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1.  Alcohol Consumption at Midlife and Successful Ageing in Women: A Prospective Cohort Analysis in the Nurses' Health Study 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(9):e1001090.
Using the Nurses' Health Study, Qi Sun and colleagues examine whether moderate alcohol intake is associated with overall health and well-being among women who survive to older age.
Observational studies have documented inverse associations between moderate alcohol consumption and risk of premature death. It is largely unknown whether moderate alcohol intake is also associated with overall health and well-being among populations who have survived to older age. In this study, we prospectively examined alcohol use assessed at midlife in relation to successful ageing in a cohort of US women.
Methods and Findings
Alcohol consumption at midlife was assessed using a validated food frequency questionnaire. Subsequently, successful ageing was defined in 13,894 Nurses' Health Study participants who survived to age 70 or older, and whose health status was continuously updated. “Successful ageing” was considered as being free of 11 major chronic diseases and having no major cognitive impairment, physical impairment, or mental health limitations. Analyses were restricted to the 98.1% of participants who were not heavier drinkers (>45 g/d) at midlife. Of all eligible study participants, 1,491 (10.7%) achieved successful ageing. After multivariable adjustment of potential confounders, light-to-moderate alcohol consumption at midlife was associated with modestly increased odds of successful ageing. The odds ratios (95% confidence interval) were 1.0 (referent) for nondrinkers, 1.11 (0.96–1.29) for ≤5.0 g/d, 1.19 (1.01–1.40) for 5.1–15.0 g/d, 1.28 (1.03–1.58) for 15.1–30.0 g/d, and 1.24 (0.87–1.76) for 30.1–45.0 g/d. Meanwhile, independent of total alcohol intake, participants who drank alcohol at regular patterns throughout the week, rather than on a single occasion, had somewhat better odds of successful ageing; for example, the odds ratios (95% confidence interval) were 1.29 (1.01–1.64) and 1.47 (1.14–1.90) for those drinking 3–4 days and 5–7 days per week in comparison with nondrinkers, respectively, whereas the odds ratio was 1.10 (0.94–1.30) for those drinking only 1–2 days per week.
These data suggest that regular, moderate consumption of alcohol at midlife may be related to a modest increase in overall health status among women who survive to older ages.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
People have always drunk alcoholic beverages but throughout history there have been arguments about the risks and benefits of beer, wine, and spirits. It is clear that excessive alcohol use—heavy drinking (an average of more than two drinks per day for men or more than one drink per day for women; in the US, a “drink” is defined as 15 g of alcohol or, roughly speaking, a can of beer or a small glass of wine) or binge drinking (five or more drinks on a single occasion for men; 4 or more drinks at one time for women)—is harmful. It causes liver damage and increases the risk of developing some types of cancer. It contributes to depression and violence and interferes with relationships. And it is often implicated in fatal traffic accidents. However, in contrast to these and other harms associated with excessive alcohol use, moderate alcohol consumption seems to reduce the risk of specific diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cognitive decline (deterioration in learning, reasoning, and perception).
Why Was This Study Done?
Although people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol have a reduced risk of premature death compared to abstainers or heavy drinkers, it is not known whether moderate alcohol consumption is associated with overall health among ageing populations. In many countries, elderly people are an increasingly large part of the population, so it is important to know how moderate alcohol consumption affects their well-being. In this study, the researchers examine the effect of alcohol consumption at midlife on successful ageing among the participants of the Nurses' Health Study. The researchers study the effect of midlife alcohol consumption because the chronic conditions that affect elderly people develop slowly and it is likely that factors in earlier life determine health in later life. Successful ageing is defined as being free of major chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease, and having no major cognitive impairment, physical impairment, or mental health problems. The Nurses' Health Study enrolled 121,700 female registered nurses in 1976 to investigate the long-term effects of oral contraceptive use but has provided insights into many aspects of health and disease.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers assessed the alcohol consumption of the study participants at midlife (average age 58 years) from food frequency questionnaires completed in 1980 and 1984. Successful ageing for 13,984 participants who survived past 70 years was assessed by analyzing biennial health status questionnaires and cognitive function test results. One tenth of the women achieved successful ageing. After allowing for other factors that might affect their health such as smoking, women who drank light or moderate amounts of alcohol had a modestly increased chance of successful ageing compared to nondrinkers. For example, compared to nondrinkers, women who drank 5–15 g of alcohol per day (between one-third and one drink per day) had about a 20% higher chance of successful ageing. Independent of total alcohol intake, women who drank alcohol regularly had a better chance of successful ageing than occasional drinkers. Thus, compared to nondrinkers, women who drank five to seven days a week had nearly a 50% greater chance of successful ageing whereas women who drank only one or two days a week had a similar likelihood of successful ageing.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that regular, moderate consumption of alcohol at midlife may be related to a modest increase in overall health among women who survive to older ages. Because this is an observational study, it is possible that the women who drank moderately share other unknown characteristics that are actually responsible for their increased chance of successful ageing. Moreover, because all the study participants were women and most had European ancestry, these findings cannot be applied to men or to other ethnic groups. Nevertheless, these findings provide support for the 2010 US Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines, which state that consumption of up to one alcoholic drink per day for women and up to two alcoholic drinks per day for men may provide health benefits. Importantly, they also suggest that drinking alcohol regularly in moderation rather than occasional heavy drinking may be associated with a greater likelihood of successful ageing.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has detailed information about alcohol and its effects on health, including a fact sheet on women and alcohol and a booklet entitled Alcohol, a woman's health issue
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a website on alcohol and public health
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides detailed information about drinking and alcohol, including how to calculate consumption
The Nutrition Source, a website maintained by the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, has an article entitled Alcohol: balancing risks and benefits
MedlinePlus provides links to many other resources on alcohol and on seniors' health
Details of the Nurses' Health Study are available
The 2010 US Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines are available
PMCID: PMC3167795  PMID: 21909248
2.  Alcohol consumption and cognitive decline in early old age 
Neurology  2014;82(4):332-339.
To examine the association between alcohol consumption in midlife and subsequent cognitive decline.
Data are from 5,054 men and 2,099 women from the Whitehall II cohort study with a mean age of 56 years (range 44–69 years) at first cognitive assessment. Alcohol consumption was assessed 3 times in the 10 years preceding the first cognitive assessment (1997–1999). Cognitive tests were repeated in 2002–2004 and 2007–2009. The cognitive test battery included 4 tests assessing memory and executive function; a global cognitive score summarized performances across these tests. Linear mixed models were used to assess the association between alcohol consumption and cognitive decline, expressed as z scores (mean = 0, SD = 1).
In men, there were no differences in cognitive decline among alcohol abstainers, quitters, and light or moderate alcohol drinkers (<20 g/d). However, alcohol consumption ≥36 g/d was associated with faster decline in all cognitive domains compared with consumption between 0.1 and 19.9 g/d: mean difference (95% confidence interval) in 10-year decline in the global cognitive score = −0.10 (−0.16, −0.04), executive function = −0.06 (−0.12, 0.00), and memory = −0.16 (−0.26, −0.05). In women, compared with those drinking 0.1 to 9.9 g/d of alcohol, 10-year abstainers showed faster decline in the global cognitive score (−0.21 [−0.37, −0.04]) and executive function (−0.17 [−0.32, −0.01]).
Excessive alcohol consumption in men (≥36 g/d) was associated with faster cognitive decline compared with light to moderate alcohol consumption.
