Higher total alcohol consumption, including beer and spirits, associated with better health

August 15, 2001

Moderate beer and spirit drinkers may be just as "healthy" as wine drinkers, suggests a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The research shows that alcohol drinkers reported less subjective ill health than non-drinkers. But it was the overall quantity of alcohol consumed, rather than beverage type, that had most impact on health.

The researchers looked at connections between the amount and type of alcohol consumed and subjective assessments of ill health in over 19,000 adults who had taken part in the 1993 Spanish National Health Survey. Factors leading to potential bias in the findings, such as age, employment, physical activity, smoking and socioeconomic status, were also taken into consideration.

Just under a third of the representative sample felt their health was not as good as it could be. Almost 57 per cent said they drank alcohol regularly, with most of the respondents stating a preference for wine. Light to moderate consumption-one to four drinks a day-was the most commonly reported pattern. People with higher levels of income and education and those in work tended to drink more, as did smokers and people whose jobs were more physically demanding.

The results showed that people who drank alcohol, including beer and spirits, were less likely to report ill health than people who abstained altogether. And overall, the higher the consumption of total alcohol, the lower levels of subjective ill health.

Wine drinkers had less subjective ill health than non-wine drinkers, but so did people who preferred other types of alcohol. Wine drinking was also associated with more subjective ill health among those over 45, but less ill health among those who were younger.

The authors say that their findings differ from those of Nordic studies, where wine was the "healthiest" drink and higher alcohol consumption was associated with greater ill health. But they say, some of the difference may be because most alcohol is drunk at mealtimes in Spain, whereas this is not the case in Nordic countries, and diet itself may also play a part.
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BMJ Specialty Journals

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