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health benefits of drinking

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  • pguy40
    Sorry if this is long, but most here will find it interesting. In todays (Dec.28) Wall St. Journal- Drink Your Medicine? Weighing The Health Benefits, Risks of
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 28, 2004
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      Sorry if this is long, but most here will find it interesting.
      In todays (Dec.28) Wall St. Journal-

      Drink Your Medicine? Weighing
      The Health Benefits, Risks of Alcohol
      December 28, 2004; Page D1

      There is a drug that can lower your risk of heart attack, diabetes,
      osteoporosis and mental decline by 30% to 60%, but doctors aren't
      prescribing it.

      The reason? It is alcohol.

      Increasingly, scientific research supports the idea that drinking a
      small amount of alcohol each day is better for you than never
      drinking at all. This isn't true for people with some conditions, but
      overall, data collected from large observational studies show that
      drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can lower the risk of dying by
      about 25% in any given year for the average person, compared with
      those who rarely drink.

      The evidence that alcohol is good for you continues to spark debate
      in the medical community about whether doctors have an obligation to
      inform patients about the health benefits of drinking. Because
      excessive alcohol consumption can be harmful -- causing addiction,
      traffic accidents and potentially fatal medical problems -- most
      doctors say it is never a good idea to tell a nondrinking patient to
      start consuming alcohol. Although most people can drink responsibly,
      it is impossible to know which patient may eventually start to abuse
      alcohol as a result of moderate daily consumption.

      In addition, even small amounts of alcohol can increase risk for
      certain health worries, such as breast and colon cancer. And much of
      the research on alcohol's benefit comes from studies that observe
      people over time, rather than controlled clinical trials, which are
      more reliable.

      So while the evidence is strong, it isn't conclusive. As a result,
      the American Heart Association doesn't recommend drinking alcohol to
      gain cardiovascular benefit, noting that there are less risky ways to
      protect your heart.

      But the issue poses a significant dilemma for doctors. If a physician
      is aware of a drug that could have life-saving benefits, he or she
      has an ethical and legal obligation to inform the patient -- even if
      the drug carries risks. Shouldn't the same rules apply to alcohol?

      "There's no doubt in my mind that if we had a public policy
      encouraging people to drink a little bit of alcohol, the net outcome
      would be very negative," says Pittsburgh cardiologist Richard N.
      Fogoros. "But doctors don't treat society -- they treat individuals,
      and for any given individual, this information may be materially

      Another reason doctors should be talking more about alcohol is that
      patients are confused. Countless news reports have touted the health
      benefits of alcohol, while others have linked it with a higher risk
      for certain cancers and other problems. Few people understand how
      much alcohol is good for you and at what point it can start to cause

      In a scientific advisory statement issued in 2001, the American Heart
      Association noted that there were at least 60 studies linking alcohol
      consumption with lower heart-attack risk. Research also shows that
      regular and moderate alcohol consumption lowers risk for diabetes,
      osteoporosis, dementia and stroke.

      For instance, in the Nurses Health Study, which follows more than
      80,000 women, those with diabetes who drank at least a half-serving
      of alcohol a day had a 52% lower risk for heart attack than
      nondrinkers. (A serving is a glass of wine or beer or a shot -- 1 to
      1.25 ounces -- of whiskey). A 2,000-patient study showed that people
      who were moderate drinkers in the year before heart attacks had a 32%
      lower risk of dying during the four years after the heart attack. A
      17-year study in England of more than 5,000 men found that moderate
      drinkers were 34% less likely to develop diabetes.

      But even in small amounts, alcohol can increase some health risks. A
      person who has two drinks a day has a 75% higher risk for oral
      cancers and a 51% higher risk of esophageal cancer than the average
      person who rarely drinks. Two drinks a day increases the risk for
      colon cancer by 8%. For women, even small amounts of alcohol increase
      breast cancer risk by 30%.

      As a result, people need to take into account family history and
      personal concerns. A woman with a strong family history of breast
      cancer or someone with a family history of alcoholism might decide to
      forgo alcohol altogether. But someone without those added risk
      factors who is worried about heart attack might consider drinking
      small amounts of alcohol daily.

      This summer, the Southern Medical Journal published a review of the
      major studies looking at alcohol and health, including data collected
      in the nurses study and on 88,000 doctors in the Physican's Health
      Survey. The bottom line: the maximum health benefits come with one
      half to one serving of alcohol a day. At that amount, heart
      protection is high but risk for other alcohol-related health problems
      is at its lowest.

      People who drink somewhat more -- for women, two to three drinks a
      day, for men, three or four -- aren't changing their odds. Their
      overall risks are the same as people who don't drink at all. But once
      women go above three drinks and men go above four drinks, they put
      themselves at far higher risk for other alcohol-related problems.

      John B. Standridge, associate professor at the University of
      Tennessee and a specialist in both addiction and family medicine who
      authored the SMJ review, doesn't think doctors should advise patients
      to start drinking because it is impossible to know who might become
      addicted. At the same time, he notes that a patient who is well-known
      by a doctor, has no abuse history and needs aggressive intervention
      for heart risk, might consider moderate alcohol.

      "Nowhere in medicine is the double-edged sword so sharp on both
      sides," Dr. Standridge notes.

      Here's a look at the benefits of moderate drinking.

      Heart attack 37% lower risk in men who drink five to seven days a

      Diabetes 34% lower risk of developing disease; up to 60% more
      protection for diabetics at high risk of heart attack

      Stroke 40% to 60% lower risk with one to two drinks a day

      Dementia 42% lower risk with consumption of one to three drinks daily

      Osteoporosis Women who have six or seven drinks a week have
      significantly higher bone density than nondrinkers

      Source: Southern Medical Journal, July 2004
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