PMCID: PMC3929201  PMID: 24431298
3.  Moderate alcohol consumption and cognitive risk 
We reviewed 143 papers that described the relationship between moderate drinking of alcohol and some aspect of cognition. Two types of papers were found: (1) those that provided ratios of risk between drinkers and nondrinkers (74 papers in total) and (2) those that, although they did not provide such ratios, allowed cognition in drinkers to be rated as “better,” “no different,” or “worse” than cognition in nondrinkers (69 papers in total). The history of research on moderate drinking and cognition can be divided into two eras: 1977–1997 and 1998–present. Phase I (1977–1997) was the era of neuropsychological evaluation involving mostly young to middle-aged (18–50 years old) subjects. Although initial studies indicated moderate drinking impaired cognition, many later studies failed to confirm this, instead finding no difference in cognition between drinkers and nondrinkers. Phase II (1998–present) was and is the era of mental status exam evaluation involving mostly older (≥55 years old) subjects. These studies overwhelmingly found that moderate drinking either reduced or had no effect on the risk of dementia or cognitive impairment. When all the ratios of risk from all the studies in phase II providing such ratios are entered into a comprehensive meta-analysis, the average ratio of risk for cognitive risk (dementia or cognitive impairment/decline) associated with moderate “social” (not alcoholic) drinking of alcohol is 0.77, with nondrinkers as the reference group. The benefit of moderate drinking applied to all forms of dementia (dementia unspecified, Alzheimer’s disease, and vascular dementia) and to cognitive impairment (low test scores), but no significant benefit against cognitive decline (rate of decline in test scores) was found. Both light and moderate drinking provided a similar benefit, but heavy drinking was associated with nonsignificantly higher cognitive risk for dementia and cognitive impairment. Although the meta-analysis also indicated that wine was better than beer or spirits, this was based on a relatively small number of studies because most studies did not distinguish among these different types of alcohol. Furthermore, a number of the studies that did make the distinction reported no difference among the effects of these different types of alcohol. Therefore, at present this question remains unanswered. Analysis also showed that the presence of the apolipoprotein E epsilon 4 allele eliminated the benefit of moderate drinking. However, this was based on a relatively small number of studies and several other studies have found a beneficial effect of the epsilon e4 allele. Further studies are necessary to settle this question. The benefit of moderate alcohol for cognition was seen in both men and women, although the amount and pattern of drinking is very different between the two sexes. Lastly, the finding of unaffected or significantly reduced cognitive risk in light to moderate drinkers was seen in 14/19 countries for which country-specific ratio data were available, with three of the five remaining countries showing nonsignificant reductions as well. Overall, light to moderate drinking does not appear to impair cognition in younger subjects and actually seems to reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline in older subjects.
PMCID: PMC3157490  PMID: 21857787
Alzheimer’s disease; dementia; drinking
4.  Alcohol Consumption in Midlife and Cognitive Performance Assessed 13 Years Later in the SU.VI.MAX 2 Cohort 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e52311.
Associations between alcohol consumption and cognitive function are discordant and data focusing on midlife exposure are scarce.
To estimate the association between midlife alcohol consumption and cognitive performance assessed 13 y later while accounting for comorbidities and diet.
3,088 French middle-aged adults included in the SU.VI.MAX (1994) study with available neuropsychological evaluation 13 y later. Data on alcohol consumption were obtained from repeated 24h dietary records collected in 1994–1996. Cognitive performance was assessed in 2007–2009 via a battery of 6 neuropsychological tests. A composite score was built as the mean of the standardized individual test scores (mean = 50, SD = 10). ANCOVA were performed to estimate mean differences in cognitive performance and 95% confidence intervals (CI).
In women, abstainers displayed lower cognitive scores than did low-to-moderate alcohol drinkers (1 to 2 drinks/day) (mean difference = −1.77; 95% CI: −3.29, −0.25). In men, heavy drinkers (>3 drinks/day) had higher cognitive scores than did low-to-moderate (1 to 3 drinks/day) (mean difference = 1.05; 95% CI: 0.10, 1.99). However, a lower composite cognitive score was detected in male drinkers consuming ≥90 g/d (≈8 drinks/d). A higher proportion of alcohol intake from beer was also associated with lower cognitive scores. These associations remained significant after adjustment for diet, comorbidities and sociodemographic factors.
In men, heavy but not extreme drinking was associated with higher global cognitive scores. Given the known harmful effects of alcohol even in low doses regarding risk of cancer, the study does not provide a basis for modifying current public health messages.
Trial Registration NCT00272428
PMCID: PMC3526526  PMID: 23284983
5.  What is the optimal level of population alcohol consumption for chronic disease prevention in England? Modelling the impact of changes in average consumption levels 
BMJ Open  2012;2(3):e000957.
To estimate the impact of achieving alternative average population alcohol consumption levels on chronic disease mortality in England.
A macro-simulation model was built to simultaneously estimate the number of deaths from coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertensive disease, diabetes, liver cirrhosis, epilepsy and five cancers that would be averted or delayed annually as a result of changes in alcohol consumption among English adults. Counterfactual scenarios assessed the impact on alcohol-related mortalities of changing (1) the median alcohol consumption of drinkers and (2) the percentage of non-drinkers.
Data sources
Risk relationships were drawn from published meta-analyses. Age- and sex-specific distributions of alcohol consumption (grams per day) for the English population in 2006 were drawn from the General Household Survey 2006, and age-, sex- and cause-specific mortality data for 2006 were provided by the Office for National Statistics.
The optimum median consumption level for drinkers in the model was 5 g/day (about half a unit), which would avert or delay 4579 (2544 to 6590) deaths per year. Approximately equal numbers of deaths from cancers and liver disease would be delayed or averted (∼2800 for each), while there was a small increase in cardiovascular mortality. The model showed no benefit in terms of reduced mortality when the proportion of non-drinkers in the population was increased.
Current government recommendations for alcohol consumption are well above the level likely to minimise chronic disease. Public health targets should aim for a reduction in population alcohol consumption in order to reduce chronic disease mortality.
Article summary
Article focus
Alcohol consumption is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, while providing modest protection from others. Assessments of the impact of alcohol on individual chronic diseases can therefore result in contradictory advice about the level of alcohol consumption that is optimal for health.
The UK Government currently recommends that men should consume no more than three to four units per day (24–32 g/day of pure alcohol) and women should drink no more than two to three units per day (16–24 g/day). However the net impact of this level of consumption on chronic disease mortality is unclear.
The aim of this study was to estimate the impact of achieving alternative population alcohol consumption levels on chronic disease mortality in England.
Key messages
Results suggest that the optimum population level of alcohol consumption for minimising chronic disease mortality in England is just 5 g (approximately half a unit) per day.
Current recommendations for alcohol consumption are well above this level and may not be compatible with optimum protection of public health. Substantial reductions in recommendations and in population alcohol consumption levels would be needed to minimise the chronic disease burden associated with alcohol consumption in England.
Community beliefs in the protective role of alcohol in cardiovascular disease are widespread; however, our modelling shows that when multiple conditions are considered simultaneously, the levels of alcohol that would actually be likely to be associated with reduced risk of chronic disease are much lower than is generally accepted or recommended by government.
Strengths and limitations of this study
The study used a detailed modelling approach to synthesise the best available evidence from meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies and provide for the first time an estimate of the level of alcohol associated with theoretical minimum risk of a range of chronic diseases, considering both harmful and protective effects simultaneously.
The model is dependent on the meta-analyses selected to define the parameters. Results may vary significantly in other contexts with varying levels of disease, alcohol consumption and other risk factors. Furthermore, results depend on the quality of the available epidemiological evidence, which remains contested in some areas.
