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Want A Healthier Heart? Drink More Beer!

This has got to drive the anti-alcohol lobby nuts, and especially their medical co-conspirators who continue to insist that a binge drinker is simply someone who drinks five or more drinks in one session. The UK newspaper, The Independent, had an interesting article today, provocatively titled “Drink half a dozen beers every day and have a healthier heart: Teetotallers more likely to have heart attack than drinkers, study shows.”

According to the article, “Drinking a bottle of wine a day, or half a dozen beers, cuts the risk of heart disease by more than half in men, it has been shown.” That’s based on a study just published in the medical journal Health entitled Alcohol intake and the Risk of coronary heart disease in the Spanish EPIC cohort study.

In the Abstract:

The association between alcohol consumption and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) has been broadly studied. Most studies conclude that moderate alcohol intake reduces the risk of CHD. There are many discussions on whether the association is causal or biased. The objective is to analyse the association between alcohol intake and risk of CHD in the Spanish cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC).

Participants from the EPIC Spanish cohort were included (15,630 men and 25,808 women). The median follow up period was 10 years. Ethanol intake was calculated using a validated dietary history questionnaire. Participants with a definite CHD event were considered cases. A Cox regression model was performed adjusted for relevant covariables and stratified by age. Separate models were carried out for men and women.

Crude incidence rate of CHD was 300.6/100,000 person-years for men and 47.9/100, 000 person-years for women. Moderate, high and very high consumption was associated with a reduce risk of CHD in men: HR 0.86 (95% CI= 0.54-1.38) for former drinkers, 0.64 (95% CI= 0.4-1.0) for low, 0.47 (95% CI= 0.31-0.73) for moderate, 0.45 (95% CI= 0.29-0.69) for high and 0.49 (95% CI= 0.28-0.86) for very high consumers. In women a negative association was found with p values above 0.05 in all categories.

In men aged 29-69 years, alcohol intake was associated with a more than 30% lower CHD incidence. Our study is based on a large prospective cohort study and is free of the abstainer error.

The Independent distills it in clearer language:

In one of the largest studies of the link between alcohol and heart disease, researchers have found that the protective effects of a daily tipple are not limited to those who drink moderately but also extend to those who consume at what are conventionally considered to be dangerously high levels.

The research was conducted among 15,000 men and 26,000 women aged from 29 to 69 who were followed for 10 years.

The results showed that those who drank a little — a glass of wine or a bottle of beer every other day — had a 35 per cent lower risk of a heart attack than those who never drank. Moderate drinkers, consuming up to a couple of glasses of wine a day or a couple of pints of ordinary bitter, had a 54 per cent lower risk.

The surprise was that heavy drinkers consuming up to a bottle of wine or six pints of ordinary bitter had a similar 50 per cent reduction in risk of a heart attack to moderate drinkers. Those drinking at even higher levels were still half as likely to suffer a heart attack as the teetotallers.

Larraitz Arriola, who led the study, said alcohol caused 1.8 million deaths a year around the world and 55,000 deaths among young people under 30 in Europe alone. “The first thing to say about our research is that alcohol is very harmful. If you drink heavily, you should drink moderately. The more you drink, the worse off you will be.” The researchers only looked at the effect of alcohol on the heart and confirmed what 30 years of studies have shown — that it is protective. The effect was independent of the form in which the alcohol was taken, as beer, wine or spirits. However, people who only drank wine had slightly less protection.

Not surprisingly, British “scientists” are calling the results “flawed,” most likely because it flies in the face of their politically-motivated advice and the ridiculous (and recently revealed to be completely arbitrary) “units of alcohol” that set the nation’s alcohol policy for over twenty years. In a BBC article, they’re still treating the guidelines as if they mean something, which is almost funny.

In May of 2006, Danish study that also found healthy heart benefits for alcohol drinkers, though in that study they concluded that drinking levels above moderate would not increase benefits. This new Spanish study appears to conclude otherwise. In every article I’ve seen on this study, everyone is scrambling to make sure to tell people not to go out and start drinking more, due to other risks from heavy drinking. I’d say anyone that suddenly started binging based on this study probably deserves whatever ill effects they experience. But seriously, do health professionals really believe people are that stupid? I’m sure there are a few stupid enough (P.T. Barnum had it right) but it’s more likely they were already unhealthy drinkers just looking for an excuse.

What I take away from this is simply that the arbitrary and self-serving definitions of binge drinking are not only wrong, but very, very wrong. I attend beer dinners all the time, drinking an average of four, five or six different beers (and sometimes more) over several hours, paired with several courses. These dinners cost $50, $75, $100 (and sometimes more). They are attended by people who can afford that, people with good jobs, professionals, people with families, upstanding members of their communities. Yet in the U.S., the CDC claims if you have “five or more drinks in a row,” you’re an unhealthy binge drinker, endangering your own life, and possibly those around you. That makes every one of the people at all the beer dinners I attend, binge drinkers, and, to some in the anti-alcohol movement, automatic alcoholics, too. Could any standard be farther from reality?

Despite all the warnings of binge drinking, it appears by defining it in a way that’s so far removed from ordinary experience, that it actually makes it completely meaningless. Certainly there are people who drink too much and put their health at risk. But lumping them together with those who occasionally drink “five or more drinks in a row” safely and without sinking into alcoholism, the problems of the people who really need help never get addressed. All it does is give the AnAl’s more ammunition to scare people with, and few media outlets ever call them on it. After all, it has the stamp of a government agency. But we all know it’s not accurate by any stretch of the imagination to call the average beer dinner attendee a binge drinker. At least now we know their heart will get a boost. In the end, I think the best advice is “everything in moderation … including moderation.”

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