Why hitting the bottle might just save you

By Alex Kasriel, December 3, 2009
A Spanish study found that the more you drink, the less chance you have of developing heart disease

A Spanish study found that the more you drink, the less chance you have of developing heart disease

Go to a typical Jewish wedding and it is the smoked salmon station — not the bar — where the queue normally forms. In other words, Jews are not known for their love of booze.

They may pride themselves on this remarkable restraint (or sheer lack of interest) but it might be that they are actually doing themselves a disservice by avoiding alcohol.

A recent Spanish study — one of the largest of its kind on the subject and commissioned by the Basque Public Health Department — found that the more you drink, the less chance you have of developing heart disease.

The research took men and women aged between 29 and 69 and asked them to document their drinking habits over 10 years. They were divided into six categories, from never drinking to drinking more than 90g of alcohol each day — the equivalent of about 11 shots of spirits, eight bottles of wine a week, or 28 pints of lager.

For moderate drinkers — less than a shot of vodka a day for instance — the risk was reduced by 35 per cent. And for those who drank anything from three shots to more than 11 shots each day, the risk worked out an average of 50 per cent less.

Drinkers across the country have been toasting the news. But where does that leave the Jews who, far from drinking every day, might enjoy a glass of bubbly at a simchah, a shot of whisky once a week at kiddush or a glass of wine on a Friday night?

In 2002, New York researchers confirmed that a high percentage of Jews carry a gene called ADH2*2 that seems to prevent a desire to drink alcohol. About 44 per cent of the 68 Jewish participants tested were found to carry a variant of a gene that produces a more active form of alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme that catalyzes the first step in the metabolism of alcohol.

But as we approach the festive season, should we force ourselves to down another pint in order to prevent heart disease and other conditions instead of ordering a diet Coke? Another 1999 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that drinking up to two glasses of booze per day may decrease risk of ischemic stroke in elderly, multi-ethnic, and urban populations.

However, most British experts warn that while alcohol may reduce the risk of a certain type of heart disease, the disadvantages of heavy drinking are far greater any benefits it might have, with alcohol causing 1.8 million deaths globally per year.

Following the controversial news on heart disease and alcohol, the British Liver Trust issued a statement saying: “Most British doctors still say that moderate drinking may be beneficial, but any benefits from excess drinking are outweighed by considerable and varied costs.

“The Spanish study, for example, focused entirely on heart disease and totally ignored any of the other health problems associated with heavy drinking, such as liver damage.

“It is important to look at the wider implications of drinking more than you should. Having more than one drink every day puts you at risk of liver disease as well as a whole range of other potentially fatal conditions, including other types of heart problem, stroke and cancer.

“If you want to look after your health, have no more than three to four units a day for men or two to three for women and aim to give yourself at least two days off alcohol a week.”

Meanwhile, the British Heart Foundation’s senior cardiac nurse Cathy Ross underlined that it is only one type of heart disease that this study found alcohol can prevent.

“Whilst moderate alcohol intake can lower the risk of having a heart attack, coronary heart disease is just one type of heart disease,” she said.

“Cardiomyopathy, which is a disease of the heart muscle, is associated with high alcohol intake and can lead to a poor quality of life and premature death.”

The message remains then, to stick to the Jewish drinking quota and you’ll be fine.

Last updated: 11:04am, December 3 2009