Alcohol consumption can keep you thin: Good news or too good to be true?

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A recent study of the effect alcohol consumption has on female weight gain has led to some surprising results: it seems that women who were moderate drinkers gained less weight over time than those who drank heavily or not at all. This was especially true of women who drank red wine, as compared to those who drank beer or other spirits.

Dr. Lu Wang, of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital's division of preventive medicine had this to say about the findings: "Our study results showed that middle-aged and older women who have normal body weight initially and consume light-to-moderate amount of alcohol could maintain their drinking habits without gaining more weight compared with similar women who did not drink any alcohol."

The study spent more than a decade following women aged 30 and higher, all of whom were of normal weight when the study began. Over the course of the study, many of the women gained weight -- including those who were moderate drinkers.

It is important to note that the study does not condone drinking as a way to lose weight, it simply finds that those moderate drinkers gained less weight overall. Specifically, women who were not drinkers (comprising 38% of the study's participants) were found to have a roughly 43% chance of gaining enough to weight to classify them as overweight or obese by the end of the study, while women who consumed between one and three drinks per day found themselves with only a 33% risk of this degree of weight gain.

However, this doesn't mean those who are not drinkers should begin to drink. It can be difficult for those who are not regular drinkers to stick to only moderate drinking when they pick up the habit. In fact, even the women in the study slightly exceed the classification of "moderate drinking" that has been proven to have health benefits. The recommendation for moderate drinking is only zero to one drink per day for women, and two to three drinks per day for men. (If you're not sure how much alcohol comprises a drink, here's a helpful guide: one drink = 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of other liquors/spirits.)

Regularly indulging in more than this level of "moderate drinking" can lead to an array of health problems, ranging from cirrhosis of the liver, to cardiovascular damage, damage to the digestive system, and even neurological damage. If alcohol consumption reaches the level of addiction it can cause myriad other problems both for those consuming the alcohol, and for those around them.

So, remember: if you do not regularly drink, the results of this study should not encourage you to begin, nor should you believe that drinking even the few glasses per day the study finds beneficial will cause you to lose weight. However, if you are already a moderate drinker, you can add this to the list of mild health benefits that come from the occasional alcoholic beverage, and hopefully enjoy your svelte figure for years to come.

Dr. Ken Kronhaus hosts Good Day Health, a nationally syndicated weekend radio show heard on more than 150 stations across the country, and is featured Monday - Friday in the "Daily Dose" segment on Doug Stephan's Good Day. You can sign up for his free e-newsletter here. Dr. Kronhaus is a spokesperson for the American Heart Association.
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