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As of August 2007, Dr. Carr's favorite is Sauvignon...
The Beer VitaminDutch researchers report that drinking beer may provide cardiovascular benefits not seen with red wine, because of beer's vitamin B6 content. They measured the blood levels of homocysteine and vitamin B6 among men who drank varying types of alcoholic beverages or plain water with their meals. They found that beer drinkers were the only ones who did not experience an increase of homocysteine (linked to heart disease risks) after meals. However, vitamin B6 levels did increase in these volunteers by 30 percent.4 4. The Lancet, April 29, 2000.
Beer to Fight CancerJapanese researchers report that they have a novel preventive measure for persons concerned about colon cancer: drink more beer. Laboratory rats were given a potent carcinogen, then fed a diet that included water, beer, or beer-related products such as malt. About 90 percent of the water-drinking rats developed tumors, but only two-thirds as many of the beer-consumers did so. The researchers believe that nonalcoholic ingredients, such as vitamins and amino acids, were responsible for the results. The researchers also note that they had no trouble convincing the rats to drink their beer.6 6. OTC, April 7, 2002, reporting on the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in San Francisco
Beer Won't Spoil Your AppetiteTwo Canadian studies have confirmed what many people have long suspected: that the calories in a glass of beer do nothing to sate your appetite.6 Normally, the carbohydrates (and fats and proteins) you consume accumulate until your body decides it has its energy quota. You then lose your hunger until the next mealtime. However, it appears that the calories in beer are ignored for all practical purposes. The net result is that however many beers you drink with a meal (within reason I assume), that many extra calories are consumed for the same amount of hunger satisfaction. This may help to explain beer bellies.
Cancer-Inhibiting BeerJapanese researchers report that an as-yet unidentified component of beer appears to be a strong cancer inhibitor. Researchers studied 24 different beers from 11 countries and found the effect most pronounced among stout beers. After being given cancer-causing chemicals, mouse volunteers that consumed the beer exhibited fewer carcinogenic changes than the abstainers.11 Followup research in humans is likely. 11. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (published by the American Chemical Society), January 1999.
Scottish Alcohol StudyIn a study that reached conclusions directly contradicting a number of other recent works, Scottish researchers report no health benefits from alcohol consumption. Researchers from the University of Bristol tracked 5,766 men over a 21-year period and correlated their health and mortality statistics with their drinking habits. They found no difference in deaths between abstainers and moderate drinkers (up to 14 units of alcohol per week).
A unit of alcohol was defined as eight ounces of beer, a glass of wine or a shot of liquor. Heavy drinkers, though (more than 35 units), died from stroke twice as often as the moderate or non-drinkers. The stroke risk became statistically significant at about 22 units of alcohol per week.15
The researchers speculate that the differences between their study and others with different outcomes may be in the drinking patterns. It could be, they say, that health benefits may become apparent if the drinking is evenly spaced over the week instead of the majority of alcoholic drinks being consumed during weekend binges. 15. British Medical Journal, June 26, 1999
Irish Coffee for StrokeUniversity of Texas researchers, studying the effects of strokes on rats, reportedly have found an improbable new stroke treatment: a swig of alcohol with a coffee chaser. They say the combination works just as well as potent drugs now in use for stroke treatment. For ischemic strokes (80 percent of stroke cases), alcohol administered by itself made the stroke worse. Caffeine alone had no effect, but the equivalent of one alcoholic drink followed by two or three cups of coffee offered "almost complete protection" from stroke damage. The effect is lost if the proportions are modified too much, and taking the mixture as a preventive measure (daily before the stroke happens) does not seem to work. More research is expected to follow, though the researchers are not getting many offers of funding from the major drug companies.10 10. Reported to the American Neurological Association meeting in Seattle, October 13, 1999, by Dr. James Grotta.
Drunk Driving IncreasesA survey of 102,000 people finds that more people are driving under the influence of alcohol than experts had suspected. While automobile-related deaths attributed to drunk driving have declined in recent years, the researchers say that Americans are still driving drunk 123 million times each year. A typical drunk can get behind the wheel 82 times before he is caught. About 17,000 people die each year in the United States in alcohol-related accidents.9 9. United Press, January 7, 1997.
Alcohol Prominent in Lower Class MortalityResearchers from Finland say that one reason members of lower economic groups die at a younger age is alcohol. Examining the death certificates of working class men, they found that 10 percent cited alcohol as a contributing factor. It wasn't liver disease and nutritional deficiencies that killed these people though, but violence. In fact, half of all violent and accidental deaths were alcohol-related. For women, that figure was 38 percent.4 4. British Medical Journal, July 26, 1997.