The approach used also relies on chronic (average) consumption of alcohol and is not able to take account of to take account of patterns of drinking (eg, binge drinking). Furthermore, the results are based on the assumption of a steady-state relationship between alcohol consumption patterns and RR of disease and cannot estimate the time required between changes in population alcohol consumption levels occurring and the achievement of changes in mortality rates.
PMCID: PMC3367150  PMID: 22649178
6.  A Population-Based Study on Alcohol and High-Risk Sexual Behaviors in Botswana 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(10):e392.
In Botswana, an estimated 24% of adults ages 15–49 years are infected with HIV. While alcohol use is strongly associated with HIV infection in Africa, few population-based studies have characterized the association of alcohol use with specific high-risk sexual behaviors.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a cross-sectional, population-based study of 1,268 adults from five districts in Botswana using a stratified two-stage probability sample design. Multivariate logistic regression was used to assess correlates of heavy alcohol consumption (>14 drinks/week for women, and >21 drinks/week for men) as a dependent variable. We also assessed gender-specific associations between alcohol use as a primary independent variable (categorized as none, moderate, problem and heavy drinking) and several risky sex outcomes including: (a) having unprotected sex with a nonmonogamous partner; (b) having multiple sexual partners; and (c) paying for or selling sex in exchange for money or other resources. Criteria for heavy drinking were met by 31% of men and 17% of women. Adjusted correlates of heavy alcohol use included male gender, intergenerational relationships (age gap ≥10 y), higher education, and living with a sexual partner. Among men, heavy alcohol use was associated with higher odds of all risky sex outcomes examined, including unprotected sex (AOR = 3.48; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.65 to 7.32), multiple partners (AOR = 3.08; 95% CI, 1.95 to 4.87), and paying for sex (AOR = 3.65; 95% CI, 2.58 to 12.37). Similarly, among women, heavy alcohol consumption was associated with higher odds of unprotected sex (AOR = 3.28; 95% CI, 1.71 to 6.28), multiple partners (AOR = 3.05; 95% CI, 1.83 to 5.07), and selling sex (AOR = 8.50; 95% CI, 3.41 to 21.18). A dose-response relationship was seen between alcohol use and risky sexual behaviors, with moderate drinkers at lower risk than both problem and heavy drinkers.
Alcohol use is associated with multiple risks for HIV transmission among both men and women. The findings of this study underscore the need to integrate alcohol abuse and HIV prevention efforts in Botswana and elsewhere.
Alcohol use is associated with multiple risks for HIV transmission in men and women. The findings underscore the need to integrate alcohol abuse and HIV prevention efforts in Botswana and elsewhere.
Editors' Summary
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), is most commonly spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner. HIV enters the body through the lining of the sex organs, rectum, or mouth, and destroys immune system cells, leaving the infected person susceptible to other viruses and bacteria. Although HIV education and prevention campaigns emphasize the importance of safe sex in reducing HIV transmission, people continue to become infected by having unprotected sex (that is, not using a condom) with either a nonmonogamous partner or multiple sexual partners, or in situations where they are paying for or selling sex. Research in different populations suggested that heavy alcohol use is associated with risky sexual behaviors. This is because alcohol relaxes the brain and body, reduces inhibitions, and diminishes risk perception. Drinking alcohol may further increase the risk of becoming infected with HIV through its suppressive effects on the immune system.
Why Was This Study Done?
Alcohol abuse is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa where most HIV infections occur and has been associated with risky sexual behaviors. It may therefore be one of the most common, potentially modifiable HIV risk factors in this region. However, research to date has concentrated on the association between alcohol consumption and risky sex in people attending HIV-treatment clinics or recruited at beer halls, and these populations may not be representative of the general population of sub-Saharan Africa. In this study, the researchers have investigated the potential role of alcohol in perpetuating the HIV epidemic by undertaking a population-based study on alcohol use and high-risk sexual behaviors in Botswana. Nearly a quarter of adults are infected with HIV here, and alcohol abuse is also common, particularly in the townships.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers recruited a random cross-section of people from the five districts of Botswana with the highest number of HIV-infected individuals and interviewed all 1,268 participants using a questionnaire. This included general questions about the participants (for example, their age and marital status) and questions about alcohol use, sexual behavior, and knowledge of HIV. Overall, 31% of the men in the study and 17% of the women were heavy drinkers—more than 21 drinks/week for men, 14 for women; a drink is half a pint of beer or a glass of wine. Heavy alcohol use was associated with being male, being in an intergenerational relationship (at least 10 years age difference between partners; intergenerational sex facilitates the continued spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa), having had more education, and living with a sexual partner. Among men, those who drank heavily were three to four times more likely to have unprotected sex or multiple partners or to pay for sex than nondrinkers. Among women, there was a similar association between heavy drinking and having unprotected sex or multiple partners, and heavy drinkers were eight times as likely to sell sex as nondrinkers. For both men and women, the more they drank, the more likely they were to have risky sex. The study did not address behavior among same-sex partnerships.
What Do These Findings Mean?
This study indicates that heavy alcohol consumption is strongly and consistently associated with sexual risk behaviors in both men and women in Botswana. Because of the study design, it does not prove that heavy alcohol use is the cause of such behaviors but provides strong circumstantial evidence that this is the case. It is possible that these results may not apply to neighboring African countries—Botswana is unique in being relatively wealthy and in its government being strongly committed to tackling HIV. Nevertheless, taken together with the results of other studies, this research strongly argues for the need to deal with alcohol abuse within HIV prevention programs in sub-Saharan Africa. Strategies to do this could include education campaigns that target both alcohol use and HIV in schools and in social venues, including beer halls. But, stress the researchers, any strategy that is used must consider the cultural and social significance of alcohol use (in Botswana, alcohol use is a symbol of masculinity and high socioeconomic status) and must simultaneously tackle not only the overlap between alcohol use and risky sexual behavior but also the overlap between alcohol and other risk behaviors such as intergenerational sex.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases factsheet on HIV infection and AIDS
US Department of Health and Human Services information on AIDS
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on HIV/AIDS
US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism patient information on alcohol and HIV/AIDS]
Aidsmap, information on HIV and AIDS provided by the charity NAM,which includes some information on HIV infections and alcohol
AVERT information on HIV and AIDS in Botswana
PMCID: PMC1592342  PMID: 17032060
7.  Alcohol Sales and Risk of Serious Assault 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(5):e104.
Alcohol is a contributing cause of unintentional injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes. Prior research on the association between alcohol use and violent injury was limited to survey-based data, and the inclusion of cases from a single trauma centre, without adequate controls. Beyond these limitations was the inability of prior researchers to comprehensively capture most alcohol sales. In Ontario, most alcohol is sold through retail outlets run by the provincial government, and hospitals are financed under a provincial health care system. We assessed the risk of being hospitalized due to assault in association with retail alcohol sales across Ontario.
Methods and Findings
We performed a population-based case-crossover analysis of all persons aged 13 years and older hospitalized for assault in Ontario from 1 April 2002 to 1 December 2004. On the day prior to each assault case's hospitalization, the volume of alcohol sold at the store in closest proximity to the victim's home was compared to the volume of alcohol sold at the same store 7 d earlier. Conditional logistic regression analysis was used to determine the associated relative risk (RR) of assault per 1,000 l higher daily sales of alcohol. Of the 3,212 persons admitted to hospital for assault, nearly 25% were between the ages of 13 and 20 y, and 83% were male. A total of 1,150 assaults (36%) involved the use of a sharp or blunt weapon, and 1,532 (48%) arose during an unarmed brawl or fight. For every 1,000 l more of alcohol sold per store per day, the relative risk of being hospitalized for assault was 1.13 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.02–1.26). The risk was accentuated for males (1.18, 95% CI 1.05–1.33), youth aged 13 to 20 y (1.21, 95% CI 0.99–1.46), and those in urban areas (1.19, 95% CI 1.06–1.35).
