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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 03:40 GMT
Alcohol 'can fight female heart disease'
Red wine
Moderate alcohol consumption could be beneficial
The risk of heart disease in older women may be reduced by alcohol, according to a new study.

An American experiment indicates post-menopausal women who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol had lower cholesterol rates.

This finding has added significance because a woman's risk of cardiovascular (CVD) disease rises after menopause - and increased cholesterol is a contributory factor.

But some medical experts have warned that while it may reduce cholesterol, alcohol may have other detrimental health consequences.


It would be foolish to recommend drinking alcohol for this age group

Dr Abdullah Badawy, clinical biochemist
The study, outlined in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved 51 women with an average age of 60.

They spent eight weeks consuming no alcohol, eight weeks drinking a daily allowance of 15 grams of alcohol - or the equivalent of a small drink - and eight weeks consuming 30 grams.

Each of the diets containing alcohol lowered levels of low-density lipoprotien (LDL) - or dangerous cholesterol - and raised "good" cholesterol - high-density lipoprotien (HDL).

Low HDL levels is regarded as the strongest contributory factor to cardiovascular death in women.

The authors conclude that consumption of one alcoholic drink each day could decrease CVD risk in post menopausal women by 4-5%.
Joanna Lumley as Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous
Alcohol poses health dangers too

And two drinks each day could result in a 10-13% decrease in CVD risk.

However, Dr Abdullah Badawy, a consultant biochemist at Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust, said the study was not conclusive.

He suggested alcohol could affect levels of a substance in the blood called homocysteine, an amino acid which may irritate blood vessels, leading to blockages in the arteries - called atherosclerosis.

High homocysteine levels can make blood clot more easily than it should, increasing the risk of blood vessel blockages.

Dangers

A blockage might cause a stroke or a problem with blood flow.

Up to 20% of people with heart disease have high homocysteine levels.

New research also suggests high homocysteine levels may be linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Dr Badawy said: "Post menopausal women may well benefit from moderate amounts of alcohol, but you would have to measure homocysteine levels in them.

"Post menopausal women are different from others and their homocysteine levels are quite low and therefore protect them from cardiovascular disease.
Human heart
High cholesterol causes heart disease

"Therefore they may not need alcohol to protect them.

"Alcohol has effects on homocysteine and it would be foolish to recommend drinking alcohol for this age group."

All the women who took part in the study were healthy, were not taking hormone replacement therapy and had no personal or family history of alcohol abuse.

Previous studies have shown that moderate drinking - no more than two units a day - can reduce the risk of heart attack.

See also:

01 Feb 01 | Health
6bn bill for alcohol abuse
06 Dec 00 | Health
Alcohol 'improves IQ'
15 Apr 01 | Health
Why alcohol affects women more
06 Jan 01 | Health
Alcohol 'cuts strokes in women'
18 Dec 00 | Health
Beer 'keeps cataracts away'
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