Report Questions Alcohol's
The idea that light to moderate alcohol
drinking protects against heart disease has become entrenched,
but findings from a new study challenge this.
Analyzing data from a decade-long
study, researchers found that alcohol consumption was associated
with a lower risk of heart disease, but only among whites. Among
black men, the opposite was true -- alcohol consumption was associated
with an increased risk of heart disease and death from heart disease.
This does not mean that the heart-protective
effects of alcohol drinking depend on the race of the drinker,
according to study author Dr. Flavio Fuchs of Federal University
of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil told Reuters Health.
"We believe that there is not a
race-specific effect of ethanol," he told Reuters Health. "There
is no scientific background to suppose that blacks would respond
so differently to ethanol."
Rather, the researchers say in
their report in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the contrasting
findings between blacks and whites "raise the question of whether
the cardioprotective effect of alcohol is real or may be confounded
by lifestyle characteristics of drinkers."
The study's results cast doubts
on the idea that people should drink alcohol as a preventive health
strategy to protect against heart disease. "Moderate consumption
of alcohol does not increase the risk for a heart attack...but
it is not clear if it protects against a heart attack," Fuchs
This is important, he added, because
"there is a trend in some countries to recommend the consumption
of low amounts of alcoholic beverages to get some heart protection."
Fuchs and his colleagues analyzed
data from 14,506 black and white participants in the on-going
Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. The participants were
asked about their alcohol drinking habits -- whether they were
current or former drinkers and the typical number of drinks they
consumed per week -- and were followed up for about 10 years.
About 55 percent of white men and
34 percent of white women said they were current drinkers, in
comparison to 45 percent of black men and 15 percent of black
During the follow-up period, 707
people were hospitalized for a heart attack or experienced some
other heart disease-related event. Of these, 146 people died,
Fuchs and his colleagues report.
The incidence of heart disease-related
events among current drinkers was higher among blacks than whites.
For example, black men were 13
percent more likely to experience heart disease for every 13 grams
of ethanol (about 12 ounces of beer) consumed every day, whereas
white men who drank the same amount were 22 percent less likely
to develop heart disease.
Further, black men who consumed
between 140 and 210 grams of ethanol each week -- equivalent to
about 13 to 19 glasses of wine, for example -- were more than
twice as likely as their non-drinking peers to have heart disease.
In contrast, white men who drank similar amounts were nearly half
as likely to experience heart disease as white men who did not
White women who drank only on rare
occasions, as was the case for 27 percent of them, were 53 percent
less likely to experience heart disease than were their non-drinking
peers. Those who said they were current drinkers and consumed
70 or more grams of ethanol on a weekly basis had a similarly
reduced risk of heart disease. No conclusions could be drawn among
the black women, the authors note, since so few reported current
or rare drinking.
The reason for the discrepancy
between blacks and whites is unknown, Fuchs said, but white men
may have "an overall lower risk profile."
The bottom line? "Moderate wine,
and probably beer and liquors, are not harmful, but may not protect
our health," Fuchs said.
SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology,
September 1, 2004.
Reference Source 89
September 9, 2004