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Critique 177: A clinical trial testing the effects of alcohol on inflammatory markers

While there have been many observational studies of the relation of alcohol consumption to health risks and benefits, the number of clinical trials of alcohol administration for its health effects are limited. The present paper is based on a controlled diet cross-over trial among 53 postmenopausal women. A standard diet was provided for a period of 6 months; two meals each weekday were consumed at the study facility and food was provided for other meals. To the standard meal, during three 8-week interventions, either 0, 15 g, of 30 g of alcohol (ethanol) were added to the daily diet, with the two doses of alcohol the equivalent of a little over one typical drink and 2 ˝ typical drinks. Weight remained stable and no adverse effects were reported.

The key results of the trial were that, during periods when alcohol was consumed, there were small but significant decreases in markers of cellular adhesion molecules and components in the hemostatic pathway; these are indices of inflammation and the effects are consistent with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Specifically, reductions were seen when alcohol was administered for s-ICAM, fibrinogen, and D-dimer, all of which would be expected to lower CVD risk. PAI-1 increased with alcohol, and there were no effects on CRP, Factor VIIc or IL-6.

While there were a number of question about the study, Forum members considered that, overall, this was a very well-done, difficult-to-carry-out study that shows alcohol’s beneficial effects on a number of inflammatory and hemostatic factors. The results are in line with many observational studies, although some previous intervention studies have found such effects only after the administration wine (but not of gin), suggesting a key effect of the polyphenols in wine. This study indicates that ethanol itself may have similar beneficial effects on mechanisms that relate to the development of cardiovascular disease.

Reference: Stote KS, Tracy RP, Taylor PR, Baer DJ. The effect of moderate alcohol consumption on biomarkers of inflammation and hemostatic factors in postmenopausal women. European J Clin Nutrition 2015; advance online publication. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2015.182

For the full critique of this paper by members of the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, please click here.
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