Alcohol and Infant LeukemiaA paper published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute9 suggests that pregnant mothers who imbibe alcoholic beverages during the last six months of their pregnancy increase the risk that their child will suffer from infant leukemia by a factor of 10. The study was based on data from about 800 children and, according to the writers, the correlation is "very significant."10 9. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, January 3, 1996. 10. Associated Press, January 2, 1996.
Have a Few, TeetotalersA 10-year Harvard study of physicians reports that alcohol can have both positive and negative effects on a person's longevity, depending on the quantity consumed. In this study of 20,000 men, two to four drinks per week was judged to cut the risk of death by 28 percent compared to non-drinkers. The benefits seem to come from healthier cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune, and nervous systems. However, too much of a good thing (two or more drinks per day) increased death rates 51 percent, with lung cancer being a major cause of death.2 2. Archives of Internal Medicine, January 13, 1997.
A Few Will Help Your Circulation TooWhile large amounts of alcohol can make your legs wobbly, a Harvard Medical School study suggests that smaller amounts will increase your distal circulation. Over an 11 year period of time, the study followed 22,000 male doctors, watching for peripheral artery disease. Moderately light drinkers (one or two drinks per day) had a 32 percent less incidence of the disorder compared to abstainers.3 Researchers advise, though, that if you are a smoker you would achieve much better results by quitting cigarettes than by taking up the bottle. 3. Circulation, February 4, 1997.
Young Brains on AlcoholAlcohol affects children and teenagers differently than adults, according to research at Duke University Medical Center and the Durham VA Medical Center in North Carolina. Their study, done on animals but thought to extrapolate well to humans, finds that alcohol causes learning and other mental problems in adolescents. Alcohol seems to interfere with development of the brain's circuitry, which is not thought to be complete until a person is about 20 years of age. Also, alcohol does not seem to have the sedative effect on teenagers that it does on adults, which permits more consumption.13 The authors think that this and future research will support legal prohibitions against underage drinking. 13. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, November 1996
Alcohol-Triggered MetastasisAnimal studies at Ohio State University suggest that a single episode of binge drinking can trigger the spread of tumor cells throughout the body. Researchers found that the effect, which doesn't occur until the blood alcohol level reaches .2 percent, is that the "natural killer" cells' activity is reduced to 1/40th normal. These cells normally eliminate roaming tumor cells, so their diminished effectiveness can result in a tumor spreading to another location in the body. The NK cells can recover quickly at first when the alcohol is cleared from the bloodstream, but repeated episodes seem to cause permanent damage. These findings may help explain why heavy drinkers suffer from such high cancer rates.9 9. Nature Medicine, April 1996.
Non-alcoholic WineIf you're a non-drinker and feel cheated by the recent reports of the cardiovascular benefits of wine, there may yet be some good news for you. A group of British researchers has found that a non-alcoholic extract of a French wine, Cabernet sauvignon, seems to show similar (though possibly less pronounced) effects on the cardiovascular system. Volunteers who consumed the concoction, a drink called Nutrivine, showed increased antioxidant action in their blood stream within two weeks. The product will be test marketed in Singapore.15 15. Reuters, February 20, 1997.
Maternal Alcohol Usage and Cerebral PalsyAn article in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics describes a study that finds a strong relationship between alcoholic consumption during pregnancy and brain damage in premature infants. 349 preemies underwent ultrasound evaluations of their brains. In the group whose mothers reported seven alcoholic drinks per week, brain hemorrhage increased five times, while white matter damage was nearly ten times as frequent. The white matter changes were similar to those seen in cerebral palsy.
Health Benefits of Unhealthy LifestylesThe magazine Sports Afield reports in their January issue the following benefits of decadent lifestyles: Married men who spend significant effort in pursuit of recreational distraction with friends such as a night out with the boys at the local sports bar live longer than single teetotaling vegetarian joggers. Moderate amounts of alcohol, as has been much discussed recently, seems to increase both the span and perhaps quality of life. Red wine may even be anti-carcinogenic. Many heart disease patients have been found deficient in essential fatty acids, presumably from avoiding fatty foods such as butter, pizza, and steak. Some think the heart disease is related to a lack of those compounds. Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, prostate, and endometrial cancers strike smokers only half as often as they do non-smokers.
Alcohol Craving HamstersA Chinese herb called Kudzo vine contains a component that seems to reduce alcohol cravings in hamsters. Researchers at Harvard Medical School summarized their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.2 Hamsters seem to have a natural liking of a little alcohol in their drinking water, but an extract from the herb seemed to curb that appetite. Researchers expect human trials to begin within a year.
