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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Alcohol Consumption and Weight in Women

Light to moderate consumption of alcohol seems to offer a range of health benefits, and now another one has been added to the list: women who consume alcohol lightly or moderately gain less weight than their teetotaling counterparts. That's in this week's Archives of Internal Medicine, Alcohol Consumption, Weight Gain and Risk of Becoming Overweight in Middle-aged and Older Women.

The study analyzed data from the Women's Health Study and included responses from almost 20,000 women. Women entering the study were free of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or cancer and had a normal body mass index ranging from 18.5 (pretty skinny, in my estimation) to 25 (normal but a bit chunky). The women were followed for almost 13 years and alcohol consumption and a host of other factors were assessed annually during that time.

Here's what they found: women who consumed alcohol in the light to moderate range had a lower risk of becoming obese and did not gain as much weight as those who did not drink alcohol. This was quite a surprise because alcohol is, as the authors call it, a "nontrivial" source of calories and might be expected to contribute to weight gain over time.

Another curiosity is that previous studies haven't looked a normal weight individuals over time, they've been largely cross-sectional. These studies have been all over the map with regard to the association of alcohol consumption and weight in women, either appearing to result in weight loss, gain, or neither. Studies in men of the same ilk found either gain or no apparent effect on weight related to alcohol consumption.

The authors make the point that while men tend to drink alcohol in addition to their other calories, women tend to substitute alcohol for something else, and in this study consumed fewer carbohydrates. This may account for the lack of weight gain in comparison to previous studies in men. They also speculate that women may metabolize alcohol differently and that could also contribute.

Here's what I have to say: ladies, salute! (That would be the Italian phrase offered as a toast). It's great to know that something enjoyable also qualifies as healthy, and this observation underpins that old adage about everything in moderation. Rick says in the podcast, of course, that if you're not someone who enjoys alcohol or have never been much of a drinker, this isn't a reason to start. But for those of us, and I'm among them, who do consume alcohol in moderation, we can feel just fine about that.

Sex and healthy aging from the British Medical Journal also made the cut this week, as did Lancet's blood pressure fluctuations and stroke risk. Finally, we round out the podcast with NEJM's poor yield from coronary artery assessment in those without symptoms. Yet one more test to give a miss. Until next week, y'all live well.

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