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Wine Fine, Liquor No Quicker -- But Beer Best

Suds Better At Drowning Heart Disease
WebMD Health News

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 disease."

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 liquor.

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 remarkable."

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 course."

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