St. John's Wort for AlcoholismIn a study of rats bred to have a thirst for alcohol, researchers at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)12 have found that the popular St. John's Wort appears to cut alcoholic cravings. Rats were given free access to both water and an alcoholic beverage, but among those given the herbal remedy alcohol consumption decreased nearly 50 percent. Researchers speculate that the herb acts by increasing serotonin levels. 12. Led by Amir Rezvani, who reported the findings at the annual meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism in Chapel Hill, June 23, 1998
Alcohol Against Heart FailureStudies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association11 appear to bolster the role of alcohol in fighting heart disease. One study found that the likelihood of survival after a heart attack is proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed each week, at least to a point. Moderate drinkers (seven or more drinks each week) were 30 percent more likely to survive than abstainers. The beverage of choice did not seem to matter in this study of nearly 2,000. Another study found that those who drank at least 1-1/2 drinks each day were 20-50 percent less likely to develop congestive heart failure; the benefit gained, again, was proportional to the quantity consumed. 11. JAMA, April 18, 2001.
Alcohol and the BrainResearch published in the journal Stroke10 concludes that moderate alcohol consumption has both positive and negative effects on the human brain. On the positive side, the study confirms previous research that suggests a lowered risk of stroke and subsequent brain scarring when compared to total abstainers. Included in the stroke category is a type called a silent stroke, which goes unnoticed by the patient. The effects of silent strokes accumulate over time to produce gradual impairments of intellectual ability or motor skill function. The white matter scarring produced by such strokes is visible on MRI scans. Unfortunately, the study also suggests that each alcoholic drink contributes to brain atrophy, which is associated with dementia. Previously, it was assumed that this shrinkage only occurred in heavy drinkers, such as alcoholics, but this study suggests a more linear relationship. The authors are reluctant to speculate on which is the less desirable outcome. 10. Stroke, September 7, 2001.
Alcohol: Not for the Very YoungA new study published in Science7 concludes that permanent serious brain damage can be inflicted on a fetus if the mother becomes intoxicated for four hours or more. The researchers say that a blood alcohol level about twice the legal limit triggers a massive brain cell suicide in the fetal brain, destroying as much as 30 percent of the brain neurons if it happens during a time of crucial brain development. The study was done on rats, but the writers think the effects are similar in humans. The outcome could be brain disorders, including learning disabilities and memory problems. The critical time, they say, is from the sixth month of pregnancy through the second birthday. The mechanism appears to be an interference with glutamate and GABA neurotransmitters, the lack of which acts as a signal for the cells to self-destruct. Most anesthesias used in pediatric surgeries are thought to have a similar effect. 7. Science, February 2000.
Another Reason to Take a DrinkA new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association8 concludes that alcohol can help prevent strokes. Volunteers from New York City who drank one or two alcoholic beverages each day had a 45 percent lower incidence of ischemic strokes. This is the most common type of stroke, due to a lack of blood reaching the brain. It is generally thought to be caused by a blood clot or blood vessel constriction. Too much alcohol, though, can make things much worse: seven or more drinks per day caused strokes to increase by 300 percent. 8. JAMA, January 6, 1999.
Diabetes and AlcoholA recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association6 suggests that the recently touted cardiovascular benefits of alcohol apply equally, if not more so, to diabetics. This 12-year study of 983 type II diabetics over the age of 40 concludes that one or two drinks each day can decrease the risk of death from heart disease in diabetics by up to 80 percent. Alcohol also appears to help diabetics by reducing insulin resistance, a problem that makes it harder for diabetics to take advantage of the little insulin they are able to produce.7 6. JAMA, July 21, 1999. 7. Associated Press, July 20, 1999.
Red Wine and ImmunologyMuch has reported on the health benefits of drinking red wine. However, many worry about the effects of alcohol on the immune system. It has long been known that alcohol tends to suppress the immune response. New research from the University of Florida, however, suggests that the alcohol in red wine does not behave in this manner. Researchers studied white blood cell responses to mild infections in alcoholic mice. While they observed suppression in those that consumed ethanol from other sources, those that regularly drank red wine only (as their alcoholic beverage) showed no ill effects. The mice were all given the equivalent of a human's two to three glasses of alcoholic drinks per day.7 7. Reuters, reporting on research by Susan Percival of the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Smoking is a major cause of tooth loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Periodontal disease (deterioration of the gums) is responsible for most of the tooth loss in older persons and smoking is responsible for the majority of periodontal disease, says a report published in the Journal of Periodontology.10 Smokers are affected by gum disease four times as often as nonsmokers. It is thought that smoking decreases blood flow and nutrition to the gum tissues, as well as lowering resistance to bacteria growth. 10. Journal of Periodontology, May 2000.