The risk of being a victim of serious assault increases with alcohol sales, especially among young urban men. Akin to reducing the risk of driving while impaired, consideration should be given to novel methods of preventing alcohol-related violence.
In a population-based case-crossover analysis, Joel Ray and colleagues find that the risk of being a victim of serious assault increases with retail alcohol sales, especially among young urban men.
Editors' Summary
Alcohol has been produced and consumed around the world since prehistoric times. In the Western world it is now the most commonly consumed psychoactive drug (a substance that changes mood, behavior, and thought processes). The World Health Organization reports that there are 76.3 million persons with alcohol use disorders worldwide. Alcohol consumption is an important factor in unintentional injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, and in violent criminal behavior. In the United Kingdom, for example, a higher proportion of heavy drinkers than light drinkers cause violent criminal offenses. Other figures suggest that people (in particular, young men) have an increased risk of committing a criminally violent offense within 24 h of drinking alcohol. There is also some evidence that suggests that the victims as well as the perpetrators of assaults have often been drinking recently, possibly because alcohol impairs the victim's ability to judge potentially explosive situations.
Why Was This Study Done?
The researchers wanted to know more about the relationship between alcohol and intentional violence. The recognition of a clear link between driving when impaired by alcohol and motor vehicle crashes has led many countries to introduce public awareness programs that stigmatize drunk driving. If a clear link between alcohol consumption by the people involved in violent crime could also be established, similar programs might reduce alcohol-related assaults. The researchers tested the hypothesis that the risk of being hospitalized due to a violent assault increases when there are increased alcohol sales in the immediate vicinity of the victim's place of residence.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers did their study in Ontario, Canada for three reasons. First, Ontario is Canada's largest province. Second, the province keeps detailed computerized medical records, including records of people hospitalized from being violently assaulted. Third, most alcohol is sold in government-run shops, and the district has the infrastructure to allow daily alcohol sales to be tracked. The researchers identified more than 3,000 people over the age of 13 y who were hospitalized in the province because of a serious assault during a 32-mo period. They compared the volume of alcohol sold at the liquor store nearest to the victim's home the day before the assault with the volume sold at the same store a week earlier (this type of study is called a “case-crossover” study). For every extra 1,000 l of alcohol sold per store per day (a doubling of alcohol sales), the overall risk of being hospitalized for assault increased by 13%. The risk was highest in three subgroups of people: men (18% increased risk), youths aged 13 to 20 y (21% increased risk), and those living in urban areas (19% increased risk). At peak times of alcohol sales, the risk of assault was 41% higher than at times when alcohol sales were lowest.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that the risk of being seriously assaulted increases with the amount of alcohol sold locally the day before the assault and show that the individuals most at risk are young men living in urban areas. Because the study considers only serious assaults and alcohol sold in shops (i.e., not including alcohol sold in bars), it probably underestimates the association between alcohol and assault. It also does not indicate whether the victim or perpetrator of the assault (or both) had been drinking, and its findings may not apply to countries with different drinking habits. Nevertheless, these findings support the idea that the consumption of alcohol contributes to the occurrence of medical injuries from intentional violence. Increasing the price of alcohol or making alcohol harder to obtain might help to reduce the occurrence of alcohol-related assaults. The researchers suggest that a particularly effective approach may be to stigmatize alcohol-related brawling, analogous to the way that driving under the influence of alcohol has been made socially unacceptable.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Bennetts and Seabrook
The US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides information on all aspects of alcohol abuse, including an article on alcohol use and violence among young adults
Alcohol-related assault is examined in the British Crime Survey
Alcohol Concern, the UK national agency on alcohol misuse, provides fact sheets on the health impacts of alcohol, young people's drinking, and alcohol and crime
The Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto provides information about alcohol addiction (in English and French)
PMCID: PMC2375945  PMID: 18479181
8.  Alcohol effects on Cognitive Change in Middle-Aged and Older Adults 
Aging & mental health  2012;17(1):12-23.
This study examines cognitive outcomes for alcohol drinking status over time, across cognitive ability and age groups.
Data (1998-2005) from N=571 Seattle Longitudinal Study participants age 45+years (middle-aged: 45-64, young-old: 65-75, old-old: 75+) were analyzed to examine the alcohol drinking status effect (e.g. abstinent, moderate (≤7 drinks/week), at-risk (≥8 drinks/week)) on cognitive ability (e.g., Memory, Reasoning, Spatial, Verbal Number, Speed abilities).
Findings indicated that alcohol drinking status was associated with change in verbal ability, spatial ability, and perceptual speed. Decline in verbal ability was seen among alcohol abstainers and moderate alcohol consumers, but at-risk drinkers displayed relative stability. At-risk old-old adults and middle-aged adults (regardless of drinking status), displayed relative stability in spatial ability. Decline in spatial ability was however present among young-old adults across drinking status, and among abstaining and moderate drinking old-old adults. At-risk drinkers showed the most positive spatial ability trajectory. A gender effect in perceptual speed was detected, with women who abstained from drinking displaying the most decline in perceptual speed compared with women that regularly consumed alcohol, and men displaying decline in perceptual speed across drinking status.
In this study, consuming alcohol is indicative of cognitive stability. This conclusion should be considered cautiously, due to study bias created from survivor effects, analyzing two time points, health/medication change status, and overrepresentation of higher socioeconomic status and white populations in this study. Future research needs to design studies that can make concrete recommendations about the relationship between drinking status and cognition.
PMCID: PMC3561493  PMID: 22934837
alcohol; cognition; aging
9.  The Relationship Between Alcohol Consumption and Glycemic Control Among Patients with Diabetes: The Kaiser Permanente Northern California Diabetes Registry 
Alcohol consumption is a common behavior. Little is known about the relationship between alcohol consumption and glycemic control among people with diabetes.
To evaluate the association between alcohol consumption and glycemic control.
Survey follow-up study, 1994–1997, among Kaiser Permanente Northern California members.
38,564 adult diabetes patients.
Self-reported alcohol consumption, and hemoglobin A1C (A1C), assessed within 1 year of survey date. Linear regression of A1C by alcohol consumption was performed, adjusted for sociodemographic variables, clinical variables, and diabetes disease severity. Least squares means estimates were derived.
In multivariate-adjusted models, A1C values were 8.88 (lifetime abstainers), 8.79 (former drinkers), 8.90 (<0.1 drink/day), 8.71 (0.1–0.9 drink/day), 8.51 (1–1.9 drinks/day), 8.39 (2–2.9 drinks/day), and 8.47 (≥3 drinks/day). Alcohol consumption was linearly (p < 0.001) and inversely (p = 0.001) associated with A1C among diabetes patients.
Alcohol consumption is inversely associated with glycemic control among diabetes patients. This supports current clinical guidelines for moderate levels of alcohol consumption among diabetes patients. As glycemic control affects incidence of complications of diabetes, the lower A1C levels associated with moderate alcohol consumption may translate into lower risk for complications.
PMCID: PMC2359478  PMID: 18183468
diabetes; alcohol consumption; hemoglobin A1C
10.  Fetal Alcohol Exposure and IQ at Age 8: Evidence from a Population-Based Birth-Cohort Study 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49407.
Observational studies have generated conflicting evidence on the effects of moderate maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy on offspring cognition mainly reflecting problems of confounding. Among mothers who drink during pregnancy fetal alcohol exposure is influenced not only by mother’s intake but also by genetic variants carried by both the mother and the fetus. Associations between children’s cognitive function and both maternal and child genotype at these loci can shed light on the effects of maternal alcohol consumption on offspring cognitive development.
