Beer has benefits for the heart—in moderation

Beer has benefits for the heart—in moderation


ALEXANDRIA, VA—“Eat right, exercise and drink a beer a day” may be the way to keep the doctor away. Moderate beer consumption may help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia and diabetes, and help control obesity, according to leading researchers speaking at a National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) event on June 5, 2002, in New York City.

Research has documented several health benefits from all types of alcohol—beer, wine and spirits. Although red wine has long been touted as the healthiest type of alcohol, new research shows that beer is just as good—and possibly even better—than wine or spirits when it comes to health protection.

Studies show that beer may offer protection against heart attack, stroke, hypertension and dementia, explained Norman Kaplan, M.D., professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. New evidence suggests that alcohol may help increase bone density to decrease risk of fracture.

There are several potential biological mechanisms that beer offers to help protect against diseases, but they are not all clearly understood. For some, beer can raise HDL cholesterol by 10-20%, decrease arterial stiffness, improve clotting factors and provide antioxidants that help protect blood vessels against free radicals. The B-vitamins in beer may also help keep homocysteine levels in the blood in check. (Abnormal homocysteine levels in the blood increase risk for heart disease.) These benefits to the heart and blood vessels are thought to help prevent diseases that afflict the mind later in life, such as Alzheimer’s and general dementia.

In reviewing over 30 major epidemiological studies that look at alcohol intake and disease risk factors, Eric Rimm, Sc.D., associate professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, explained that alcohol offers protection against several of the top 10 major causes of death, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes. “Moderate alcohol consumption is associated with lower all-cause mortality than either abstinence or heavy drinking, primarily through reduced risk of coronary heart disease,” said Rimm. While “moderation” varies by individual, moderate alcohol consumption is generally defined as a drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. (Twelve ounces of regular or light beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits constitute one drink.)

Rimm also revealed research revealing that among men and women who drink moderately, Type II diabetes is reduced by one-third to one-half compared to nondrinkers. Alcohol’s preventive effects for diabetes may be due to increasing insulin sensitivity and helping to control body weight, noted Rimm.

Heavy drinkers are at increased risk for certain types of cancer, and studies have shown an association between alcohol consumption and increased risk for breast cancer. Recent data suggest that when alcohol is consumed in moderation with a diet that’s rich in folate, breast cancer risk is not increased. Alcohol interferes with folate metabolism, and folate is necessary for maintaining healthy cells, so it’s important to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables when you drink alcohol, said Rimm.

“In moderation, alcohol has many beneficial physiological effects,” said Rimm, “but it’s not a magic bullet that can make up for a poor diet or lack of exercise.” The Harvard Healthy Eating Pyramid recommends eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, olives and olive oil, fish and lean sources of meat. Alcohol in moderation is also recommended along with daily exercise.”

Kaplan and Rimm spoke in New York at a press event sponsored by the National Beer Wholesalers Association, a trade association based in Alexandria, Va., representing the nation’s 2,200 beer wholesalers. The NBWA is committed to disseminating useful and truthful information about beer consumption. Science regarding the health effects of beer continues to develop, and the health consequences of consumption may vary from person to person. Adults of legal drinking age should consult their family physician about the health effects of responsible alcohol consumption. And if you choose to drink, please drink responsibly.

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