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May 19th, 2010
12:35 PM ET

Is drinking healthy, or do healthy people drink?

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

It seems as if there's always a new study claiming that alcohol is surprisingly good or bad for you. Various studies have suggested that alcohol may help the brain in an injury but, according to other research, shrink the brain.

The latest addition to the growing body of work on this subject suggests that moderate drinking - between one and three glasses of alcohol a day, with 10 grams per glass - is associated with lower anxiety and lower body mass index compared against people with heavier or lighter drinking habits (or who don't drink at all).

A new study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the drinking habits and health status of nearly 150,000 people in France. Researchers looked at a variety of factors related to cardiovascular health, including obesity and anxiety levels. They determined that moderate alcohol consumption was strongly associated with characteristics "that favor a superior overall health status and a lower risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease]."

But the authors raise the possibility that moderate consumption of alcohol does not cause people to achieve better health; rather, some other factors could be at play - in other words, physical activity and lower stress could be causing the lower risk in cardiovascular disease, and people with those characteristics coincidentally drink moderately.

"Our data suggest that it is clearly premature to promote alcohol consumption as the basis of CV [cardiovascular disease] protection" until it can be proved that alcohol causes those benefits, the authors wrote.

Moderate female drinkers were more likely to report engaging in regular physical activity than their counterparts who drank more or less; among men, those who never drank had the highest physical activity levels, the study found.

The study used self-reported data, meaning results may be skewed by people overstating and understating their actual alcohol consumption. Also, participants elected to join the study, and were not randomly chosen. The authors' analysis finds that these participants are representative of the population of the urban region of Paris-Ile-de-France, but it is unclear how applicable the findings particular to this group would be.

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soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. barrio siete dot com

    Only healthy people can go to the bars. Therefore it follows that only healthy people drink.

    May 19, 2010 at 23:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Mel

    10 Grams is 1/3 of an ounce. A serving of wine is between 4 and 5 ounces, beer is usually a bottle (about 8 to 12 ounces) and spirits is about 1 ounce. It is articles like this that help to mislead or, at least, confuse the public, If people are going to write these articles they should translate the information into 'real world' facts.

    May 20, 2010 at 02:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. april

    they mean 10 grams of alcohol, not counting the water, sugar, etc...

    May 20, 2010 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Matt

    10 grams of alcohol, not 10 grams of liquid. This boils down to about 7% if a 5 oz serving of wine, 2.9% if a 12 oz beer and 35% if a 1 oz shot of liquor. That's pretty dead-on for a shot, about half (or a little over) of normal for a glass of wine, and 60% of what you expect from drinking a Budweiser. For generalizations, the article really isn't saying anything too crazy.

    May 20, 2010 at 11:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Michael

    Alcohol is pretty light so if they're mixing weights and volumes then 10 grams of alcohol is 0.45 fluid ounces which brings things even more into line.

    May 20, 2010 at 13:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jefe

    I don't know barrio, I'm healthy, and I only drink at a bar maybe 1 time out of every 50 times I drink. Anyway, its good to see a rare study out there where they actually consider multiple factors, instead of automatically assuming they've found a link/non-link. So many "scientific studies" lately are so one-dimensional I would have failed 7th-grade chemistry had I performed the study myself.

    May 20, 2010 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Sarah

    It is true that I haven't wanted to drink during the times in my life that I haven't felt well for a couple of weeks. Because it makes me feel worse.

    May 20, 2010 at 20:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Norma Terrigno

    It is no secret that the MEDITERRANEAN diet has been applauded as the healthiest in the world and that those that adhere to it have less disease, obesity, ... Of course we know that fresh fruit and vegetables plus the addition of olive oil has a lot to do with good eating. The article does not mention the benefits of red wine and how this leads to the promotion of more efficient blood flow in the arteries. Rich creamy sauces are a delicious part of the French diet-and they are accompanied by wine (even at lunch time). Who are the healthier set–Americans or the French in terms of heart disease? Can we include physical activity in this equation?

    May 22, 2010 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Odalice feliz

    I see no harm in a glass of wine!!!

    May 22, 2010 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Peter Haskett

    As a wise man once observed, "You see a lot more old drunks than old doctors."

    May 24, 2010 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.