We used a large population based study of women recruited during pregnancy to determine whether genetic variants in alcohol metabolising genes in this cohort of women and their children were related to the child’s cognitive score (measured by the Weschler Intelligence Scale) at age 8.
We found that four genetic variants in alcohol metabolising genes in 4167 children were strongly related to lower IQ at age 8, as was a risk allele score based on these 4 variants. This effect was only seen amongst the offspring of mothers who were moderate drinkers (1–6 units alcohol per week during pregnancy (per allele effect estimates were −1.80 (95% CI = −2.63 to −0.97) p = 0.00002, with no effect among children whose mothers abstained during pregnancy (0.16 (95%CI = −1.05 to 1.36) p = 0.80), p-value for interaction  = 0.009). A further genetic variant associated with alcohol metabolism in mothers was associated with their child’s IQ, but again only among mothers who drank during pregnancy.
PMCID: PMC3498109  PMID: 23166662
11.  Alcohol Intake and Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review Implementing a Mendelian Randomization Approach 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(3):e52.
Alcohol has been reported to be a common and modifiable risk factor for hypertension. However, observational studies are subject to confounding by other behavioural and sociodemographic factors, while clinical trials are difficult to implement and have limited follow-up time. Mendelian randomization can provide robust evidence on the nature of this association by use of a common polymorphism in aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) as a surrogate for measuring alcohol consumption. ALDH2 encodes a major enzyme involved in alcohol metabolism. Individuals homozygous for the null variant (*2*2) experience adverse symptoms when drinking alcohol and consequently drink considerably less alcohol than wild-type homozygotes (*1*1) or heterozygotes. We hypothesise that this polymorphism may influence the risk of hypertension by affecting alcohol drinking behaviour.
Methods and Findings
We carried out fixed effect meta-analyses of the ALDH2 genotype with blood pressure (five studies, n = 7,658) and hypertension (three studies, n = 4,219) using studies identified via systematic review. In males, we obtained an overall odds ratio of 2.42 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.66–3.55, p = 4.8 × 10−6) for hypertension comparing *1*1 with *2*2 homozygotes and an odds ratio of 1.72 (95% CI 1.17–2.52, p = 0.006) comparing heterozygotes (surrogate for moderate drinkers) with *2*2 homozygotes. Systolic blood pressure was 7.44 mmHg (95% CI 5.39–9.49, p = 1.1 × 10−12) greater among *1*1 than among *2*2 homozygotes, and 4.24 mmHg (95% CI 2.18–6.31, p = 0.00005) greater among heterozygotes than among *2*2 homozygotes.
These findings support the hypothesis that alcohol intake has a marked effect on blood pressure and the risk of hypertension.
Using a mendelian randomization approach Sarah Lewis and colleagues find strong support for the hypothesis that alcohol intake has a marked effect on blood pressure and the risk of hypertension.
Editors' Summary
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a common medical condition that affects nearly a third of US and UK adults. Hypertension has no symptoms but can lead to heart attacks or strokes. It is diagnosed by measuring blood pressure—the force that blood moving around the body exerts on the inside of large blood vessels. Blood pressure is highest when the heart is pumping out blood (systolic pressure) and lowest when it is filling up with blood (diastolic pressure). Normal blood pressure is defined as a systolic pressure of less than 130 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and a diastolic pressure of less than 85 mmHg (a blood pressure of 130/85). A reading of more than 140/90 indicates hypertension. Many factors affect blood pressure, but overweight people and individuals who eat too much salty or fatty foods are at high risk of developing hypertension. Mild hypertension can often be corrected by lifestyle changes, but many people also take antihypertensive drugs to reduce their blood pressure.
Why Was This Study Done?
Another modifiable lifestyle factor thought to affect blood pressure is alcohol intake. Observational studies that ask people about their drinking habits and measure their blood pressure suggest that alcohol intake correlates with blood pressure, but they cannot prove a causal link because of “confounding”—other risk factors associated with alcohol drinking, such as diet, might also affect the study participant's blood pressures. A trial that randomly assigns people to different alcohol intakes could provide this proof of causality, but such a trial is impractical. In this study, therefore, the researchers have used “Mendelian randomization” to investigate whether alcohol intake affects blood pressure. An inactive variant of aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2; the enzyme that removes alcohol from the body) has been identified. People who inherit the variant form of this gene from both parents have an ALDH2 *2*2 genotype (genetic makeup) and become flushed and nauseated after drinking. Consequently, they drink less than people with a *1*2 genotype and much less than those with a *1*1 genotype. Because inheritance of these genetic variants does not affect lifestyle factors other than alcohol intake, an association between ALDH2 genotypes and blood pressure would indicate that alcohol intake has an effect on blood pressure without any confounding.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified ten published studies (mainly done in Japan where the ALDH2 gene variant is common) on associations between ALDH2 genotype and blood pressure or hypertension using a detailed search protocol (a “systematic review”). A meta-analysis (a statistical method for combining the results of independent studies) of the studies that had investigated the association between ALDH2 genotype and hypertension showed that men with the *1*1 genotype (highest alcohol intake) and those with the *1*2 genotype (intermediate alcohol intake) were 2.42 and 1.72 times more likely, respectively, to have hypertension than those with the *2*2 genotype (lowest alcohol intake). There was no association between ALDH2 genotype and hypertension among the women in these studies because they drank very little. Systolic and diastolic blood pressures showed a similar relationship to ALDH2 genotype in a second meta-analysis of relevant studies. Finally, the researchers estimated that for men the lifetime effect of drinking 1 g of alcohol a day (one unit of alcohol contains 8 g of alcohol in the UK and 14 g in the US; recommended daily limits in these countries are 3–4 and 1–2 units, respectively) would be an increase in systolic blood pressure of 0.24 mmHg.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings support the suggestion that alcohol has a marked effect on blood pressure and hypertension. Consequently, some cases of hypertension could be prevented by encouraging people to reduce their daily alcohol intake. Although the Mendelian randomization approach avoids most of the confounding intrinsic to observational studies, it is possible that a gene near ALDH2 that has no effect on alcohol intake affects blood pressure, since genes are often inherited in blocks. Alternatively, ALDH2 could affect blood pressure independent of alcohol intake. The possibility that ALDH2 could effect blood pressure independently of alcohol is intake made unlikely by the fact that no effect of genotype on blood pressure is seen among women who drink very little. Additional large-scale studies are needed to address these possibilities, to confirm the current finding in more people, and to improve the estimates of the effect that alcohol intake has on blood pressure.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia has a page on hypertension (in English and Spanish)
The American Heart Association provides information for patients and health professionals about hypertension
The UK Blood Pressure Association provides information for patients and health professionals on all aspects of hypertension, including information about alcohol affects blood pressure
The Explore@Bristol science center (a UK charity) provides an alcohol unit calculator and information on the effects of alcohol
The International Center for Alcohol Policies provides drinking guidelines for countries around the world
PMCID: PMC2265305  PMID: 18318597
12.  Association between alcohol consumption and plasma fetuin-A and its contribution to incident type 2 diabetes in women 
Diabetologia  2013;57(1):10.1007/s00125-013-3077-8.
The benefits of moderate alcohol consumption for type 2 diabetes have been postulated to involve a mechanism of improved insulin sensitivity. Fetuin-A, which is known to inhibit insulin signalling, has emerged as a biomarker for diabetes risk. Alcohol consumption may influence circulating fetuin-A concentrations and subsequently diabetes risk by altering the insulin signal. We therefore hypothesised that moderate alcohol consumption would be associated with lower fetuin-A concentration and that fetuin-A would partly explain the association between alcohol consumption and incident type 2 diabetes.
