WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Go ahead, have that beer while you watch the game -- but make sure it's just one.
Starting in the 1950s, studies focused primarily on the hazards of alcohol. Then, with the landmark Copenhagen City Heart Study reported in the British Medical Journal in 1995, possible benefits of red wine were revealed. In the last several years research indicates that ethanol, when consumed in moderation, has some health benefits -- regardless of whether it's in the form of beer, wine or liquor.
The 2005 United States Department of Agriculture, Health and Human Services dietary guidelines, based on previous research, stated that for men over 45 and women over 55, moderate alcohol intake was associated with low all-cause mortality.
The USDA stressed that the potential benefits of alcohol can be gained in other ways too, like through healthy diet, exercise, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight.
Alcohol also may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by maintaining "clot-busting" enzymes that promote clot lysis, which breaks down build-up and clots in arteries. This reduces the risk of plaque-related illnesses, Francois Booyse, scientific adviser at the University of Alabama, said at a recent Center for Food, Nutrition and Agricultural Policy conference in Washington.
Researchers found moderate drinkers had a reduction in their risk for diabetes, said Andrea Howard, assistant professor at the Montefiore Medical Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Some studies also showed a reduced risk of ischemic stroke.
Overall nutritional well-being was not negatively impacted by alcohol consumption; a USDA report said moderate daily alcohol intake was unassociated with deficient nutrient intake. In fact, energy and nutrient intake increased with alcohol consumption: People ate the recommended servings from all the food groups.
The USDA healthy eating index also increased with the amount of alcohol, meaning people who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol met, or were closer to meeting, the USDA standards for a healthy diet.
Research about the correlation between obesity and alcohol, however, is inconclusive.
Additional studies, researched by David Baer of the USDA and Charlie Bamforth, Anheuser-Busch endowed professor of brewing science at the University of California, Davis, show other benefits of beer. The benefits of beer were specifically sought since the research and survey were industry-funded.
They say beer is a possible source of calcium, vitamin C, potassium, folates and vitamin B. Beer, especially dark varieties, may also contain an antioxidant called ferulic acid that reduces the risk of certain cancers, they said.
However, all the benefits researchers believe may come from alcohol depend heavily on how much is consumed.
Recently, a CFNAP survey at the University of Maryland, sponsored by the National Beer Wholesalers Association Education Foundation, found that people's perceptions of "moderate" drinking varied by gender, age, income, education and race.
Moderate alcohol intake, as defined by the USDA-HHS guidelines, is equivalent to two drinks or less per day for men, and no more than one drink per day for women. One drink means 12 ounces of regular beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
When women drink more than seven drinks a week and men drink more than 14, the benefits become dangers. In women, studies have suggested drinking in moderation may be linked to a slight increase in the risk of breast cancer. Also, the more alcohol consumed, the greater the likelihood of addiction and liver-related illness and mortality.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to who should use alcohol for its health benefits and who should abstain, said Arthur Klatsky, senior cardiology consultant and research investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in California.
"(A person should) have a conversation with their healthcare provider to make sure there are no conditions that would contradict the benefits of moderate consumption," said Richard Forshee, deputy director of CFNAP at the University of Maryland. "If you do choose to do so, do it in moderation and follow the USDA-HHS dietary guidelines."
In younger drinkers the risk of traumatic injury increases, and in people of all ages, even moderate drinking impairs judgment and slows response time.
"We're struggling with how to get information out when we recognize there're a lot of groups for whom drinking should not be encouraged," Forshee said.
People who are not of age, those who have had previous addiction problems and people who will be driving or operating certain equipment should not be encouraged, Forshee said.
The USDA-HHS recommends those who are taking medications or are ill and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should also avoid drinking.
"There needs to be more research on risk communication," Forshee said.
He suggested a research program that examines how consumers process and understand risk messages about alcohol. There are many instances where moderate consumption levels get the best benefits, such as seafood, chocolate and other foods and nutrients.
The bottom line, Klatsky said, is to use common sense to weigh the potential for risks and benefits.
"Most middle-aged people, especially men, are probably better off having a drink," Klatsky said, "but for women, the risks are still unresolved and young people aren't at any immediate risk for the health problems alcohol might prevent."