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Drinking Wine, Particularly White Wine, May Help Keep Lungs Healthy, UB Study Finds

By Lois Baker

Release Date: May 20, 2002

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Drinking wine appears to be good for the lungs, a University at Buffalo study has shown, and in this case, the primary credit goes to white wine rather than red.

In research presented here today (May 20, 2002) at a meeting of the American Thoracic Society, Holger Schunemann, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine and social and preventive medicine in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, reported that drinking wine recently and over a lifetime was associated with better lung function.

The study found no association between lung function and total amount of alcohol consumed (some previous studies had found a negative effect), nor between lung health and alcohol from beer, wine coolers or liquor.

"This finding may indicate that nutrients in wine are responsible for the positive effect of alcoholic beverages on lung function," said Schunemann. "Red wine in moderation has been shown to be beneficial for the heart, but in this case the relationship was stronger for white wine."

UB researchers conducted the study in a random sample of 1,555 white and African-American residents of Western New York. They collected comprehensive information about current and lifetime alcohol consumption and lifestyle habits, including diet, and took body measurements.

All participants performed standard lung-function tests, which measured the volume of air they could expel in one breath -- referred to as forced vital capacity (FVC) -- and the volume forcibly expelled in one second (FEV1).

To assess alcohol consumption, researchers defined those who had fewer than 12 drinks during their lifetime as "never drinkers" and those who were drinkers but had consumed no alcohol in the past month as "non-current drinkers." The remaining "current drinkers" reported the type of alcoholic beverage they drank and how often, the size of each drink, patterns of consumption and how often they drank more than usual.

Analysis of participants' demographic information and alcohol consumption data revealed some interesting relationships:

-- Beer only drinkers were younger, predominately male, drank more daily and over their lifetimes, and were more likely to smoke than other participants

-- Liquor-only drinkers were heavier, based on body mass index, than others

-- The groups of wine only, liquor only and recent abstainers included more women than men

-- Those who drank wine only or various alcoholic beverages had the highest education level

-- Wine drinkers had the highest levels of protective antioxidants in their blood

Analysis of all of the alcohol consumption variables with lung function showed that both recent and lifetime intake of wine had the strongest association with FEV1 and FVC, Schunemann said, an effect likely linked to wine's antioxidant properties.

"Evidence suggests that alcohol may increase the oxidative burden," he noted, "but there is a large body of evidence showing that wine contains antioxidants such as flavinoids and phenols. We also have shown that both dietary levels and blood serum levels of antioxidants are linked to lung health and function. We think that the antioxidants in wine account for our current findings."

Additional contributors to the study were Brydon J.B. Grant, M.D., and Deepa Kudalkar, M.D., from UB's Department of Medicine; Jo L. Freudenheim, Ph.D., Paola Muti, M.D., Ph.D., Susan McCann, Ph.D., Malathi Ram, Ph.D., and Maurizio Trevisan, M.D., of UB's Department of Social and Preventive Medicine; Tom Nochajski, Ph.D., of UB's Research Institute on Addictions, and Marcia Russell, Ph.D., of the Prevention Research Center in Berkeley, Calif.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Ralph Hochstetter Medical Research Fund (Buswell Fellowship) at UB and Research for Health in Erie County.