Among diabetes-free female participants in the Nurses’ Health Study (n=1331), multiple linear regression was conducted to assess the association between alcohol consumption and plasma fetuin-A. Least-squares means (lsmeans) of fetuin-A were estimated in categories of alcohol consumption (0, 0.1-4.9, 5-14.9 and ≥15 g/day). The proportion of alcohol consumption and diabetes association explained by baseline fetuin-A was assessed in 470 matched incident diabetes case–control pairs with follow-up 2000-2006.
Higher alcohol consumption was associated with lower plasma fetuin-A (p for trend=0.009): lsmean±SE 476.5±5.9 μg/ml for abstainers, 468.9±5.2 μg/ml for 0.1-4.9 g/day consumers, 455.9±7.0 μg/ml for 5.0-14.9 g/day consumers, and 450.0±9.4 μg/ml for ≥15.0 g/day consumers. Fetuin-A and fasting insulin explained 18.4% and 54.8%, respectively, of the inverse association between alcohol consumption and diabetes after multiple adjustment (both p for contribution <0.04).
Moderate alcohol consumption is associated with lower plasma fetuin-A in diabetes-free women. Fetuin-A and insulin explain a significant proportion of the association between alcohol consumption and incident type 2 diabetes. Further studies are needed to examine potential biological mechanisms underlying this association.
PMCID: PMC3858443  PMID: 24105100
Alcohol; Fetuin-A; Insulin sensitivity; Type 2 diabetes
13.  Changes in Alcohol Consumption and Subsequent Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Men 
Diabetes  2010;60(1):74-79.
The objective of this study was to investigate the association of 4-year changes in alcohol consumption with a subsequent risk of type 2 diabetes.
We prospectively examined 38,031 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study who were free of diagnosed diabetes or cancer in 1990. Alcohol consumption was reported on food frequency questionnaires and updated every 4 years.
A total of 1,905 cases of type 2 diabetes occurred during 428,497 person-years of follow-up. A 7.5 g/day (approximately half a glass) increase in alcohol consumption over 4 years was associated with lower diabetes risk among initial nondrinkers (multivariable hazard ratio [HR] 0.78; 95% CI: 0.60–1.00) and drinkers initially consuming <15 g/day (HR 0.89; 95% CI: 0.83–0.96), but not among men initially drinking ≥15 g/day (HR 0.99; 95% CI: 0.95–1.02; Pinteraction < 0.01). A similar pattern was observed for levels of total adiponectin and hemoglobin A1c, with a better metabolic profile among abstainers and light drinkers who modestly increased their alcohol intake, compared with men who either drank less or among men who were already moderate drinkers and increased their intake. Likewise, compared with stable light drinkers (0–4.9 g/day), light drinkers who increased their intake to moderate levels (5.0–29.9 g/day) had a significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes (HR 0.75; 95% CI: 0.62–0.90).
Increases in alcohol consumption over time were associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes among initially rare and light drinkers. This lower risk was evident within a 4-year period following increased alcohol intake.
PMCID: PMC3012199  PMID: 20876712
14.  Moderate alcohol consumption is associated with better endothelial function: a cross sectional study 
Moderate alcohol consumption is protective against coronary artery disease. Endothelial dysfunction contributes to atherosclerosis and the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease. The effects of alcohol consumption on endothelial function may be relevant to these cardiovascular outcomes, but very few studies have examined the effect of alcohol consumption on endothelial function assessed by flow-mediated dilation (FMD) of the brachial artery in humans.
In the population-based Northern Manhattan Study (NOMAS), we performed a cross-sectional analysis of lifetime alcohol intake and brachial artery FMD during reactive hyperemia using high-resolution B-mode ultrasound images among 884 stroke-free participants (mean age 66.8 years, women 56.6%, Hispanic 67.4%, black 17.4%, and white 15.2%).
The mean brachial FMD was 5.7% and the median was 5.5%. Compared to non-drinkers, those who drank >1 drink/month to 2 drinks/day were more likely to have FMD above the median FMD (5.5%) (unadjusted OR 1.7, 95% CI 1.2–2.4, p = 0.005). In multivariate analysis, the relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and FMD remained significant after adjusting for multiple traditional cardiovascular risk factors, including sex, race-ethnicity, body mass index, diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, Framingham risk score, medication use (adjusted OR 1.8, 95%CI 1.1–3.0, p = 0.03). No beneficial effect on FMD was seen for those who drank more than 2 drinks/day.
In conclusion, consumption of up to 2 alcoholic beverages per day was independently associated with better FMD compared to no alcohol consumption in this multiethnic population. This effect on FMD may represent an important mechanism in explaining the protective effect of alcohol intake on cardiovascular disease.
PMCID: PMC2653471  PMID: 19228434
15.  Associations of alcohol consumption with diabetes mellitus and impaired fasting glycemia among middle-aged and elderly Chinese 
BMC Public Health  2010;10:713.
The U-shaped relationship between alcohol consumption and diabetes mellitus was observed among western populations. However, few studies have systematically evaluated the association in Chinese. We aimed to investigate the associations of alcohol consumption with diabetes mellitus and impaired fasting glycemia (IFG) among middle-aged and elderly Chinese.
We examined 1,458 men and 1,831 women aged 50 to 70 from Beijing and Shanghai China in a cross-sectional survey. Fasting glucose, adipokines and markers of inflammation were measured. Macronutrients and alcohol consumption were assessed with standardized questionnaires.
Compared with abstainers, alcohol consumption was associated with a decreased risk of having diabetes mellitus in women (OR: 0.41, 95%CI: 0.22-0.78) after controlling for socio-demographic factors, physical activity, smoking, family income, family history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes, macronutrients intake, body mass index, and markers of inflammation and adipokines. In men, both low and high alcohol consumptions were associated with increased risks of having combined diabetes and IFG (ORs 1.36 [95%CI: 1.02-1.82] and 1.50 [95%CI: 1.04-2.15], respectively]. In the multivariable stratified analyses among men, moderate drinkers who had drinking days of ≥ 5 days/week had a deceased likelihood (OR: 0.61, 95%CI: 0.37-0.98) and liquor drinkers had an increased likelihood (OR: 1.47, 95%CI: 1.09-1.98) of having combined diabetes and IFG respectively, compared with the abstainers.
An approximately J-shaped association was observed between alcohol consumption and combined diabetes and IFG among men compared with abstainers in Chinese. Whether moderate alcohol intake could help decrease diabetic risk among Chinese people warrants further investigation.
PMCID: PMC2998495  PMID: 21092093
16.  Alcohol Intake and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Younger, Middle-aged and Older Adults 
Circulation  2010;121(14):1589-1597.
Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). This protective effect of alcohol, however, may be confined to middle-aged or older individuals. CHD Incidence is low in men younger than 40 and in women younger than 50 years and for this reason, study cohorts rarely have the power to investigate effects of alcohol on CHD risk in younger adults. This study examined whether the beneficial effect of alcohol on CHD depends on age.
Methods and results
A pooled analysis of eight prospective studies from North America and Europe including 192,067 women and 74,919 men free of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancers at baseline. Average daily alcohol intake was assessed at baseline using a food frequency or diet history questionnaire. An inverse association between alcohol and risk of coronary heart disease was observed in all age groups: hazard ratios among moderately drinking men (5.0–29.9 g/day) aged 39–50, 50–59, and 60+ years were 0.58 (95% C.I. 0.36 to 0.93), 0.72 (95% C.I. 0.60–0.86), and 0.85 (95% C.I. 0.75 to 0.97) compared with abstainers. However, the analyses indicated a smaller incidence rate difference (IRD) between abstainers and moderate consumers in younger adults (IRD=45 per 100,000; 90% C.I. 8 to 84), than in middle-aged (IRD=64 per 100,000; 90% C.I. 24 to 102) and older adults (IRD=89 per 100,000; 90% C.I. 44 to 140). Similar results were observed in women.
