Dec. 13, 2006 A study performed by the Research Laboratories of the Catholic University of Campobasso (Italy) confirms the beneficial effects that moderate consumption of alcohol has on our health. But this time it is not just cardiovascular disease that gets advantage from this: drinking in moderation reduces all-cause mortality.
The research, published on the American journal Archives of Internal Medicine, assembled 34 scientific studies conducted during the last years worldwide using the statistic procedure of meta-analysis, that allows to match different studies to achieve general results. In this way it has been possible to examine data concerning over a million of people, for which alcohol drinking habits were associated with all-cause mortality.
The conclusions researchers from the Catholic University of Campobasso came to clearly show that drinking in moderation (a couple of wine or beer glasses a day) has beneficial effects on health. But that is not all: while the greatest part of the studies conducted on this issue have looked at cardiovascular disease, a term that includes clinical events of various severity, the study published on the Archives of Internal Medicine shows a positive effect of alcohol on an unquestionably hard parameter as overall mortality.
Alcohol as a life insurance" Not exactly. The key word is moderation. The Italian research also confirms that excessive consumption of alcohol is absolutely harmful, and the risk of death for those who drink in excess does not decrease at all. On the contrary: the risk definitely increases.
"Our data," says Augusto Di Castelnuovo, lead author of the study, "show that consumption of little amounts of alcohol leads to a reduction of mortality up to 18%. But after a certain number of glasses things radically change: who drinks too much not only looses this advantage, but increases his own risk of death in relation to the amount of alcohol consumed."
The study shows very important differences between men and women. Whereas men report a beneficial effect after consuming 2-4 doses maximum (a dose refers to one glass of wine or beer), women should be aware: for them, the protection guaranteed from alcohol consumption disappears just after two glasses a day.
"It might be," says Licia Iacoviello, Head of the Laboratory of Genetic and Environmental Epidemiology, where the research has been performed, "a fact linked to the metabolism. We know that women metabolize alcohol in a different way and the blood concentration reaches higher levels. Therefore, consuming more than two doses might lead to several harmful effects, such as liver diseases or increased risk of certain forms of tumour."
The meta-analysis conducted by the Catholic University found that the protection given by a moderate consumption of alcohol for American men is lower than the one observed for Europeans. For women, instead, the situation is substantially the same both in USA and Europe. An explanation might be found in the different ways in consuming alcohol. Europeans are more inclined to drink wine rather than other beverages and use to do it while having meals. Two habits different from Americans'. In relation to women, the way they consume alcohol is roughly the same in both continents, thus they respond identically. However, the debate is still open and more research is needed.
Another significant data emerging from the study is related to the so called "confounding factors". During the past years, it has been thought that the protecting effect of alcohol might be ascribed to other factors. It might be, in fact, that people enjoying alcohol drinks in moderation are more concerned about their own health: it may turn out that they are more likely to do sport or to consume healthier food.
In other words it might be that they have a better lifestyle and this could be the cause, not necessarily alcohol, that keeps them in good health.
"We've carefully examined this aspect," Di Castelnuovo continues. "Our data suggest that, even considering all main confounding factors (as dietary habits, physical activity or the health of people studied), a moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages keeps on showing a real positive effect."
"The core of this study is not just about alcohol," says Giovanni de Gaetano, director of the Research Laboratories at the Catholic University, "it is also the way we drink that makes the difference: little amounts, preferably during meals, this appears to be the right way. This is another feature of the Mediter-ranean diet, where alcohol, wine above all, is the ideal partner of a dinner or lunch, but that's all: the rest of the day must be absolutely alcohol- free. The message carried by scientific studies like ours is simple: alcohol can be a respectful guest on our table, but it is good just when it goes with a healthy lifestyle, where moderation leads us toward a consumption inspired by quality not by quantity."
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The above story is based on materials provided by Research Laboratories of the Catholic University of Campobasso, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.
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