IS ALCOHOL THE SECRETTO STAYING THIN?
WELL THAT CERTAINLY SOUNDS too good to be true! With its empty calories, alcohol has long been identified as an easy scapegoat for weight gain. However, there is a wealth of medical evidence that would support the conclusion that alcohol can be good for maintaining a healthy weight. A new book, THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT BOOZE, by science writer Tony Edwards, examines this premise. According to Edwards’ book, there is a fair amount of evidence to back the claim. Professor Charles S. Lieber of Harvard University, who died in 2OO9, was a renowned expert on alcohol and health. In the seventies, he founded the first scientific journal on alcohol, and was also the first to establish a link between alcohol and liver disease. Although he was no fan of alcohol, in 1991 he rejected the notion that alcohol has any significant effect on weight. Lieber, however, was relying mainly on evidence drawn from studies that were looking at alcohol’s other effects. It wasn’t until later that anyone actually decided to examine this conundrum directly.
In the nineties, researchers at Harvard embarked on a survey of almost 2O,OOO middle-aged women, whose drinking habits and weight were tracked for almost 13 years. At the start, the women were all roughly dress sizes 4 to 8. By the end, about 9OOO had put on significant amounts of weight, and some had become clinically obese. All other things being equal, it would be logical to assume the heavier subjects to be the drinkers. But they weren’t. In fact, it was the women who didn’t drink who had gained the most weight, while the thinnest were the heaviest drinkers. The women who drank five grams of alcohol a day reduced their risk of being overweight by 4 percent. Those who drank 15 grams (roughly one medium glass of wine) a day reduced their risk of weight gain by 14 percent. The figures were even more striking when it came to obesity. Drinking two medium glasses of wine a day or more gave the women an incredible 7O percent reduction in obesity risk. So it was the non-drinkers who turned into size 18s or more. In other words, this study showed that alcohol is not only non-fattening, but actually helps prevent weight gain. A rogue result? Well, this was certainly no half-baked study. The researchers made full allowances for obvious lifestyle differences that might have skewed the results, such as exercise, food intake and smoking habits. As with everything, take it with a grain of salt. This was just one piece of research.