Category Archives: Alcohol

From P.D. Mangan: How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

“Is the room spinning, or is it just me?”

He reviewed the recent scientific literature and concludes:

“Heavy drinking has well-defined adverse effects, but we’re told that moderate drinking of a couple drinks daily may be protective when it comes to heart disease.Moderate drinking may be protective, or there may just be an association among intelligence, health, and drinking. And the protective effect of alcohol with regard to heart disease is typically seen in older populations and/or those who have a high background risk of heart disease.If you’re in-shape and/or less than old, alcohol probably won’t decrease your risk of heart disease.

However, moderate drinking can cause other illnesses, including cancer.I’m forced to conclude that the benefits of alcohol have been overblown. However, in moderate drinking, the risks may be small — nonetheless, they are there.

Don’t fool yourself that your moderate drinking is good for you. It facilitates social interaction, makes you temporarily less anxious — but good for your health? Seems doubtful.”

Source: How Much Alcohol Is Too Much? – Rogue Health and Fitness

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Is It Time to Freak-Out About Arsenic In Wine?

Is the arsenic in the irrigation water, pesticides, or introduced during processsing?

Is the arsenic in the irrigation water, pesticides, or introduced during processsing?

A class-action lawsuit in California claims that certain wines have dangerously high levels of arsenic that could cause cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes. USA Today has one of the ubiquitous stories outlining the few details we know at this point.

Furthermore, chronic low-dose arsenic exposure can cause skin changes (e.g., scaly thick skin, darkening, lightening), peripheral neuropathy (numbness, pain, weakness, typically starting in the feet, then hands), peripheral vascular disease, and liver disease. The cancers linked to arsenic are mostly skin, bladder, lung, and liver. The increased cancer risk persists even after the end of exposure.

How Do You Know If You’ve Been Poisoned With Arsenic?

Comments here refer to chronic low-dose exposure; acute high dose poisoning is another can o’ worms.

First, see your doctor for a history and physical exam and let her know you’re worried about arsenic. If arsenic poisoning remains a possibility, lab testing is usually a 24-hour urine collection for arsenic, or spot urine for arsenic and creatinine. “Spot” in this context means a random single specimen, not a 24-hour collection. For the 48 to 72 hours before either of those tests, don’t eat fish, seaweed, or shellfish.

What about testing hair for arsenic? In general, it’s not accurate.

Bottom Line

At this point, if you or someone you love drinks wine, I suggest simply keeping an eye on this story as it develops. We need more facts. The whole thing could blow over, with nothing coming of it. One of the brands mentioned is Sutter Home, one of my favorites.

Remember a few years ago when we had the vapors over arsenic in rice?

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: Wine is a time-honored component of the traditional Mediterranean diet, but see my books for alternatives to wine. You don’t have to drink wine to live long and prosper.

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Wine Ratings: Legitimate or Malarkey?

"Is the room spinning, or is it just me?"

“Is the room spinning, or is it just me?”

Wine is a time-honored component of the healthy Mediterranean diet and probably contributes to the longevity seen with Mediterranean-style eating. That’s why wine is an option on my Advanced Mediterranean Diet, Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet, and Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet. Folks new to wine-drinking are confused by the myriad wine varieties and don’t know which kind to get. This post should help separate the wheat from the chaff. Wine snobs typically think “the more expensive the wine, the better.” But are they right?

A couple years ago, someone gave me an expensive bottle of champagne that I’d never had before. I won’t mention the brand because I’m not looking for trouble. The brand is iconic and a bottle costs $150-200 (USD). The more you pay, the better it should be, right?

I’m no expert on champagne, but this stuff was awful. Had the bottle simply gone bad? Too old? My wife had drunk this champagne several times before in business settings, and said this flavor was typical. It was a real eye-opener for me.

Robert T. Gonzalez has an article on wine-tasting at IO9. A quote:

 In 2001, researcher Frédéric Brochet invited 54 wine experts to give their opinions on what were ostensibly two glasses of different wine: one red, and one white. In actuality, the two wines were identical, with one exception: the “red” wine had been dyed with food coloring.

The experts described the “red” wine in language typically reserved for characterizing reds. They called it “jammy,” for example, and noted the flavors imparted by its “crushed red fruit.” Not one of the 54 experts surveyed noticed that it was, in fact a white wine.

David McRaney has a more nuanced article on the same issue at The Atlantic. For instance:

In blind taste tests, long-time smokers can’t tell their brand from any of the competitors and wine connoisseurs have a hard time telling $200 bottles from $20 ones. When presented microwaved food from the frozen food section in the setting of a fine restaurant, most people never notice. Taste is subjective, which is another way of saying you are not so smart when it comes to choosing one product over another. All things equal, you refer back to the advertising or the packaging or conformity with your friends and family. Presentation is everything.

