Beer and spirits have more detrimental effects on waistline and cardiovascular disease risk than red or white wine

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By Brittany Larsen, Iowa State University

The research report is a brief review of interesting academic work.

the big idea

Drinking beer and spirits is linked to elevated levels of visceral fat, the type of harmful fat that is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and other health complications, while drinking wine shows no such association with levels of this harmful fat. and can even be protective against it, depending on the type of wine consumed. In fact, we found that drinking red wine is linked to lower levels of visceral fat. These are some of the key findings of a new study that my colleagues and I recently published in the journal Obesity Science & Practice.

Although white wine consumption did not influence visceral fat levels, our study showed that drinking white wine in moderation may offer its own unique health benefit to older adults: denser bones. We found higher bone mineral density among older adults who drank white wine in moderation in our study. And we didn’t find this same link between beer or red wine consumption and bone mineral density.

Our study was based on a large-scale longitudinal database called the UK Biobank. We evaluated 1,869 white adults aged 40 to 79 years who reported demographic, alcohol, dietary, and lifestyle factors through a touchscreen questionnaire. Next, we collected height, weight, and blood samples from each participant and obtained body composition information using a direct measure of body composition called dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. We then used a statistical program to examine the relationships between types of alcoholic beverages and body composition.

why does it matter

Aging is often accompanied by an increase in problematic fat that can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as a reduction in bone mineral density. This has important health implications given that nearly 75% of adults in the US are considered overweight or obese. Having higher levels of body fat has been consistently linked to an increased risk of many different diseases, including cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and an increased risk of death. And it’s worth noting that the national health care costs associated with treating obesity-related diseases total more than $260.6 billion annually.

Given these trends, it’s vital that researchers like us examine all potential contributors to weight gain so we can determine how to combat the problem. Alcohol has long been considered a possible driving factor in the obesity epidemic. However, the public often hears conflicting information about the possible risks and benefits of alcohol. Therefore, we hoped to help unravel some of these factors through our research.

Hands of a couple with beer and white wine sitting at a table outdoors
iStock.com/Ruben Ramos

What is not yet known

There are many biological and environmental factors that contribute to being overweight or obese. Alcohol use may be a factor, although other studies have found no clear links between weight gain and alcohol use.

One reason for the inconsistencies in the literature could stem from the fact that much of the previous research has traditionally treated alcohol as a single entity rather than separately measuring the effects of beer, cider, red wine, white wine, champagne and spirits. However, even when broken down in this way, the research returns mixed messages.

For example, one study suggested that drinking more beer contributes to a higher waist-to-hip ratio, while another study concluded that after a month of drinking moderate levels of beer, healthy adults did not experience any significant weight gain.

As a result, our goal is to further unravel the unique risks and benefits associated with each type of alcohol. Our next steps will be to examine how diet, including alcohol consumption, might influence brain disease and cognition in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.

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Brittany Larsen, Ph.D. Neuroscience Candidate and Graduate Assistant, Iowa State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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