To raise a glass 'to your health' or not?
Research may find the answer is 'yes'
October 18, 1996
Web posted at: 7:20 p.m. EDT
From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Is moderate drinking good for your
health? Nearly three dozen studies suggest that a few
drinks a week could help prevent heart disease. Now,
the government wants to know if alcohol can also stave
off brittle bones and help protect older women from
To learn more about alcohol's effects, a government
agency, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and
Alcoholism, has awarded more than $2 million of
taxpayer money in grants for scientific study of the
The NIAAA was founded in 1970 to deal with the serious
health problems caused by heavy drinking. Its
decision to check out the flip side, whether light
drinking can actually do some good, is not in conflict
with its original mission, said Dr. Mary Dufour,
deputy director of the agency.
"Our mission is research, and so we think this is an
important thing to check out," she said.
The $2 million-plus grants will fund 15 new studies on
the effects of moderate drinking. Some of the money
went to the Georgetown University Medical Center in
Washington, D.C., where researcher Nicolas Guzman is
trying to learn how alcohol may help prevent heart
He thinks it may block the formation of sticky
proteins that can lead to clogged arteries. "We feel
that if we can identify the mechanisms by which
alcohol inhibits the presence of these sticky
proteins, we may perhaps in the future develop drugs
or medicines that may have a similar effect," he said.
Other scientists are looking at preliminary data that
shows moderate drinking -- no more than seven drinks a
week -- can increase estrogen levels.
Dr. Judith Gavaler's group at the Oklahoma Medical
Research Foundation is working on this aspect. If
alcohol does raise estrogen levels, it might prevent
heart disease and stop bone loss in post-menopausal
Their preliminary research has shown that heavier
drinking doesn't seem to help estrogen levels, and in
some cases, can be harmful.
"That's actually quite a phenomenal finding, because
it gives us a way of saying it is absolutely true that
a little alcohol is good but additional alcohol --
more than seven drinks a week -- is probably not
good," Gavaler said.
Even if research demonstrates the benefits of alcohol,
doctors who treat problem drinkers say alcoholics and
people at risk for abusing alcohol shouldn't assume a
drink or two a day is good for them.
"There's an enormous downside associated with alcohol
use, and that's why the medical profession in general
is cautious about advocating even any drinking," said
Dr. Rodney Burbach, an alcohol addiction specialist.
Still, scientists say the new government studies
reflect a marked change in national policy on alcohol.
It may no longer be the demon it once was.
Related sites: Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
© 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.