If you have more time, check out Calvin Trillin’s article on white-red differentiation in The New Yorker. His suspicion is that “…experienced wine drinkers can tell red from white by taste about seventy per cent of the time, as long as the test is being administered by someone who isn’t interested in trying to fool them.”

The take-home points for me after reading all these are:

  • the more expensive wines are by no means better tasting; I’m sticking with cheaper
  • when you hear someone waxing eloquent about the various flavors in a particular wine, they’re most likely full-of-it (FOS); in other words, it’s malarkey
  • you’re as good a wine judge as anyone else; satisfy your own palate

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Wine May Ward Off Depression

…according to an article in The Guardian. This finding is from the PREDIMED study of Spaniards aged 50 to 88. Those who drank between two and seven glasses of wine per week were less prone to develop depression.

She looks happy!

She looks happy!

Wine is allowed on my Advanced Mediterranean Diet, Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes plan, and the Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet. Of course, some folks should never drink alcohol.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Experts Debate Composition of the Mediterranean Diet

…but they have some good ideas as to the healthy components, according to a report in MedPageToday. A sample:

Through a subtractive statistical technique, the EPIC investigators calculated that the biggest chunk of the health advantage—24%—came from moderate alcohol consumption (predominantly wine).

The other relative contributions were:

  • 17% from low consumption of meat and meat products
  • 16% from high vegetable consumption
  • 11% from high fruit and nut consumption
  • 11% from high monounsaturated-to-saturated lipid ratio (largely due to olive oil consumption)
  • 10% from high legume consumption

Here’s my definition of the Mediterranean diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:
Sofi F, et al “Ideal consumption for each food group composing Mediterranean diet score for preventing total and cardiovascular mortality” EuroPRevent 2013; Abstract P106.

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Filed under Alcohol, Fruits, legumes, Mediterranean Diet, nuts, olive oil, Vegetables

Chronic Alcohol May Impair Vision in Diabetics

MedPage Today reported that long-term consumption of alcohol may impair vision in diabetics.  Drinkers performed less well on vision chart tests than non-drinkers. It’s not a diabetic retinopathy issue.

Beer and distilled spirits were riskier than wine.

The MedPage Today article didn’t comment on the potential health benefits of alcohol consumption. You can bet I’ll keep an eye on this.  (Did you get the pun?)

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Finally Settled: Alcohol Consumption Linked to Lower Rates of Death and Heart Attack

Canadian and U.S. researchers report that moderate alcohol consumption seems to reduce 1) the incidence of coronary heart disease, 2) deaths from coronary heart disease, and 3) deaths from all causes.  Reduction of death from all causes is a good counter-argument to those who say alcohol is too dangerous because of deaths from drunk driving, alcoholic cirrhosis, and alcohol-related cancers such as many in the esophagus. 

Remember, we’re talking here about low to moderate consumption: one drink a day or less for women, two drinks or less a day for men.  That’s a max of 12.5 grams of alcohol for women, 25 g for men.  No doubt, alcohol can be extremely dangerous, even lethal.  I deal with that in my patients almost every day.  Some people should never drink alcohol.

The recent meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal, which the authors say is the most comprehensive ever done, reviewed all pertinent studies done between 1950 and 2009, finally including 84 of the best studies on this issue.  Thirty-one of these looked at deaths from all causes.

Compared with non-drinkers, drinkers had a 25% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD) and death from CHD.  CHD is the leading cause of death in develop societies.

Stroke is also considered a cardiovascular disease.  Overall, alcohol is not linked to stroke incidence or death from stroke.  The researchers did see strong trends toward fewer ischemic strokes  and more hemorrhagic strokes (bleeding in the brain) in the drinkers.  So the net effect was zero. 

Compared with non-drinkers, the lowest risk of death from any cause was seen in those consuming 2.5 to 14.9 g per day (one drink or less per day), whose risk was 17% lower.  On the other hand, heavy drinkers (>60 g/day) had 30% higher risk of death. 

In case you’re wondering, the authors didn’t try to compare the effects of beer versus wine versus distilled spirits. 

On a related note, scientists at the Medical University of South Carolina found that middle-aged people who took up the alcohol habit had a lower risk of stroke and heart attack.  Wine seemed to be more effective than other alcohol types.  They found no differences in overall death rates between new drinkers persistent non-drinkers, perhaps because the study lasted only four years and they were following only 442 new drinkers.  

This doesn’t prove that judicious alcohol consumption prevents heart attacks, cardiac deaths, and overall deaths.  But it’s kinda lookin’ that way.

Steve Parker, M.D.

 References:  Ronksley, Paul, et al.  Association of alcohol consumption with selected cardiovascular disease outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysisBritish Medical Journal, 2011;342:d671    doi: 10.1136/bmj.d671

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