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The Arguments for Alcohol continued...

The French, the world's greatest wine connoisseurs, presented even better news in a 1998 issue of the journal Epidemiology: In a five-year study in France, people who drank two to five glasses of wine a day had up to 31% less risk of death from any cause than nondrinkers.

The benefits may go beyond the heart. In a study of 3,072 men and women published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society in January 1998, researchers at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., found that moderate wine drinkers are 14% less likely than nondrinkers to develop age-related macular degeneration, a disease of the retina that can cause blindness.

Other research suggests that a daily glass of wine or beer with a meal may also help lower risk for diabetes. In a six-year Harvard study of more than 41,000 health professionals, the moderate drinkers were almost half as likely to develop the disease as nondrinkers, according to a March 1995 report in the British Medical Journal. Another study published in the July 21, 1999 issue of JAMA found that Type 2 diabetics get the same protection as other people from moderate drinking.

The Downside of Drinking

So why not recommend a glass or two for everyone? First, because not everyone stands to benefit: Drinking apparently has very little to offer women in their 20s and 30s, for instance. In findings from the Harvard Nurses Study, published May 11, 1995, in the New England Journal of Medicine, alcohol cut heart-disease risk almost in half and lowered overall death rates by 14%, but mostly for women over 50. That makes sense medically, since women's risk for heart disease begins to climb steeply only after menopause.

And for people at any age, too much alcohol can cause major health problems. Excessive imbibing actually increases the danger of heart disease, according to a report published in the Novartis Foundation Symposium in 1998. Even a single session of alcohol consumption consistent with legal blood-alcohol levels may be linked to heart disease, stroke, or cirrhosis, according to a Sept. 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation. It can also elevate blood pressure and cause irregular heartbeat. Serious alcoholism damages the liver and can lead to liver failure. Overall, an estimated 100,000 people die every year of alcohol-related causes, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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