May 19, 2010 -- People who drink alcohol in low or moderate amounts are healthier on average than teetotalers, European researchers say.
Researchers led by Boris Hansel, MD, of the Hopital de la Pitie in Paris, studied 149,773 people at the Center for CVD Prevention. The study participants were divided into four groups, based on how they described their daily drinking habits:
- People who said they never drank.
- People with low alcohol consumption (10 grams or less).
- People with moderate alcohol consumption (10-30 grams).
- People with high alcohol consumption (more than 30 grams).
Ten grams roughly equals one alcoholic drink, according to the study.
The researchers found that low and moderate drinkers among both men and women were in better health than those who never drink. They also were in better overall health, the researchers say, than people who identified themselves as heavy drinkers.
The low and moderate drinkers also scored higher than nondrinkers on subjective health measures, such as physical activity and respiratory function.
Alcohol intake for men and women was strongly associated with increased concentrations of HDL "good" cholesterol. But the researchers say they could not determine whether the influence of alcohol on HDL had a protective effect against cardiovascular disease.
Moderate female drinkers had lower blood pressure and smaller waist and hip circumferences than nondrinkers, according to the study.
Another finding suggests that moderate alcohol consumption is an indicator of optimal social status, which the researchers say could explain why people who drink alcohol in low or moderate amounts are healthier than nondrinkers.
Among other general findings:
- Total alcohol intake increased with age in men and women.
- Wine was the alcoholic beverage most widely drunk, except among people under 30.
- There was a significant positive relationship between smoking and drinking of alcohol.
- Women who were moderate drinkers were more likely to say they practiced regular physical activity.
- Men who said they had never drunk alcohol reported the highest level of physical activity.
The researchers conclude that drinking alcohol is strongly associated with factors favoring "a superior overall health status and a lower risk of [cardiovascular disease] in moderate alcohol drinkers" compared with people who said they had never drank alcohol.
The researchers write that moderate drinking of alcohol is a "powerful general indicator of optimal social status."
They also say future research is needed to verify their findings.
The study is published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.