Despite finding a link between moderate alcohol consumption and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, a French study says that the health benefit may not actually be attributable to the alcohol.

The correlation, according to the researchers, may actually be because moderate drinkers tend to have a higher social status, exercise more and have generally superior health.

Dr Boris Hansel, an endocrinologist at the Hopital de la Pitie in Paris, and lead author of a report on the study, said, ‘A causal relationship between cardiovascular risk and moderate drinking is not at all established’ by the study, in which the health status and drinking habits of almost 150,000 French adults was evaluated.

Both males and females who claimed to have low or moderate alcohol intake had a better health status than non-drinkers and heavy drinkers. Males who drank moderately exhibited lower body-mass indexes (BMI), lower fasting triglycerides and blood glucose and lower blood pressure, among other factors associated with decreased risk of heart disease. Women who drank moderately had smaller waists, lower blood pressure, lower fasting triglycerides and lower LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels.

Despite finding a strong link between moderate alcohol consumption and higher levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, Hansel said that there was no link between the increased level of HDL cholesterol and reduced cardiovascular risk; ‘The relationship between moderate drinking and lower cardiovascular risk is due to confounding factors. That is because moderate drinking is in large part a matter of higher social status. Social status, a lower level of depression and a higher level of physical activity probably explains the relationship between alcohol and lower cardiovascular risk.’

Commenting on Hansel’s report on the French study, Dr Arthur Klatsky, a senior consultant in cardiology at the Kaiser Permanente Health program in Oakland, California, said, ‘This is yet another study which shows that moderate drinkers have a better health profile. We don’t have randomised controlled trials, so that always leaves open the possibility that cofounders might be responsible for the cardiovascular benefits.’

Taking a slightly different tack, Carla Green, a senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Oregon, said, ‘There is increasing evidence that a lot of the health benefits that have been attributed to alcohol consumption are due to healthy habits that also include moderate alcohol consumption.’

Source: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition