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Healthy holiday spirits.

The year 2000 marked the new millennium and, perhaps fitting the celebration, it was the year of research on the health benefits of drinking alcohol. While society's relationship with alcohol has always been controversial, it is nonetheless enduring. And whether your own vote is for abstinence, moderation, or excess, alcohol can be good medicine when limited to a drink a day. It has been shown to raise levels of high-density lipoproteins (the good cholesterol) and reduce the incidence of heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Several new studies published this year give us more evidence and information about alcohol and health.

Although the association between health benefits and moderate alcohol consumption has been clear, it was not known whether beer alone conveyed the same benefits as wine. But a large study published this year confirmed that beer provides the same protective effect as wine does.

Beer drinkers scored again in another study that showed that wine and hard liquor cause a rise in blood homocysteine levels. High homocysteine levels are linked to increased cardiovascular disease risk. Beer drinking, on the other hand, causes a rise in B6, which is known to reduce homocysteine levels, making beer a good heart-healthy choice.

In other studies, a drink a day provided protection against not only heart disease, cancer, and stroke, but also against mental decline, including Alzheimer's disease, that often accompanies aging. This study also emphasizes that moderation is key--both abstainers and heavy drinkers in this study were more likely to suffer mental decline, with the heavy drinkers showing the poorest performance on mental tests.

While these studies shouldn't compel you to drink if you don't already, for those who enjoy a drink a day, you're drinking in some nice benefits right along with it. Those toasting the New Year with wine may have the greatest advantage since wine is still the winner of the research wars, showing the greatest health benefits as compared to beer and spirits.

(Annals of Internal Medicine, 2000, Vol. 133. pp. 411-419; Lancet, 2000, Vol. 355, pp. 1522; American Journal of Public Health, 2000, Vol. 90, pp. 1254-1259; British Medical Journal, 2000, Vol. 320, pp. 1378-1379; British Journal of Psychiatry, 2000, Vol. 177, pp. 66-71)
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Publication:Running & FitNews
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2000
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