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Light Drinking Might Help Keep Women Slim

Those who abstain tend to gain the most, study finds, though reasons are unclear

MONDAY, March 8 (HealthDay News) -- Count staying slim as one of the apparent benefits of light-to-moderate alcohol consumption, at least for women.

New research found that women who drank the equivalent of one to two drinks a day were least likely to gain weight -- 30 percent less likely, in fact, than teetotalers.

"Our study results showed that middle-age and older women who have normal body weight initially and consume light-to-moderate amounts of alcohol could maintain their drinking habits without gaining more weight, compared with similar women who did not drink any alcohol," said study author Dr. Lu Wang, an epidemiologist with the division of preventive medicine at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston.

The findings are published in the March 8 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

Previous evidence on the health benefits of alcohol have been mixed. Some research has found that men and, to a lesser extent, women who drink moderately over the long-term have a lower risk for heart disease.

But another study found that even moderate drinking might raise the risk for breast, liver and other cancers in women.

Wang and her colleagues followed 19,220 women, 39 years or older, for an average of 13 years. All participants started the study with a normal body-mass index.

Although, on average, the women all tended to gain weight as time progressed, abstainers gained the most. The amount of weight gained decreased as alcohol consumption went up, the study found.

The researchers said they were unable to draw conclusions about heavy drinkers because there were so few in the study and because these women also tended to smoke, indicating they had very different lifestyles from the other participants.

There could be any number of reasons for the findings, including different ways that women metabolize alcohol, compared with men.

Also, the researchers pointed out, women tend to substitute alcohol for other foods, whereas men tend to simply add alcohol to everything else they're ingesting.

"The impact of alcohol consumption on body weight needs to be considered in the context of energy balance," Wang explained. "Among women, those who regularly consume light-to-moderate alcohol usually have a lower energy intake from non-alcohol sources. On the other hand, alcohol intake tends to induce increased energy expenditure beyond energy contents of the consumed alcohol in women. Taken together, regular alcohol consumption in light-to-moderate amount may lead to a net energy loss among women."

Marianne Grant, a registered dietitian and health educator at the Texas A&M Health Science Center's Coastal Bend Health Education Center in Corpus Christi, said that "it's possible that women who are of healthy weight are not as efficient in metabolizing alcohol."

"But, as always, the message is to enjoy alcohol in moderation," she warned. "Don't go with this as a weight-loss method. The keystones of healthy nutrition still hold."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on maintaining a healthy weight.

SOURCES: Lu Wang, M.D., Ph.D., associate epidemiologist, division of preventive medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and instructor, medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Marianne Grant, R.D., registered dietitian and health educator, Coastal Bend Health Education Center, Texas A&M Health Science Center, Corpus Christi, Texas; March 8, 2010, Archives of Internal Medicine

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