Entries in Alcohol (77)


Moderate Alcohol Consumption May Help Women's Bones, Joints

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Two new studies suggest that drinking alcohol can help ward off two diseases that affect millions of women: rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.  But the research is among several studies that paint a confusing picture of how alcohol affects women's health.  Doctors say the key, as always, is moderation.

One of the studies investigated alcohol consumption and its effect on rheumatoid arthritis in more than 34,000 Swedish women between the ages of 54 and 89.  The researchers had contacted the women in 1987 and 1997, surveying them about their alcohol use.  Then they started keeping close tabs on the women, scouring Swedish national registries for those who were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis between 2003 and 2009.

The women who reported moderate alcohol consumption -- those drinking 17 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.7 ounces of liquor three times or more each week -- had a 52 percent decreased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis compared with those who never drank at all.

The researchers noticed that the women who drank more alcohol were also more likely to smoke, which is a risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis.  But they found that moderate drinking reduced the risk for current smokers to 33 percent, though the benefits of the alcohol were not as marked for smokers as for never-smokers, for whom moderate drinking reduced RA risk by 62 percent.

The study was published Tuesday in the British Medical Journal.

A small group of women in Oregon who had a few drinks each week also seemed to benefit in a surprising place: their bones.

Researchers at Oregon State University studied 40 postmenopausal women under age 65 who reported drinking up to two drinks per day in the year before the study, watching what happened when they asked these women to stop drinking for two weeks.

When these regular moderate drinkers cut out alcohol, the researchers found that their blood showed higher levels of biomarkers linked to bone turnover, a natural process that goes awry when more bone is lost than is replaced, which leads to osteoporosis.  When the women started drinking again, their bone turnover seemed to improve even after one day of moderate alcohol consumption.

Ursula Iwaniec, one of the authors of the study, published Wednesday in the journal Menopause, said alcohol seemed to benefit these postmenopausal women, but it may not be the best solution for women hoping to improve their bone health.

"I wouldn't start drinking just for this reason that it's going to make my bones better," she said.

That moderate drinking seems to affect women's health is not surprising.  Alcohol raises levels of estrogen, the hormone that affects many aspects of women's health, including arthritis and osteoporosis.  Alcohol also raises the "good" cholesterol, HDL, and can have positive effects on blood pressure and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

But the news on booze is not all good.  Recent studies have found that even one drink a day raises a woman's risk of breast cancer.  Experts also note that alcohol is liquid calories, and drinking too much contributes to weight gain and other factors of unhealthy lifestyles.  And although alcoholism is diagnosed less frequently in women than in men, women are at higher risk because alcohol has a greater effect on their bodies.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Moderate Drinking While Pregnant May Not Be Harmful

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy may not have any damaging developmental effects on children five years later, according to new research published Tuesday.

But, the authors stressed, pregnant women should still err on the side of caution and avoid alcohol altogether, since no safe level of alcohol consumption has been established.

In a series of five studies, Danish researchers statistically evaluated how different levels of drinking during pregnancy affected the 5-year-old children of 1,628 women.  They compared women who drank zero, one to four, five to eight, and more than nine drinks per week while they were pregnant and assessed their children's IQ, attention span and their capacity for what are known as executive functions, which include organization and planning.

Children whose mothers reported having one to four or five to eight drinks per week while pregnant did not perform any worse on tests measuring IQ and executive functions.  Binge drinking, which meant having five or more drinks in one sitting, also did not have any significant negative effect on children five years later.

Drinking more than nine drinks per week, however, was linked to 5-year-olds' lower attention span.

In the study, the researchers defined a drink as having 12 grams of pure alcohol.  In the U.S., a drink is considered to have 14 grams of pure alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Despite the findings, the authors wrote that "the most conservative advice for women is not to drink alcohol during pregnancy" since there may still be adverse effects their research didn't uncover.

