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A Toast to Ill Health?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The News The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), a nonprofit that funds studies on diet and cancer, is pressing the federal government to require health labels on wine, beer and liquor, noting their caloric content and potential link to disease. The group says recent studies attributing health benefits to alcohol have blinded many to its harms. A petition, also signed by the National Consumers League and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is now before the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a Treasury Department unit that has jurisdiction over alcoholic beverage labeling.

The Bad The strongest studies tying alcohol to health risks involve cancers of the upper digestive tract. Nearly half the cancers of the mouth, pharynx and larynx are associated with heavy drinking, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Less consistent data link alcohol with cancers of the liver, colon and breast, with some research showing a 10 increase in breast cancer risk for each daily drink consumed. Other studies, however, have found no such link.

The Good A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/abstract/352/3/245 found that women who had one drink per day (equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor) had less cognitive decline than women who didn't drink. Other studies suggest moderate drinking may lower risk of heart attack, stroke and peripheral arterial disease. Over all, moderate drinkers (one drink per day for women, two for men) die later than do nondrinkers or heavy drinkers, and they develop less disability than the general population.

But moderation is key, said Kate Collins, nutrition adviser for AICR. "Beyond that can hurt you. We want people to know that," she said. "And you don't want to just protect against a heart attack -- you want to reduce mortality across the board."

--Suz Redfearn

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