Moderate consumption of wine or beer may help rid the body of a type of bacteria long suspected of causing peptic ulcers, according to a team of researchers in the United Kingdom.
Helicobacter pylori, which can burrow holes in the stomach wall, may be responsible for most peptic ulcers. However, H. pylori does not cause ulcers in everyone whom it infects; scientists think certain substances may either activate it or combat it.
"It is widely believed that the infection is acquired in childhood and that it is usually lifelong, unless specific therapy [such as antibiotics] is used to eradicate it," said co-author Liam Murray, an epidemiologist at Queen's University in Belfast. "However, it may be spontaneously eradicated in some instances."
The team's study, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, involved more than 10,000 patients, from 20 to 59 years old, at seven health centers in or near Bristol, England. Between 1996 and 1998, the volunteers underwent tests for H. pylori and filled out questionnaires on their childhood living conditions, their current lifestyle and their drinking habits. (The study defined a glass of wine, a shot of spirits, or a half-pint of beer as one unit.)
Those who drank more than seven glasses of wine or three to six units of beer per week had a 17 percent lower chance of an H. pylori infection than nondrinkers. Participants who drank three to six glasses of wine or one to two units of beer per week showed an 11 percent lower risk. However, drinking more than 14 units of beer per week or consuming spirits in any amount were linked to an increased risk.
The researchers theorized that beer and wine's antibacterial effects may be due to components such as polyphenols, which are abundant in both beverages.
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