And in the U.S., government health agencies advocate total abstinence for expectant mothers, said Dr. Kimberly Fortner, assistant professor of maternal and fetal medicine at Vanderbilt University.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Weight-Loss Surgery Increases Risk of Alcohol Addiction

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(PITTSBURGH) -- Having Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, where the size of the stomach is reduced and the intestine is shortened, thus limiting how much a person can eat, can increase the risk of alcohol-use disorders, new research suggests.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, adds to mounting evidence of a link between having the popular gastric bypass surgery and the symptoms of alcohol-use disorders.

Before the surgery, the nearly 2,000 study participants completed a survey developed by the World Health Organization that is used to identify symptoms of alcohol abuse.

The patients then completed the survey one and two years after their weight-loss surgery.  The study found that 7 percent of patients who had gastric bypass reported symptoms of alcohol use disorders prior to surgery.  The second year after surgery, 10.7 percent of patients were reporting symptoms.

The findings were published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"There have been previous studies that show there is a change in alcohol sensitivity in gastric bypass," said Wendy King, a research assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and the study's lead author.

King's study is the first to show that with this increased sensitivity there is also an increased risk of alcohol use disorders (AUD), the term used to describe alcohol abuse and dependence.

Dr. Mitchell Roslin, a bariatric surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said the link between gastric bypass surgery and increased alcohol use has been attributed before to the shifting addiction theory and that this is false. The shifting addiction theory is that if a person has an impulsive drive to eat and the ability to eat large amounts of food is taken away, then he will shift his addiction to another addictive substance, like drugs or alcohol.

"A gastric bypass patient has a small pouch [for a stomach] so alcohol goes straight into the intestine and is absorbed rapidly," said Roslin. "When it is absorbed rapidly, there is a high peak and rapid fall." The higher absorption rate makes alcohol more addictive, he added.

The study also found that the increase in alcohol-use disorders was not seen until the second post-operative year as opposed to the first year after surgery.

"This emphasizes that continuing education about alcohol use is needed until the second year after surgery.  With follow up [patients] need to hear about consumption and what is appropriate," said King.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Smoking Hotlines Can Flag Problem Drinking

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW HAVEN, Conn.) -- Hotlines to help people quit smoking could also flag problem drinking, a new study found.

Yale researchers used surveys to probe alcohol use among 88,479 callers to the New York State Smoker’s Quitline and found nearly one-quarter of callers reported hazardous drinking as well.

“Once people start drinking, there is a trigger to start smoking,” said study author Benjamin Toll, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine and director of Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven’s Smoking Cessation Service. “They lose their inhibition to tobacco.”

The study was published Friday in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Previous studies suggest alcohol abuse decreases the likelihood that smokers will quit using cigarettes, and that adding a brief alcohol intervention to standard smoking cessation treatments could improve success rates.

“The suggestion that tobacco quitlines may offer novel opportunities to reach alcoholics is rational, if not obvious,” said Dr. Stephen Jay, a professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. However, he cautions, “the use of tobacco quitlines for purposes other than for which they were designed will need to be carefully studied.”

A call to the smoking cessation quitline involves a 10- to 15-minute conversation in which smokers are asked about their past attempts to stop smoking, and counselors discuss methods that smokers can use to quit smoking.

“Someone identified as an unhealthy alcohol user should be referred to medical treatment for a comprehensive evaluation,” said Dr. Edwin Salsitz, director of the Methadone Medical Maintenance Program at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. “There could be a very valuable role for quitlines … to help alcoholics, after they have been properly assessed.”

Toll’s next study will assess whether adding five minutes of alcohol abuse counseling to quitline conversations can boost smoking cessation rates.

“Our hope is that we can reduce smoking by getting people to drink less,” Toll said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Alcohol Consumption Boosts Breast Cancer Risk

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Should women stop drinking alcohol altogether?  Not quite, but maybe they should stop after that first drink.

