Doctors who claim that alcohol can be heart protective may need to rethink their views.
According to new data, all alcohol is not equal; some alcoholic beverages are more protective than others.
Researchers in the Netherlands studied a group of 11 healthy non smoking men (aged 44-59 years) who were moderate alcohol drinkers. The men were randomly assigned to take one of four different drinks (red wine, Dutch gin, beer or sparkling mineral water) with their dinner for a three week period. The participants were then switched to another of the studied beverages until each man had had three weeks of consuming each of the drinks with dinner.
During each study period, the researchers monitored the men's blood levels of homocysteine as well as their vitamin and mineral profiles.
They found that both the wine and the spirits resulted in a rise in homocysteine levels of 8 per cent and 9 per cent respectively, but there was no increase noted after beer consumption.
Raised homocysteine levels are associated with a greater risk of heart disease (see WDDTY, vol 10 no 8: 1-4), and the increase noted in this study after drinking red wine and spirits has been associated in other studies with a 10-20 per cent increase in risk of heart disease. B vitamins in particular are thought to inhibit the build up of homocysteine in the body.
The researchers speculate that, because beer is rich in folate and B6, it may exert more of a protective effect. Blood tests on the men confirmed that, while red wine and spirits raised B6 levels by 17 per cent and 15 per cent respectively, beer consumption raised levels significantly more by about 30 per cent.
While moderate alcohol consumption may exert some protective effect, the researchers also noted that chronic excessive alcohol consumption will eventually destroy B vitamins in the body, raising the risk of heart disease.
At the moment, it seems the jury is still out as to whether alcohol of any variety can truly be considered 'heart protective'. (Lancet, 2000; 355: 1522).