Sunday, October 18, 2009
Moderate Drinking: The Debate Continues
New study says it’s the lifestyle, not the alcohol.
Ever since the first studies showed modest statistical health benefits for people who drank a light to moderate amount of alcohol, the debate has bounced back and forth among researchers. Now an Italian study of more than 3,000 older adults, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, claims that it is the moderate lifestyle of drinkers, and not the alcohol itself, which helps prevent functional decline as we age.
After controlling for body weight, level of physical activity, education, and income, Cinzia Maraldi and coworkers in the Department of Clinical and Experimental Internal Medicine at the University of Ferrara pointed the finger at lifestyle characteristics—primarily weight control and exercise.
The researchers did not dispute the finding that moderate levels of alcohol intake can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease--but lead author Maraldi said in a press release that “the benefit of alcohol intake on other health-related outcomes is less convincing.”
Maraldi said the positive effects of moderate alcohol on physical aging and cognitive impairment in the elderly may be only apparent, “because life-style related characteristics seem to be the real determinant of the reported association.”
The research follows earlier U.S. studies suggesting much the same thing. A finding that had become common folk wisdom—with perhaps a little nudge from the alcoholic beverage industry--is now openly disputed by scientists.
“The moderate drinkers tend to do everything right,” said sociologist Kaye Middleton Fillmore, in a New York Times article by Roni Caryn Rabin. “They exercise, they don’t smoke, they eat right and they drink moderately.” In the same article, an Oakland cardiologist said: “It’s very difficult to form a single-bullet message because one size doesn’t fit all here, and the public health message has to be very conservative.”
In the New York Times article, Dr. Tim Naimi of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said: “The bottom line is there has not been a single study done on moderate alcohol consumption and mortality outcomes that is a ‘gold standard’ kind of study—the kind of randomized controlled clinical trial that we would be required to have in order to approve a new pharmaceutical agent in this country.”
Photo Credit: Rhodes University
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