A new study by the National Cancer Institute of 1,900 post-menopausal women found that consuming seven to 14 alcoholic drinks per week -- in other words, one or two a day -- carries a 30 percent to 60 percent increase in breast cancer risk.  Most interesting, it was found that these women developed the most common type of breast cancer called “estrogen and progesterone hormone receptor positive” cancer.  In comparison to other types of breast cancer, fewer women die from this type.

“[These cancers] behave better, are less aggressive,” says Dr. Claudine Isaacs, professor of oncology at the Georgetown University Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and one of the study’s authors.

This study provides additional support to a larger study published November 2011 in the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at more than 100,000 women and found that consumption of three to six alcoholic drinks per week carried a 15 percent increased risk of breast cancer.  But whereas previous studies demonstrated overall increased risk of breast cancer with alcohol consumption, this new study focuses on the type of breast cancer that would be affected by alcohol.

“The findings from this study are significant because there are relatively few breast cancer risk factors that someone can actually modify or do something about,” Isaacs says, “and alcohol intake is one of them.”

In light of the new research, some women might wonder what constitutes a safe amount of alcohol to drink.  According to Isaacs, “no more than one drink a day is safe.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Government Reiterates Warning on Drinking, Smoking While Pregnant

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- We've all heard the warnings: Don't smoke or drink alcohol while pregnant.  Yet, more than one in five pregnant white women smoke cigarettes, according to a new report from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Dr. H. Westley Clark, director of the agency’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, says the warnings need to be repeated with each new generation.

"If it isn't reasserted, it tends to be forgotten.  And then, we have to deal with the medical consequences of low birth-weight babies or babies who are born with other problems associated with substances that their parents use," Clark says.

Among the report's findings, according to Clark:

-- Pregnant white women were more likely than pregnant black women to have smoked cigarettes in the past month.

-- Pregnant black and white women were more likely than pregnant Hispanic women to have used alcohol, in the past month.

-- Pregnant black women were more likely than pregnant white and Hispanic women to have used an illicit drug in the past month.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Online Wine Merchants Fail to Check IDs

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(CHAPEL HILL, N.C.) -- Many Internet alcohol vendors are lax at verifying that customers are of legal age, making it easy for teens to buy alcohol, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill asked eight volunteers between the ages of 18 and 20 to attempt to purchase alcohol from 100 of the most popular vendors using prepaid gift cards.

Nearly 60 percent of companies selling alcohol online made little, if any, effort to verify customers’ ages.  Of 45 successful orders, 51 percent didn’t use any type of age verification.

But the researchers also placed blame on the delivery companies, despite corporate policy that age verification is required for wine shipments.  Wine is the only alcoholic beverage that the shipping companies -- FedEx and UPS in this study -- will ship as per their regulations.

“Some packages were left at the door, or handed to recipients after checking an underage identification or simply asking if the person receiving the package was 21,” said Rebecca Williams, the study’s lead author and a research associate at the University of North Carolina Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Chapel Hill.

Driver’s licenses given to anyone younger than 21 are clearly marked in N.C., making anyone younger than the legal drinking age easy to identify.

Williams added that parents should also be aware of how easy it is to purchase alcohol online, and how easy it is for teens to obtain and use a parent’s driver’s license.

“Teens widely report having access to parents’ identifications and using them to purchase alcohol,” Williams explained.  “Children can also hide online purchases from parents by using prepaid cards they can buy with cash.”

In response to the study findings, a spokeswoman for UPS, who has not yet reviewed the study, stressed to ABC News that company policies regarding alcohol shipments are very strict.

“UPS procedures are put in place to reduce the risk that any minors would have access to illegal alcohol,” she said.  “If UPS is involved in deliveries containing alcohol, the delivery person would need to secure an adult signature.”

The spokeswoman also explained that wine delivered through UPS must have a sticker on the package that indicates an adult signature is required as part of the company’s wine shipping program that only allows approved vendors to ship wine.