Alcohol is also associated with a decreased risk of CHD in younger adults; however, the absolute risk was small compared with middle-aged and older adults.
PMCID: PMC3104851  PMID: 20351238
Alcohol; Coronary disease; Age groups; Epidemiology
17.  Inverse associations between light-to-moderate alcohol intake and lipid-related indices in patients with diabetes 
Dyslipidemia is a common complication in patients with diabetes and is involved in being prone to cardiovascular disease. The risk of coronary artery disease is known to be lower in light-to-moderate drinkers than in abstainers. The aim of this study was to clarify whether and how alcohol drinking influences the lipid-related indices, good predictors for cardiovascular disease, such as the ratio of LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol (LDL-C/HDL-C ratio), the ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol (TG/HDL-C ratio), and the lipid accumulation product (LAP), in patients with diabetes.
The subjects were men with diabetes (n = 1477; mean age, 54.0 years) and they were divided into non-, light (< 22 g ethanol/day), moderate (≥ 22 and < 44 g ethanol/day) and heavy (≥ 44 g ethanol/day) drinkers. The relationships between alcohol intake and the lipid-related indices were investigated by the multivariate analyses with adjustment for age, smoking, regular exercise and drug therapy for diabetes.
The odds ratio (OR) vs. nondrinkers for high LDL-C/HDL-C ratio tended to be lower with an increase in alcohol intake (OR with 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.80 [0.50-1.29] in light drinkers; 0.24 [0.15-0.38] in moderate drinkers and 0.10 [0.05-0.19] in heavy drinkers). Alcohol intake showed an inverse association with a high TG/HDL-C ratio (OR with 95% CI vs. nondrinkers for high TG/HDL-C ratio: 0.54 [0.36-0.80] in light drinkers; 0.73 [0.56-0.97] in moderate drinkers and 0.72 [0.53-0.98] in heavy drinkers) and a J-shaped relationship with a high LAP (OR with 95% CI vs. nondrinkers for high LAP: 0.66 [0.43-1.02] in light drinkers; 0.82 [0.61-1.10] in moderate drinkers, and 1.29 [0.95-1.77] in heavy drinkers). Similar associations between alcohol intake and the lipid indices were obtained in a covariance analysis.
In patients with diabetes, light-to-moderate alcohol consumption is inversely associated with lipid-related indices, and this correlates with previous findings of cardiovascular risk reduction by modest drinking in patients with diabetes.
PMCID: PMC3723450  PMID: 23866006
18.  Alcohol and blood pressure: the INTERSALT study. 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  1994;308(6939):1263-1267.
OBJECTIVES--To assess the relation between alcohol intake and blood pressure in men and women and in men at younger and older ages; to examine the influence of amount and pattern of alcohol consumption, as well as of acute effects, taking into account body mass index, smoking, and urinary sodium and potassium excretion. DESIGN--Subjects reported alcohol consumption for each of seven days before standardised blood pressure measurement, and whether they had consumed any alcohol in the 24 hours before measurement. SETTING--50 centres worldwide. SUBJECTS--4844 men and 4837 women aged 20-59. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Effect of alcohol on blood pressure estimated by taking a weighted average of regression coefficients from centres. Acute effect assessed by examining mean differences in blood pressure of non-drinkers and of heavy drinkers who had and had not consumed alcohol in the 24 hours before measurement. Effect of pattern of consumption assessed by examining mean differences in blood pressure of non-drinkers compared with drinkers (i) whose intake was concentrated in fewer days or who were drinking more frequently, and (ii) whose alcohol intake varied little over the seven days or varied more substantially, as indicated by the standard deviation of daily consumption. RESULTS--Of the 48 centres in which some people reported consuming at least 300 ml/week of alcohol, 35 had positive regression coefficients linking heavy alcohol consumption to blood pressure. Overall, alcohol consumption was associated with blood pressure, significantly at the highest intake. After account was taken of key confounders, men who drank 300-499 ml alcohol/week had systolic/diastolic blood pressure on average 2.7/1.6 mmHg higher than non-drinkers, and men who drank > or = 500 ml alcohol/week had pressures of 4.6/3.0 mmHg higher. For women, heavy drinkers (> or = 300 ml/week) had blood pressures higher by 3.9/3.1 mmHg than non-drinkers. Heavy drinking and blood pressure were strongly associated in both sexes, and in men at both younger (20-39 years) and older (40-59 years) ages. In men who were heavy drinkers, episodic drinkers (those with great variation in daily alcohol consumption) had greater differences in blood pressure compared with non-drinkers than did regular drinkers of relatively constant amounts. CONCLUSION--The significant relation of heavy drinking (3-4 or more drinks/day) to blood pressure, observed in both men and women, and in younger and older men, was independent of and added to the effect on blood pressure of body mass index and urinary excretion of sodium and potassium. The findings indicate the usefulness of targeting those at high risk as well as the general population to reduce the adverse effects of alcohol on blood pressure.
PMCID: PMC2540174  PMID: 7802765
19.  Living Alone and Alcohol-Related Mortality: A Population-Based Cohort Study from Finland 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(9):e1001094.
Kimmo Herttua and colleagues showed that living alone is associated with a substantially increased risk of alcohol-related mortality, irrespective of gender, socioeconomic status, or cause of death, and that this effect was exacerbated after a price reduction in alcohol in 2004.
Social isolation and living alone are increasingly common in industrialised countries. However, few studies have investigated the potential public health implications of this trend. We estimated the relative risk of death from alcohol-related causes among individuals living alone and determined whether this risk changed after a large reduction in alcohol prices.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a population-based natural experimental study of a change in the price of alcohol that occurred because of new laws enacted in Finland in January and March of 2004, utilising national registers. The data are based on an 11% sample of the Finnish population aged 15–79 y supplemented with an oversample of deaths. The oversample covered 80% of all deaths during the periods January 1, 2000–December 31, 2003 (the four years immediately before the price reduction of alcohol), and January 1, 2004–December 31, 2007 (the four years immediately after the price reduction). Alcohol-related mortality was defined using both underlying and contributory causes of death. During the 8-y follow-up about 18,200 persons died due to alcohol-related causes. Among married or cohabiting people the increase in alcohol-related mortality was small or non-existing between the periods 2000–2003 and 2004–2007, whereas for those living alone, this increase was substantial, especially in men and women aged 50–69 y. For liver disease in men, the most common fatal alcohol-related disease, the age-adjusted risk ratio associated with living alone was 3.7 (95% confidence interval 3.3, 4.1) before and 4.9 (95% CI 4.4, 5.4) after the price reduction (p<0.001 for difference in risk ratios). In women, the corresponding risk ratios were 1.7 (95% CI 1.4, 2.1) and 2.4 (95% CI 2.0, 2.9), respectively (p ≤ 0.01). Living alone was also associated with other mortality from alcohol-related diseases (range of risk ratios 2.3 to 8.0) as well as deaths from accidents and violence with alcohol as a contributing cause (risk ratios between 2.1 and 4.7), both before and after the price reduction.
