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Health issues – health effects of moderate drinking

Elisabeth Holmgren

In an historic breakthrough, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) officially launched its new research program examining “the health effects of moderate drinking.” This month’s announcement of 15 grant recipients signals a broader national science policy on ethanol, as this is the first time the United States government has launched a systematic and programmatic study in this area.

Under this new research category, the projects total $2.7 million for fiscal year 1996 alone and are likely to surpass $10 million over the next five years. The studies will be conducted for two to five years at major research institutions across the country.

These new research priorities were established in light of the research emerging around the world associating moderate consumption with a decreased risk of heart disease and increased life expectancy. NIAAA’s initial call last spring for grant applications in this area was prompted by new congressional appropriations language signed into law by President Clinton. The language urged the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to develop a working strategy to ensure future research on the impact of moderate consumption.

The initial fifteen projects include some clinical studies but are mostly pre-clinical, based on laboratory models. Their areas of focus include:

1. Cardiovascular Disease. Studies will investigate (1) ethanol’s role in myocardial recovery and survival after a coronary event, (2) its protective effects against heart disease, which include favorable changes in heart muscle cells that reduce the risk of injury from ischaemic heart disease, (3) the use of new immunosorption techniques to refine measurement of the effects of ethanol on high density lipoproteins (HDL) with specific focus on two functions of HDL that help prevent atherosclerosis, and (4) beverage-specific effects on stroke.

2. Osteoporosis. Studies will investigate various aspects of ethanol’s potential positive effects on osteoporosis, including bone cell turnover and bone density, to provide appropriate information on consumption decisions.

3. Women’s Health Issues. Studies will investigate the effects of consumption on estrogen levels and other health parameters in post-menopausal women.

4. Medication/Supplements. Studies will assess the impact of ethanol/drug interactions on mortality among the elderly and the effect of ethanol on beta-carotene supplementation, a common practice among Americans.

5. Overall Health Status. One of the largest studies will use an animal model highly-regarded by the scientific community for its reliability, for a five-year investigation to assess the effects of moderate consumption on coronary heart disease, breast cancer and osteoporosis.

A good number of these studies promise to yield positive results, but several will explore possible biological reasons why some people should not drink. This research agenda reinforces the recently released Guidelines for Sensible Wine Drinking, which highlight wine’s role as part of an optimal diet for healthy adult Americans but also acknowledge the choice of abstinence for health or personal reasons.

All of these studies will contribute to a better understanding of wine’s potential role in a healthy diet. Wine Institute believes that the full disclosure of science helps to place wine in its proper cultural context – not as a health food or medicine, but as an adjunct to an optimal diet that has enhanced the taste of foods and has added pleasure to meals for centuries.

Scientific findings continue to be the foundation of Wine Institute’s dissemination programs to the media and policy leaders as part of our ongoing efforts to help educate Americans about wine.

RELATED ARTICLE: SAZERAC GIFT TO WILDERNESS SOCIETY

The New Orleans-based importer and supplier of distilled spirits and wine, gave a check for $10,000 to the environmental organization on behalf of Rain Vodka, the only vodka produced exclusively from organically-grown grain. Rain Vodka is made from corn grown at Fizzle Flat Farms in Illinois and distilled in small batches.

The aptly-named Rebecca Green, brand manager for Rain Vodka noted that “American consumers have become increasingly conscious of the need to preserve their environment.”

Sazerac imports the Monsieur Henri portfolio of wines.

Elisabeth Holmgren is Director of Research and Education at Wine Institute.

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