Can a glass of wine a day really keep the doctor away? A new study published this month in the scientific journal Addiction says it might. Researchers from Harvard University, Italy's Mediterranean Neurological Institute and the University of Molise investigated the relationship between alcohol consumption and the risk of hospitalization, and found that those who consumed roughly one drink per day endured fewer hospital visits compared with those who drank more and those who did not drink at all.
Using data from the Moli-sani cohort study, researchers gathered information on the drinking habits of 20,682 men and women 35 years old or older living in the Molise region of Italy, and tracked their hospital admissions records for a period of about six years. Subjects were categorized by their status as drinkers —lifetime abstainer, former drinker, occasional drinker (someone who drinks less than 2.5 drinks per month) or current drinker (someone who drinks more frequently). They were also categorized by the grams of alcohol they consumed per day during the year before enrolling in the study—1 to 12 grams per day, 12.1 to 24 grams, 24.1 to 48 grams and more than 48 grams. (U.S. health authorities state that a typical glass of wine contains roughly 14 grams of alcohol).
Over the course of the study, nearly 13,000 hospitalizations were recorded. Those who drank 1 to 12 grams of alcohol per day had the lowest rate of hospital visits. And compared with lifetime abstainers and former drinkers, those in this roughly-one-drink-per-day category not only had a lower rate of hospitalization for all causes, but also for cardiovascular disease specifically.
The population studied adds an intriguing twist to the research. "We investigated the relationship between alcohol consumption and the risk of hospitalization in a large prospective population-based cohort of adults, living in a central-southern region of Italy, with Mediterranean dietary traditions," Dr. Simona Costanzo, the study's corresponding author, told Wine Spectator. A Mediterranean diet includes moderate wine consumption (among other healthy foods) and has been shown to have many health benefits. Before this study, there has been very little research looking specifically at alcohol consumption among those who follow the Mediterranean diet.
Of course, the study is not without its caveats: "Although low-moderate, non-binging alcohol consumption reduces the chance to be hospitalized, we do not recommend that adult lifetime abstainers begin drinking for health reasons only," said Costanzo. She also warned that those in the heavy drinking category (more than about four drinks per day) were shown to have a significantly higher risk of going to the hospital, especially for alcohol-related diseases and cancer. (The risk was even greater if the heavy drinker was also a smoker.)
"However, this research reaffirms that there is no scientific evidence for demonizing alcohol," Costanzo said. "As a component of the Mediterranean diet, including a friendly social lifestyle, alcohol in moderation does not turn out to be a negative factor."
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