Social Status, Not Alcohol, May Be Deciding Factor in Health Risks

The link between drinking habits and social and psychological characteristics may explain the supposed health benefits of wine that have been reported in some studies.

Erik L. Mortensen, Ph.D., of the Danish Epidemiology Science Center, Copenhagen, Denmark, and June M. Reinisch, Ph.D., of Indiana University, Bloomington, and colleagues collected data on 363 Danish men and 330 Danish women between 29 and 34 years of age. They examined the subjects' socioeconomic status, education, intelligence quotient (IQ), personality, psychiatric symptoms, and health-related behaviors, including alcohol consumption.

The authors found that wine drinking was a general indication of high social, cognitive, and personality development in Denmark. Because familiar factors have been associated with better health in other populations, the authors postulate that the association might explain the apparent health benefits of wine.

According to the researchers, " drinking was consistently associated with higher scores in parental social status, parental education, and subjects' years in school and social status." The authors added that "for both sexes, beer drinking was consistently related to lower scores on the IQ scales; wine drinking consistently related to higher scores on the IQ scales. The IQ differences between male pure beer [drinkers] and pure wine drinkers were dramatic."

In scores of personality disorder tests, beer-drinking men had higher scores for neuroticism, anxiety, and alcohol abuse. Wine drinkers had lower scores for neuroticism and other categories. Beer drinkers — particularly men — consumed more alcohol overall.

"Our results suggest that wine drinking is associated with optimal social, intellectual, and personality functioning, while beer drinking is associated with suboptimal characteristics," the authors conclude. "The dramatic IQ differences in personality measures between wine drinkers and beer drinkers strongly suggest that wine and beer drinking in Denmark is associated with many known and unknown factors that may affect health, morbidity, and mortality."

(Source: Archives of Internal Medicine, 2001; 161:1844-1848.)

Fast Facts About Alcohol
Researchers at the University of Utah have noted an association between a genetic defect linked to colon cancer, called microsatellite instability, and long-time alcohol use. Persons in the study who drank an average of 7.5 ounces of wine, 35 ounces of beer, or 3.75 ounces of hard liquor per week over 20 years were 60 percent more likely to develop a tumor in the colon with the microsatellite instability defect than those without the defect.

The findings suggest that alcohol may damage deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and that lifestyle factors can cause genetic changes.

(Source: International Journal of Cancer 2001;93:601-607.)

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University propose that the fatty livers in some obese people may be caused by alcohol generated within the intestine.

The study suggests that microorganisms that normally live in the intestine produce ethyl alcohol, which flows to the liver. Obesity is thought to slow intestinal motility and to enable bacterial growth, which increases production of alcohol and other noxious factors.

(Source: Gastroenterology, November 2000.)

People experience coordination impairment and reduced alertness with blood alcohol levels of 0.05. A 120-pound woman reaches 0.04 after drinking one 12-ounce beer. A 160-pound man reaches 0.05 after two beers.

(Source: University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center, December 2003.)

Taking an aspirin or other pain medication to prevent a hangover may actually make symptoms worse. Some evidence claims that aspirin interferes with the enzyme that breaks down alcohol, which may boost blood alcohol content and intensify alcohol's effects.

(Source: University of California-Berkeley Wellness Letter, May 2003.)

People older than age 65 who drank more than 15 drinks a week have a greater risk for brain shrinkage. A British survey states that men under the age of 35 and women younger than 55 who are light drinkers have a higher risk of death than those who do not drink. Alcohol-related deaths are thought to be the reason.

(Source: Journal of the American Heart Association, September 2001.)

People taking diuretics and some antibiotics, as well as individuals who drink heavily, are at an increased risk of magnesium deficiencies. (Source; University of California-Berkeley.)

Acne rosacea is a common skin disorder that affects 13 million Americans. Patients experience flushing, broken blood vessels, or pustules on the cheeks, nose, and chin.

There is no cure for rosacea, but a dermatologist can provide topical or oral antibiotics to minimize symptoms. Alcohol, spicy foods, sun exposure, and rigorous exercise are thought to trigger outbreaks.

(Source: University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center, September 2001.)

A painful sore inside the mouth may be an early sign of mouth cancer. People who drink excessive amounts of alcohol or use any form of tobacco have a dramatically increased risk of oral cancer.

(Source: Mayo Clinic Health Letter, May 2003.)

It has been found that an insufficient supply of essential brain fats is likely to cause irreversible suboptimal brain development. Alcohol use is known to deplete the brain-essential fats, which can lead to serious problems, such as mood swings. Breast-fed babies have more essential brain fats in their bodies than bottle-fed babies and are more likely to perform better in reading, sentence completion, visual interpretation, nonverbal skills, and math tests.

(Sources: Holman, R.T., et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 1991; 88:4835-4839; Salem, N. In Spiller, J., ed. New Protective Roles for Selected Nutrients, New York: Alan R. Liss; 1989; and Gibson, R.A., et al. Lipids 1993;31[Suppl.]:177-181.)

According to a recent study at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, more than 75 percent of all esophageal and stomach cancers might be able to be prevented with healthful lifestyle changes such as losing weight, discontinuing smoking, adding fruits and vegetables to the diet, and reducing alcohol consumption.

Ondanestron, an anti-nausea drug given to people during chemotherapy treatments, has proved effective as a treatment for those with early-onset alcoholism and a history of antisocial behavior.

(Source: Harvard Mental Health Letter, August 2000.)

French winemakers used cow's blood as a clarifier before the process was banned in the late 1990's during the mad cow disease scare. There has been much debate over banning such wines.

(Source: CNN, April 30, 2004.)

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