Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Beer's benefits could surpass red wine's

Recent research

By Jim Lundstrom
Gannett News Service

Blame it on the French.

Current research into the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption is a result of the "French paradox."

Although the French have a high-fat diet, smoke more than Americans and exercise even less, the rate of heart disease is approximately one-third the U.S. heart attack rate.

The French tendency to drink red wine with meals has been cited as the possible reason for the medical anomaly.

The grapes in red wine - and in grape juice - have high concentrations of flavonoids, which have been proven to reduce artery-narrowing blood platelet activity and introduce powerful free radical-fighting anti-oxidant protection into the bloodstream.

But a flurry of independent research since those initial reports on red wine's health benefits surfaced a dozen years ago finds that alcohol in general provides a number of health benefits when consumed in moderation, and that beer might be the healthiest beverage of them all. As brewer/patriot Thomas Jefferson said a couple hundred years ago, "Beer, if drank in moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit, and promotes health."

"The wine people have made a very impressive marketing ploy. I think it's a snow job," says Dr. Norman Kaplan, a hypertension specialist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. "Be that as it may, most people are convinced if you are going to get any benefit, it's going to be from red wine."

Kaplan became something of a national media star last summer when he took the lead in presenting a report on a Texas Southwestern study on the health benefits of moderate beer consumption.

"It got a lot of publicity at the time," he says. "Since that time, there have been other studies that have documented the relative benefit of beer over other types of alcohol."

Kaplan says he has been on record for as long as 20 years touting the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, and mounting evidence through independent research being conducted around the world is showing that moderate beer consumption - one or two beers a day - might be one of the best things you can do for your body and mind.

"It's sort of like taking an aspirin to prevent strokes and heart disease," he says. "There is a large body of evidence that small quantities of alcohol provide protection against coronary heart attack, but also there is evidence about stroke, heart failure and osteoporosis, and, most recently and most interestingly, dementia."

"Most everything says that two alcoholic drinks a day is sort of the therapeutic level, and anything above that ... not only doesn't it do any good as far as preventing disease, but it is detrimental because then it starts to cause problems with car accidents and other problems to your health," says Dr. Lowell Peterson, a cardiologist at the Appleton (Wis.) Heart Institute.

Peterson says he has been following the research on alcohol therapy for more than 10 years.

"Mostly since the French paradox thing came out," he says.

Peterson says the darker the drink, the better.

"Red wine is better than white wine, and dark beer is better than light beer," he says. "There are more flavonoids present."

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