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Drinking to health

03-Sep-2003

Regular alcohol intake, thought to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, is associated with lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome, reported Greek researchers at the European Society of Cardiology meeting earlier this week.

But drinking larger quantities of alcohol raises the risk of the syndrome, a condition that promotes atherosclerosis and increases the risk of cardiovascular events, said the researchers. Prevalence of metabolic syndrome is thought to be influenced by several dietary habits.

The debate on alcohol's health benefits, and risks, continues to gain momentum, with a US researcher this week rubbishing the theory that drinking can improve cognition in the elderly.

Observational studies show that light to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with lower risk of heart attack and cardiovascular death while heavier alcohol consumption is associated with no change or even an increase in coronary risk. However the association between alcohol consumption and the development of coronary heart disease is not fully understood.

A study by researchers from the University of Athens in Greece randomly selected 1128 men (18-87 years old) and 1154 women (18-89 years old) from the greater Athens area and without any history of cardiovascular disease.

The team gathered data including waist circumference, as well as high lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose, and blood pressure levels. Alcohol consumption was recorded by serial clinical interviews and a questionnaire.

Just over 450 out of 2282 participants had metabolic syndrome, suggesting the odds of having the metabolic syndrome was, roughly, 1:4 or 24.6 per cent. Of the 453 participants who met the criteria for the metabolic syndrome, 284 were males (25.2 per cent of males) and 169 were females (14.6 per cent of females).

After accounting for several potential confounders, the results revealed that alcohol consumption was associated with higher prevalence of the metabolic syndrome. Also, alcohol consumers showed a marked increase in the adjusted odds ratio of type-2 diabetes compared with rare or no consumers.

However, when quantities of alcohol were taken into account there was a U-shaped relationship between the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption and the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome, said the researchers. For example, compared to no alcohol consumption, 1-2 wineglasses per day was associated with 16 per cent lower relative risk for having the metabolic syndrome, while alcohol consumption of 3 - 4 wineglasses / day was associated with 81 per cent higher risk, and consumption of more than 5 glasses per day doubled the previous relative risk.

The results seem to correlate with data gathered for alcohol consumption and its effect on heart attack outcome - light intake has a protective effect, but heavy consumption can significantly raise the risk.

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