A spokesman for FedEx said the company doesn’t condone the sale of alcohol to anyone underage and has policies in place to prevent it from happening.

“We take the findings in this report seriously. After we have had time to review the study, we will take any necessary corrective action to ensure our policies are being followed,” said company spokesman Scott Fiedler.

Williams said the study provides evidence that illegal alcohol sales are a significant problem.

“Part of why this problem exists is because there is little regulation to restrict online alcohol sales,” she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Teens Getting Drunk on Hand Sanitizer 

Hemera/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- As many as six California teenagers were hospitalized with alcohol poisoning last month, and two last weekend alone, from drinking hand sanitizer.

Coming on the heels of cough medicine, hand sanitizer is the latest in a string of household products used to induce intoxication, and it has public health officials worried, as a few squirts of hand sanitizer could equal a couple of shots of hard liquor.

“This is a rapidly emerging trend,” Dr. Cyrus Rangan, medical toxicology consultant for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, said in a news conference Tuesday.

About 2,600 cases have been reported in California since 2010, but it’s become a national problem.

“It’s not just localized to us,” Helen Arbogast, an injury prevention coordinator in the trauma program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, told ABC News. “Since 2009 we can see on YouTube it’s in all regions of the country. We see it in the South, in the Midwest, in the East.”

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Liquid hand sanitizer is 62- to 65-percent ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, the main ingredient in beer, wine and spirits, making it 120-proof. To compare, a bottle of vodka is 80-proof.

“A few swallows is all it takes to get a person to get the intoxicated effects of alcohol,” Rangan said.

Doctors said ingesting hand sanitizer can produce the same side effects as consuming large amounts of alcohol -- slurred speech, unresponsiveness, possibly falling into a coma state.

Rangan warned that long-term use could lead to brain, liver and kidney damage.

Teenagers use salt to break up the alcohol from the sanitizer to get a more powerful dose. These distillation instructions can be found on the Internet in tutorial videos that describe in detail how to do it. Other troubling videos have surfaced online showing kids laughing as they purposely ingested sanitizer, many boasting of fulfilling a dare.

Dr. Sean Nordt, director of toxicology at the USC Los Angeles County Emergency Department, told ABC News it used to get reports of children accidentally consuming small amounts of hand sanitizer, but now the trend is toward purposeful ingestion by those who cannot purchase or obtain alcohol legally.

“We get worried about children getting into these, but it is different from an adolescent who is trying to drink half a bottle to get drunk,” said Nordt.

And it’s a tough problem to combat, as hand sanitizer is inexpensive and seems to be available at the entrance of every door. Young people can buy pocket-size bottles, which can be the equivalent of two-three shots of hard liquor, or huge tubs at most markets and stores.

Arbogast said foam hand sanitizer was a safer option to keep around the house, but “any hand sanitizer will be at risk for alcohol poisoning, as the foam type is still 62-percent ethyl alcohol,” she said at Tuesday's news conference.

Rangan cautioned parents to treat hand sanitizers “like we treat any medication in the home as far as safety is concerned. Keep it out of reach, out of sight, out of mind when not in use.”

Nordt said he hoped parents and store clerks would become more vigilant and monitor the sales of hand sanitizers.

“Most stores will sell it to an adolescent without thinking twice,” Nordt told ABC News. “Maybe now they will.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Can Drinking Alcohol Make You a Better Problem Solver?

Steve Mason/Photodisc(NEW YORK) -- A paper titled “Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving” was the focus of a flurry of coverage on Thursday.  In short, the study lends long-awaited credence to the idea that, when faced with certain creative tasks, a bit of alcohol might not be a bad idea.

Specifically, the study, published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition earlier this year, suggests that a certain amount of alcohol -- enough to make you blow a 0.075 on a breathalyzer, to be exact -- could nudge your mind just enough out of focus to be able to explore unorthodox solutions to a problem.  Whether this nudge is helpful or detrimental depends on the problem at hand.

