Wine Fine, Liquor No Quicker -- But Beer Best
Suds Better At Drowning Heart Disease
Hoist those tankards high. Dutch researchers report in a major medical
journal that -- at least in terms of preventing heart disease -- beer is better
than either wine or liquor, and all are better than water.
Don't plan the party just yet, though. "It is important to drink
moderately," study leader Henk F.J. Hendriks, PhD, tells WebMD.
"Moderate consumption will increase HDL [high-density lipoprotein]
cholesterol -- the good kind of cholesterol. Other effects may vary with the
type of beverage, but overall moderate drinking is protective for heart
The study, funded by the Dutch Foundation for Alcohol Research, an
alcohol-industry group, set out to see whether nutrients found in beer -- but
not in red wine or liquor -- could reduce blood levels of a substance linked to
an increased risk of heart disease. This substance, homocysteine, can reach
dangerously high levels in people who drink too much or who eat too little
healthy food. Two nutrients found in beer -- folate and vitamin B-6 -- help
eliminate this substance.
Hendriks' team found 11 middle-aged men, between 44 and 59 years old, who
were willing to go on a strictly controlled diet for 12 weeks. Along with their
nightly dinner, each man consumed four glasses -- the equivalent of about two
cans of beer or two shots of liquor -- of either mineral water, beer, red wine,
or Holland gin, a spirit with about two-thirds the alcohol content of the
English gin used in martinis and other American cocktails. Every three weeks,
they changed beverages.
The researchers were surprised to find that the substance linked to heart
disease did not go up when the men drank beer. They also were surprised that
this substance significantly increased -- to a level that might carry a
10% to 20% increased risk of heart disease -- when they drank red wine or
Further studies showed that levels of vitamin B-6 -- one of the nutrients
found in beer -- increased by about a third when the men drank beer. Vitamin
B-6 levels also increased when they drank red wine or liquor, but only by about
half as much as they did when they drank beer.
Dean Jones, PhD, director of the nutritional health sciences program at
Emory University, reviewed the study for WebMD. He says that the small number
of volunteers, and the fact that the effects of drinking one kind of beverage
may have carried over to the time when the men drank another kind of beverage,
make it hard to draw hard conclusions from the research.
"The strength of the study is that it does show an association between
moderate alcohol consumption and vitamin B-6 levels," he says. "It's
not expected. That there was as much as a 70% change in vitamin B-6 levels is
Jones and Hendriks both note that alcoholics, even if they drink beer, have
very low levels of vitamin B-6 and dangerously high levels of homocysteine.
The bottom line, Hendriks says, is that moderate consumption of any
alcoholic beverage can be good for you. "It doesn't really matter whether
you drink beer, wine, or spirits," he says. "Personally, I like all
three kinds. At different times I drink all three -- moderately, of