- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

A new study suggests that moderate alcohol consumption can improve physical health and well-being, especially for women.

“Our study found that light to moderate drinking is associated with better health and physical functioning,” said Carla Green, the study’s principal author and a sociologist at Oregon Health & Science University.

This effect, which her study measured in terms of self-reported feelings of health and such general measures of physical fitness as ability to walk distances, is found “even after accounting for age, ethnicity, marital status, smoking” and sex, she said this week.

The report appears in the latest edition of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The study also found that women, who are regarded as more susceptible to the health risks of heavy drinking, gained more benefits from controlled drinking than men.

“One explanation may be that women, being more sensitive to the negative effects of alcohol, may be more sensitive to the benefits of light to moderate drinking, as well,” she said, also mentioning “total body water, which is [lower in] women and affects their responses to alcohol.”

According to the sociologist, the increased benefits could also be a result of women’s greater responsiveness to their own health conditions.

Women usually “drink less when they feel ill and drink more if they feel healthy” compared with men, she said.

Ms. Green added she was surprised that the study found no link between alcohol consumption and mental health, but she said that may have been because of the small number of heavy drinkers being surveyed.

Ms. Green and her colleagues have been conducting research on the connection between alcohol consumption and health at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore. They expected to find moderate drinkers report better general health when compared with those who drink more or not at all.

The study was based on three surveys conducted over three years in the early 1990s concerning the drinking habits and health of 3,069 men and 2,600 women, all members of the Kaiser Permanente Northwest HMO.

Ms. Green grouped those surveyed into different categories based on questions about their drinking habits over a year. Light to moderate drinkers were defined as those who drank one to two drinks per occasion, two to three times a week.

Health scores diminished for persons who exceeded two to three drinks per week, one or two drinks per occasion, 15 to 29 drinks per month, and/or a regular light- to moderate-drinking pattern.

Ms. Green added that the negative effects of heavy drinking can include an increased risk of alcoholism, high blood pressure, stroke and certain types of cancer.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s recommendations for low-risk drinking are no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and for people over the age of 65.

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