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Weakness for alcohol borne by muscles.

Weakness for alcohol borne by muscles

A new study of a homogeneous population of alcoholics with no signs of sickness reveals that long-term, heavy alcohol consumption damages the heart in one-third of alcoholis and skeletal muscles in almost half. "It is very clear that [alcohol's toxic effects on muscle] are significant and far more widespread than anybody previously thought," says pathologist Emanuel Rubin of Jefferson Medical College in Philadephia, a coauthor of the study.

The research also demonstrates for the first time, he says, that beyond a certain high level of lifetime alcohol consumption, muscle weakness is proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed.

"So the more alcohol consumed in a lifteime, the less the strength of the heart and the less the strength of the [skeletal] muscles," Rubin says. "But this is not to say that one or two drinks a day will damage you in any way. You have to drink a lot for a long period of time to get these effects."

His team found skeletal muscle disease in people who consumed a lifetime does of more than 13 kilograms per kilogram of body weight. For a 154-pound man, this corresponds to drinking more than 12 ounces of 86-proof whiskey a day for 20 years.

Rubin and his co-workers studied 50 white men aged 25 to 59 who voluntarity entered an alcohol treatment unit in Barcelona, Spain. All held stable jobs and had supportive families. In addition, all were "reasonably well nourished," so the effects found in the study "have nothing to do with nutrition," Rubin says. These individuals were compared with an agematched control group of 50 white male physicians who were not heavy drinkers.

Using a force-measuring machine to assess the strength of each man's deltoid muscle, the researchers found the alcoholics significantly weaker than the controls: 42 percent were very weak. And by microscopically examining muscle tissue samples from the subjects, the researchers detected irreversible changes, such as cell death and scarring, in 46 percent. In contrast, the 10 samples taken from controls were entirely normal. The findings appear in the Feb. 16 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL MEDICINE.

Noninvasive heart scans revealed abnormal heart function in 33 percent of the alcoholics but normal function in all the controls. Six alcoholics with severely weakened hearts underwent diagnostic biopsies, all of which revealed multiple signs of cardiac muscle breakdown due to alcohol, Rubin says. None of these alcoholics suffered from coronary artery disease.

"There was a very good correlation between damage to [skeletal] muscle and damage to the heart," Rubin says. Heart and skeletal muscles share certain features, such as striations. He concludes, therefore, that "alcohol is a toxin for striated muscle regardless of where it is."
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Author:Wickelgren, Ingrid
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 25, 1989
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