Dec. 30, 2002 -- If your cup of cheer is wine or beer, there's a bit of good news. Those who imbibe a few weekly glasses have a slightly lower risk of carrying a germ that causes stomach ulcers.
The germ is a common bacterium: Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori for short. It can cause stomach ulcers, although not everybody who carries the bug gets an ulcer. First infections usually happen in childhood, but new infections can happen at any age. H. pylori can be a long-lasting infection. Sometimes people get over it without treatment, but antibiotic therapy is the only reliable way to cure an infection.
Now it looks as though wine and beer may help some people rid themselves of the bug. Liam J. Murray, MD, Queens University of Belfast, U.K., and colleagues tested 10,537 people for H. pylori infection. They also asked them how much alcohol and coffee they drank and how much they smoked.
"[The] results indicate that consumption of moderate amounts of alcohol in the form of wine, beer, lager, or cider may protect against H. pylori infection," the researchers report in The American Journal of Gastroenterology."
Murray's team found that it took at least three glasses of wine per week to get the H. pylori protection. Those who drank three to six weekly glasses of wine had 11% fewer H. pylori infections. Drinking more than six glasses per week decreased infections by another 6%.
Drinking one or two half-pints of beer also dropped H. pylori infections by 11%. Three to six weekly half-pints dropped risk by another 6% -- but those who drank more beer than this didn't see any protection at all.
Those who preferred hard liquor were out of luck. They saw no protection. That, Murray and colleagues suggest, is because wine and beer increase secretion of stomach acids and speed the emptying of the stomach. Distilled spirits have no such effect.
The researchers note that wine and beer are rich in compounds with antibacterial activity. Thus the H. pylori protection linked to wine and beer may have nothing to do with their alcohol content.
Unlike earlier studies, Murray's team found that neither smoking nor coffee drinking had any effect on H. pylori infection.
The South and West Regional Research and Development Directorate and GlaxoSmithKline UK funded this study.