
There's more on drinking and heart attack at the
American Heart Association.

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