Beer and spirits may have just as many health benefits as wine, a study has found. Experts have previously hailed wine as a good heart protector because it prevents blood clots and is rich in the antioxidants which ‘mop up’ harmful chemicals.
But a study of 19,000 adults showed those who enjoyed a frequent tipple reported less ill health than teetotallers – whatever they drank. Four in ten non-drinkers defined their health as fair, poor or very poor.
In contrast, only one in four of those who drank alcohol – beer and spirits as well as wine – felt the same way. Even among heavy drinkers, the instances of reported ill health were lower than those who abstained.
The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, showed no difference between wine drinkers and those who drank beer and spirits.
That means enjoying a pint is just as beneficial as a glass of red wine. The study took into account the age, employment status, physical activity and smoking habits of each individual to eliminate potential bias. Dr Fernando Rodriguez-Artalejo, who led the study, said: ‘Consumers of any amount of alcohol showed a lower frequency of ill health than did abstainers.
‘The higher the consumption of alcohol, wine and beer, the lower the prevalence of suboptimal health.’ Previous studies have shown beer is rich in vitamin B6, which prevents the build-up of a harmful chemical in the body, homocysteine, known to cause heart disease. It is also thought to contain other constituents that boost the overall protective effect of moderate drinking.
Another study, by the Common Cold Unit in Salisbury, Wiltshire, found non-drinkers were three times more likely to get a cold. Researchers believe that beer, spirits and wine help block the body’s anti-inflammatory mechanism, which normally causes runny noses and streaming eyes.
It may also have an effect on the immune system or nasal secretions. The Department of Health defines safe drinking limits as 21 units per week for women and 28 for men, with a unit being a half pint of beer, a glass of wine or a pub measure of spirits. Jean Coussins, director of the Port-man Group, which is funded by the drinks industry to promote sensible drinking, agreed with the report.
‘The objective research on which the UK sensible drinking guidelines are based confirms that moderate drinking is compatible with a healthy lifestyle and the type of alcoholic beverage is irrelevant,’ she said.
The authors of the latest study pointed out that their findings contrasted with similar surveys carried out in other countries.
A Nordic study, for example, showed wine was the healthiest drink and higher alcohol consumption was associated with greater ill health. Despite the overall encouraging news for drinkers, the number of those choosing not to drink is growing.
British teetotallers are at their highest level since records began. A study published last year showed nearly one in five Britons did not touch a drop during 1999.
In the past two decades alone, those shunning beer, wine and spirits has grown from 12 to 18 per cent. The over 50s are most tempted to give up. Nearly a quarter said they did not drink at all.
The number of young non-drinkers is rising, too. Twenty years ago, 7 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds were teetotal. Last year it was 12 per cent.
But overall alcohol consumption in Britain is still at record levels because of the growing number of heavy drinkers. Women in particular are drinking more, with one in five exceeding the recommended daily limit of three to four small glasses of wine.