Bottoms up, guys!
Here's one of those statistical oddities that suggests life is not always fair: New research suggests that drinking alcoholic beverages daily may significantly reduce the risk of heart disease for men; but women, in contrast, gain no particular benefit from daily consumption.
"The inverse association between drinking alcohol and risk of coronary heart disease seems to be independent of drinking frequency in women but not in men," reported Janne Tolstrup and colleagues at the National Institute of Public Health's Centre for Alcohol Research in Copenhagen, in a study published this week in the British Medical Journal.
Moreover, they reported, to gain the maximum cardioprotective benefit from alcohol, it didn't seem to matter how much men drink as long as they drink every day. The researchers studied alcohol consumption in more than 50,000 healthy middle-aged Danish women and men over a six-year period.
"People choose to drink alcohol for all sorts of reasons, from toasting the happy couple to drowning sorrows and numbing pain," wrote the British Medical Journal's Annie Britton in an editorial commenting on the Danish report. "I can hear the corks popping already, but before pouring the next glass and at the risk of being a wet - or should that be dry - blanket, it is worth bearing several caveats in mind."
She went on with a familiar, and reasonable, litany of ifs, ands and buts. "The epidemiological evidence on how drinking is related to the risk of heart disease over the life course is scarce and we do not yet know whether cardioprotective benefits accrue over a lifetime or whether, purely from a health perspective, we should defer drinking alcohol until older age, when heart disease is manifest," she wrote.
"Before advising patients about their frequency of drinking, of course, we must consider the bigger picture in terms of health and social consequences of alcohol consumption," ranging from drunken accidents and injuries to alcohol-related cancers and cirrhosis. "Clearly, it would be unwise for doctors to advise non-drinkers to start drinking in an attempt to prevent cardiac disease when there are other strategies ... that have fewer harmful side effects."
One can easily visualize Britton frowning and shaking a warning finger as she concludes, "Research such as that conducted by Tolstrop and colleagues is widely disseminated in the media and may be used by some people as a justification for their potentially harmful drinking behaviour. Sadly, it is difficult to control the media's sensationalist interpretations of epidemiological findings."
Actually, I've never recommended taking wine or any other alcoholic beverage as medicine. That's just not the point. But it's always a pleasure to have further evidence that a moderate glass or wine, or maybe even two, probably won't hurt us and might even do us a little good.
Here's a link to the introduction to Britton's editorial (there's a $4 charge for online access to the full text).
Finally, an article about the study in the Western Mail of Cardiff, the national newspaper of Wales:
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Friday, May 26, 2006