Type of Alcoholic Beverage May Be As Important to Health As How Much is Consumed

By Lois Baker or Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: June 13, 1997 This content is archived.


EDMONTON -- Scientists have known for some time that alcohol can be both detrimental and beneficial to the body. It destroys liver cells, but raises levels of heart-protective HDL cholesterol and inhibits artery-clogging plaque.

The quantity of alcohol consumed is obviously a factor, but researchers recently have questioned whether the quality, in terms of the source of the alcohol, also may play a role in alcohol's effects.

A University at Buffalo study has shed new light on that question. UB epidemiologists have shown, in research to determine the relationship between different types of alcoholic beverages and oxidative stress (cell damage caused by free radicals) that people who drink wine appear to experience less alcohol-related oxidative stress than people who drink beer or liquor.

"The difference was small but significant," said Maurizio Trevisan, M.D., professor and chair of the UB Department of Social and Preventive Medicine and lead author on the study. "Our findings support the notion that different sources of alcohol have different effects on oxidative status and could have a different impact on health outcomes linked to damage from free radicals." Oxidative stress is known to play a role in many chronic diseases.

Trevisan presented results of the study here today (Friday, June 13) at the annual meeting of the Society for Epidemiological Research.

The study is different from previous research on this issue, Trevisan noted, because it was conducted in a random sample of a healthy population, oxidative stress was measured through blood samples, and researchers collected extensive information on alcohol consumption. Participants were 491 non-smoking men and women ages 35-73, selected randomly from the population of Erie and Niagara counties in Western New York. Oxidative stress was determined by measuring the concentration of thiobarbituric acid-reactive substances, or TBARS -- products generated by oxidative stress to lipids (fats) in the blood.

Results showed that participants who derived their alcohol from beer and liquor had higher levels of TBARS than participants who drank wine.

Trevisan characterized the findings as interesting, but preliminary. "We know that alcohol is an oxidant and that wine is an antioxidant," he said. "It's possible that some component of wine counteracts the effects of alcohol from other sources."

It is also possible that diet plays a role in this equation, he noted. Wine drinkers may consume foods higher in antioxidants than drinkers of other sources of alcohol. The researchers have diet data from this study population and will report results of that analysis at a later date, Trevisan said.

Other researchers involved in the study were Holger Schunemann, M.D.; Jo Freudenheim, Ph.D.; Paola Muti, M.D.; Marcia Russell, Ph.D., and Ann Marie Carosella, Ph.D., from the UB Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, and Douglas Armstrong, Ph.D., from the UB Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences.