Moderate Drinkers Gain Less Weight, but Not Advised for Diet Plan

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In a study on the alcohol consumption of more than 19,000 women, researchers have come to the conclusion that those who drink a light or moderate amount of alcohol tend to gain less weight over time than non-drinkers. The study was published in this week’s Archives of Internal Medicine.

The researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, led by cardiologist Lu Wang, looked at women participating in the long-running Women’s Health Study who began the study at least 39 years old and at a healthy weight. Over the course of 13 years, most of the women did gain weight, but those who drank between one and two servings of alcohol daily gained less weight and were about 30% less likely to become overweight or obese than those who abstained.

The benefit was seen regardless of the type of alcohol consumed, but the strongest association was found with red wine.

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The study did not evaluate the link between heavier alcohol consumption and weight because there were too few women in the study who admitted to drinking greater quantities of alcohol.

The researchers tried to control for other factors that cause weight gain, but the actual reason for the association was unclear. Dr. Wang associated the link between alcohol consumption and weight gain with a decrease in excess food intake, particularly carbohydrates. Other theories include a greater likelihood of smoking, being more physically active, having lower body mass indexes (BMI) at the beginning of the study, or that women burn more calories after drinking than men.

The research should not translate into diet advice for women, warns Dr. James C. Garbutt of the University of North Carolina’s Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies. For one, the weight difference was small. Women who did not drink gained an average of 8 pounds compared with 3.4 pounds over the course of the 13-years study for women who drank the equivalent of 3 drinks per day.

Secondly, the researchers did not look at how drinking may have affected the lives of the women other than weight gain. Alcohol use can lead to health risks, such as an increased risk for breast cancer, and psychosocial problems such as problems with work and relationships.

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, 2010;170:453-461.

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