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Loyola Researchers Say Science Behind Alcohol Study Seems Uncertain

Natalie Battaglia | Loyola University ChicagoMajid Afshar (left) performs clinical research on alcohol and health and teaches medicine and public health classes at Loyola.

A recent, long-term study by the University of California, Irvine suggested daily alcohol consumption can lead to a longer life.

The study, which focused on subjects over the age of 90, has been making its rounds across social media for suggesting alcohol consumption is better than exercise for increasing life longevity. However, this research might not be so accurate, according to experts in the alcohol research program at Loyola.

With more than 1,600 participants, the study suggested those who consumed two glasses of beer or wine daily reduced the risk of premature death by 18 percent, while participants who exercised for 15-45 minutes daily only increased longevity by 11 percent.

However, Maria Camargo, a graduate student in the alcohol research program at Loyola, said it’s rash to recommend two drinks per day for the general population as there are current public health concerns regarding excessive alcohol consumption in the United States.

“There are thousands of studies that provide evidence of how alcohol exposure leads to damage throughout the body,” Camargo said.

Camargo said there might be other factors in the study which determined longevity because two drinks of alcohol per day might not necessarily cause the subjects to live longer.

“I would be interested to see how much alcohol consumption was identified in a group that lived for a shorter time,” Camargo said.

Mashkoor Choudhry, director of Loyola’s alcohol research program, said he’s concerned with the results of the study and also mentioned the possibility of other factors.

“There are some suggestions that a low dose of alcohol may be helpful, but I would be cautious in interpreting those findings,” Choudhry said. “There are many factors that determine the outcome.”

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to increased health risks, such as injuries, violence, liver diseases and cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

For females, excessive alcohol use is defined as eight or more drinks per week, and excessive use is defined as 15 or more drinks a week, according to Camargo. Men are more likely than women to partake in excessive alcohol consumption, according to the CDC. However, women are more prone to absorbing alcohol at a faster rate due to gender differences in body structure and chemistry, according to the CDC. These differences can cause long-term health issues such as breast cancer and liver disease, according to the CDC.

Majid Afshar, an assistant professor of medicine and public health sciences at Loyola, said he performs clinical research in health outcomes from alcohol exposure. His research includes examining how the immune system reacts to alcohol.

Afshar said he doesn’t support the study because he isn’t familiar with any scientists or evidence suggesting alcohol consumption is better than exercise.

“I am a firm believer in the science behind the harm from alcohol drinking,” Afshar said.

Afshar said even low levels of alcohol consumption can increase cancer risk, contribute to metabolic syndrome and contribute to harmful behaviors.

“Our focus should remain on the evidence-based harmful effects of alcohol rather than the unproven science in alcohol with exercise,” Afshar said.

The research, led by Irvine neurologist Claudia Kawas, began in 2003 to study the fastest growing groups of elders over the age of 90 in the United States. The participants were visited every six months by researchers who performed neurological and neuropsychological tests. These tests were used to determine factors such as diet and medical history, according to the study. Kawas’ office did not return a request for comment from The Phoenix.

Audrey Torcaso, a Loyola alumna, studied the adolescent effects on teenage drinking for her dissertation research. Torcaso said she’s uncertain about the study because the participants were already selected after they were 90 years old.

“It’s possible [the participants] already had intrinsic factors, genetic factors, that helped promote their longevity already,” Torcaso said.

Torcaso, a post-doctoral fellow at University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, said there have been other studies similar to the 90 and over study which suggests alcohol consumption can prevent certain health issues while increasing the risk for others.

“There have been other studies that suggest mild to moderate drinking can prevent strokes and cardiovascular issues,” Torcaso said. “But, it is shown the same amount of alcohol can increase the risk of certain cancers.

John Callici, an associate professor in the department of orthopedic surgery at Loyola, is currently studying the effects of alcohol on fracture repair. These studies have found alcohol consumption can inhibit the repairing process.

People who consume alcohol over a long period of time might experience its long-term effects, such as alcoholism, cancer, heart damage, pancreatitis or liver inflammation, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH)

Excessive alcohol consumption can weaken the immune system, causing the body to become more susceptible to diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis, according to the NIH.

Based on his studies, Callici said people should be cautious of the findings of the study because of the harmful effects of alcohol.

“It is not clear to me in this study that alcohol is beneficial,” Callici said. “Common sense dictates that nobody would counsel a patient to choose drinking alcohol over moderate exercise.”

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