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Don't start drinking for your health: Experts

By Kathryn Doyle

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Moderate drinking has been linked to several benefits, but it's too soon to pour a glass in pursuit of physical wellness.

That was the response of several doctors and alcohol researchers to an editorial based on a critical analysis of recent studies in the journal Addiction.

"People have several motives for drinking alcohol, but most evidence today indicates that health is not a valid argument," author Hans Olav Fekjaer, a psychiatrist in Oslo, Norway, told Reuters Health by email.

Many studies have found that people who have one or two drinks per day also have a lowered risk for more than 20 health problems, he wrote, including coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and the common cold.

But that's not enough to recommend using alcohol to stave off those conditions, Fekjaer told Reuters Health.

For one thing, most of the evidence for benefits comes from observational studies, which find associations between lifestyle choices and health outcomes but don't prove that one causes the other, according to Dr. Richard Saitz, professor at Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health and editor of the journal Evidence-Based Medicine.

People who drink moderately might live healthier lives in general, Saitz told Reuters Health.

"People who drink low risk amounts are much more likely to get mammograms and have their teeth checked by a dentist, to go see a physician for a physical, to exercise," Saitz said.

"We don't think that low amounts of alcohol cause people to go to the dentist," Saitz said. "That's just an association."

The existing evidence might reassure those who already drink moderately that they may be getting some benefit and may not be doing much harm, Saitz said. But those who do not drink shouldn't pick up a bottle in pursuit of health.

‘WITH GREAT RELIEF'

Some people have already started, according to Dr. Sharonne Hayes of the Women's Heart Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

"It tends to be little old ladies who have a heart attack and they read somewhere that alcohol is good and they start having a nightcap," Hayes told Reuters Health. "They hold their nose and drink it, an ounce of brandy before bedtime, they don't even like it."

"It's with great relief that I tell them they don't need to do that anymore," Hayes said.

While none advocated the medicinal use of alcohol, some experts believed Fekjaer was too selective in the examples he used.

"Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater," said Dr. Barbara Turner of the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and author of a review on the association between alcohol and cardiovascular health.

"Honestly right now I wouldn't run out and say that (drinking) is the same as taking Lipitor," a cholesterol drug prescribed to people at risk for stroke or heart attack, but further study could solidify a causal relationship with heart disease and perhaps other conditions, Turner said.

"This is such a contentious issue, we do need to push for rigorous controlled trials," she said.

There are some risks from light drinking, like an increased risk of some cancers, but that is also small, according to Fekjaer. "As I indicate in Addiction, I would not expect any health benefits from light or moderate drinking," Fekjaer said. "So weighing the risks of light drinking against benefits, I would say it is like weighing almost zero against zero!"

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/10dSNyY Addiction, March 1, 2013.

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