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50+: Live Better, Longer

Here's to Your Health: Wine vs. Beer, Spirits

<P>Medical researchers have known for quite a while that drinking alcohol moderately seems to have a beneficial effect on health, particularly on heart disease. </P>
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Merle Diamond, MD

Sept. 18, 2000 -- Medical researchers have known for quite a while that drinking alcohol moderately seems to have a beneficial effect on health, particularly on heart disease. Now a new study by Danish researchers suggests that wine drinkers have a substantially lower death rate than people who drink other forms of alcohol, according to an article published in the Sept. 19 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

"There certainly seems to be a difference in the effect of drinking wine compared to beer or spirits. Wine drinkers appear to live longer," Morten Grønbæk, MD, tells WebMD. "Wine appears to have a beneficial effect on cancer mortality, as well as on mortality due to heart disease." Grønbæk is a research associate professor at the University of Copenhagen and lead author of the article.

"Alcohol is a pleasure many people enjoy, and it appears to actually make your arteries younger," Michael Roizen, MD, tells WebMD. "Alcohol in moderation seems to be beneficial unless a particular person has reasons to avoid it. We're talking here about small amounts of wine: one to two drinks per day for a man, and one-half to one drink per day for a woman." Roizen is professor and chairman of the department of anesthesia and critical care at the University of Chicago School of Medicine and author of the book Real Age: Are You As Young As You Can Be?

In the study, researchers looked at survey data on drinking patterns for almost 25,000 men and women, as well as data on death rates from national registries. This is the largest study of its kind so far. They found wine drinkers decreased their risk of death by a third compared with nondrinkers. People who avoided wine but drank other forms of alcohol showed a 10% reduction, compared to nondrinkers.

This was after researchers took other lifestyle factors into consideration -- such as smoking, exercise, age, and education level -- that may have had an effect on the results.

"This is a very interesting and somewhat provocative finding," says Barry Meisenberg, MD. "It fits with numerous other studies that show alcohol can reduce overall mortality. If someone already has the habit of drinking small amounts of alcohol, they can take comfort from this study." Meisenberg is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

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