“There are times where having a bit of alcohol might help you with what you are trying to accomplish,” said study author Andrew Jarosz, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  “That’s kind of a cool thing about this study; we found a time when having less focus is helpful.”

What Jarosz and co-authors did to determine this was to take 40 men who identified themselves as social drinkers and treat half of them to enough vodka and cranberry juice drinks to get them to the desired level of intoxication.  The other half remained sober.

The researchers then administered a series of 15 brain teasers that relied on non-linear thinking.  One example of such a brain teaser would involve the researcher giving the subject a series of three words -- like blue, cottage and Swiss -- and the subject would then answer with the word that would be associated with them -- in this case, cheese.

What Jarosz and his colleagues found was that the intoxicated subjects scored 8.7 correct answers, on average, while the sober participants averaged only 6.3.  The inebriated subjects also provided their answers more quickly, beating their sober counterparts by nearly four seconds per question.

“There are two ways to tell someone is doing well around a set of problems,” Jarosz said.  “They could be solving more of them, or they could be faster at solving them correctly… The fact that we saw increases in both accuracy in speed suggests that they’re getting better all around at solving these problems.”

So does getting hammered increase your IQ?  With the rash of headlines on Thursday like “Drinking Alcohol Makes You Smarter,” it might be a tantalizing conclusion -- and, Jarosz said, a “complete misinterpretation.”

“We’re not going to argue ‘smarter’ or ‘intelligence’ or anything like that,” he said.  “In some cases, it’s beneficial.  Is it beneficial in all cases?  No, we’re not saying that."

“I obviously would not suggest you drink a vodka cranberry before taking the SAT,” Jarosz continued.  “That is a time when having attentional control is useful.  But there may be cases where having decreased attentional control is useful.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Just One Drink a Day Could Up Breast Cancer Risk, Study Finds

Comstock/Thinkstock(HEIDELBERG, Germany) -- Consuming as little as one drink a day or less may raise a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, according to a new study published this week.

European researchers analyzed data from more than 100 studies that looked at the relationship between alcohol consumption and breast cancer and found that having up to one drink per day raised women's risk for the disease by four percent.  Three or more drinks per day increased risk by 40 to 50 percent.

"Women should not exceed one drink [per] day, and women at elevated risk for breast cancer should avoid alcohol or consume alcohol occasionally only," concluded the authors, led by Helmut K. Seitz of the University of Heidelberg in Heidelberg, Germany.

Previous research has also found a link between light alcohol consumption and elevated breast cancer risk.  A study published in November found that as few as three to six drinks per week raised the risk by 15 percent.

Some experts said the findings support current recommendations for women to drink in moderation in order to minimize their risk of breast cancer as well as other health conditions.  They added that while it's important to avoid excessive drinking, women should also consider alcohol as one of numerous factors that can play a role in the development of cancer and other illnesses.

"The American Cancer Society guidelines say that for women who don't drink, there is no reason to start drinking, and not just to prevent breast cancer.  It can even prevent heart disease," said Susan Gapstur, vice president of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society.  "For women who do drink, they should limit their consumption to no more than one drink per day.  This study underscores that these guidelines are reasonable."

Dr. Stefan Gluck, a professor at the University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center, argued that although excessive drinking should absolutely be avoided, there is nothing wrong with having one drink a day.  The four percent increased risk among women who had one drink a day is a very small increase, he said, and other factors play a bigger role.

"There are many other things that are more important," he said.  "If you look at the American Association for Cancer Research report from last year, 30 percent of all cancer deaths were attributable to smoking and another 30 percent were attributable to obesity."

That same report found alcohol played a role in about three percent of cancer deaths.

Gapstur added that even though the study found light drinking elevated risk only moderately, breast cancer is a very common cancer, meaning four percent can add up to a lot of women.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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