Living alone is associated with a substantially increased risk of alcohol-related mortality, irrespective of gender, socioeconomic status, or the specific cause of death. The greater availability of alcohol in Finland after legislation-instituted price reductions in the first three months of 2004 increased in particular the relative excess in fatal liver disease among individuals living alone.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Throughout most of human history, people have lived in tight-knit communities where there was likely to be someone to turn to for help, advice, or company. But the modern way of life in industrialized countries is greatly reducing the quantity and quality of social relationships. Instead of living in extended families, many people now live miles away from their relatives, often living and working alone. Others commute long distances to work, which leaves little time for socializing with friends or relatives. And many delay or forgo getting married and having children. Consequently, loneliness and social isolation are getting more common. In the UK, according to a recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation, 10% of people often feel lonely, a third have a close friend or relative who they think is very lonely, and half think people are getting lonelier in general. Similarly, over the past two decades, there has been a three-fold increase in the number of Americans who say they have no close confidants.
Why Was This Study Done?
Some experts think that loneliness is bad for human health. They point to studies that show that people with fewer social relationships die earlier on average than people with more social relationships. But does loneliness increase the risk of dying from specific causes? It is important to investigate the relationship between loneliness and cause-specific mortality (death) because, if for example, loneliness increases the risk of dying from alcohol-related causes (heavy drinking causes liver and heart damage, increases the risk of some cancers, contributes to depression, and increases the risk of death by violence or accident), doctors could advise their patients who live alone about safe drinking. But, although loneliness is recognized as both a contributor to and a consequence of alcohol abuse, there have been no large, population-based studies on the association between living alone and alcohol-related mortality. In this population-based study, the researchers estimate the association between living alone (an indicator of a lack of social relationships) and death from alcohol-related causes in Finland for four years before and four years after an alcohol price reduction in 2004 that increased alcohol consumption.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained information on about 80% of all people who died in Finland between 2000 and 2007 from Statistics Finland, which collects official Finnish statistics. During this period, about 18,200 people (two-thirds of whom lived alone) died from underlying alcohol-related causes (for example, liver disease and alcoholic poisoning) or contributory alcohol-related causes (for example, accidents, violence, and cardiovascular disease, with alcohol as a contributing cause). Among married and cohabiting people, the rate of alcohol-related mortality was similar in 2000–2003 and 2004–2007 but for people living alone (particularly those aged 50–69 years) the 2004 alcohol price reduction substantially increased the alcohol-related mortality rate. For liver disease in men, the risk ratio associated with living alone was 3.7 before and 4.9 after the price reduction. That is, between 2000 and 2003, men living alone were 3.7 times more likely to die of liver disease than married or cohabiting men; between 2004 and 2007, they were 4.9 times more likely to die of liver disease. In women, the corresponding risk ratios for liver disease were 1.7 and 2.4, respectively. Living alone was also associated with an increased risk of dying from other alcohol-related diseases and accidents and violence both before and after the price reduction.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, in Finland, living alone is associated with an increased risk of alcohol-related mortality. Because of the study design, it is impossible to say whether living alone is a cause or a consequence of alcohol abuse, but the greater increase in alcohol-related deaths (particularly fatal liver disease) among people living alone compared to married and cohabiting people after the alcohol price reduction suggests that people living alone are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of increased alcohol availability. Further research in other countries is now needed to identify whether living alone is a cause or effect of alcohol abuse and to extend these findings to cultures where the pattern of alcohol consumption is different. However, the findings of this natural experiment suggest that living alone should be regarded as a potential risk marker for death from alcohol-related causes.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The Mental Health America Live Your Life Well webpage includes information about how social relationships improve mental and physical health
The Mental Health Foundation (a UK charity) presents the report The Lonely Society?
The US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has information about alcohol and its effects on health
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a website on alcohol and public health that includes information on the health risks of excessive drinking
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides detailed information about drinking and alcohol, including information on the risks of drinking too much, and personal stories about alcohol problems, including stories from people living alone (My drinks diary shock and I used to drink all day)
MedlinePlus provides links to many other resources on alcohol
PMCID: PMC3176753  PMID: 21949642
20.  Alcohol Consumption and Dietary Patterns: The FinDrink Study 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38607.
The aim of this population-based study was to investigate differences in dietary patterns in relation to the level of alcohol consumption among Finnish adults. This study was part of the FinDrink project, an epidemiologic study on alcohol use among Finnish population. It utilized data from the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. A total of 1720 subjects comprising of 816 men and 904 women aged 53–73 years were included in the study in 1998–2001. Food intake was collected via a 4-day food diary method. Self-reported alcohol consumption was assessed with quantity-frequency method based on the Nordic Alcohol Consumption Inventory. Weekly alcohol consumption was categorized into three groups: non-drinkers (<12 grams), moderate drinkers (12–167.9 grams for men, 12–83.9 grams for women) and heavy drinkers (≥168 grams for men, ≥84 grams for women). Data were analyzed for men and women separately using multiple linear regression models, adjusted for age, occupational status, marital status, smoking, body mass index and leisure time physical activity. In women, moderate/heavy drinkers had lower fibre intake and moderate drinkers had higher vitamin D intake than non-drinkers. Male heavy drinkers had lower fibre, retinol, calcium and iron intake, and moderate/heavy drinkers had higher vitamin D intake than non-drinkers. Fish intake was higher among women moderate drinkers and men moderate/heavy drinkers than non-drinkers. In men, moderate drinkers had lower fruit intake and heavy drinkers had lower milk intake than non-drinkers. Moderate drinkers had higher energy intake from total fats and monosaturated fatty acids than non-drinkers. In contrast, energy intake from carbohydrates was lower among moderate/heavy drinkers than non-drinkers. In conclusion, especially male heavy drinkers had less favorable nutritional intake than moderate and non-drinkers. Further studies on the relationship between alcohol consumption and dietary habits are needed to plan a comprehensive dietary intervention programs in future.
PMCID: PMC3373562  PMID: 22719905
21.  Computerized Cognitive Training in Cognitively Healthy Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Effect Modifiers 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(11):e1001756.
Michael Valenzuela and colleagues systematically review and meta-analyze the evidence that computerized cognitive training improves cognitive skills in older adults with normal cognition.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
New effective interventions to attenuate age-related cognitive decline are a global priority. Computerized cognitive training (CCT) is believed to be safe and can be inexpensive, but neither its efficacy in enhancing cognitive performance in healthy older adults nor the impact of design factors on such efficacy has been systematically analyzed. Our aim therefore was to quantitatively assess whether CCT programs can enhance cognition in healthy older adults, discriminate responsive from nonresponsive cognitive domains, and identify the most salient design factors.
Methods and Findings
We systematically searched Medline, Embase, and PsycINFO for relevant studies from the databases' inception to 9 July 2014. Eligible studies were randomized controlled trials investigating the effects of ≥4 h of CCT on performance in neuropsychological tests in older adults without dementia or other cognitive impairment. Fifty-two studies encompassing 4,885 participants were eligible. Intervention designs varied considerably, but after removal of one outlier, heterogeneity across studies was small (I2 = 29.92%). There was no systematic evidence of publication bias. The overall effect size (Hedges' g, random effects model) for CCT versus control was small and statistically significant, g = 0.22 (95% CI 0.15 to 0.29). Small to moderate effect sizes were found for nonverbal memory, g = 0.24 (95% CI 0.09 to 0.38); verbal memory, g = 0.08 (95% CI 0.01 to 0.15); working memory (WM), g = 0.22 (95% CI 0.09 to 0.35); processing speed, g = 0.31 (95% CI 0.11 to 0.50); and visuospatial skills, g = 0.30 (95% CI 0.07 to 0.54). No significant effects were found for executive functions and attention. Moderator analyses revealed that home-based administration was ineffective compared to group-based training, and that more than three training sessions per week was ineffective versus three or fewer. There was no evidence for the effectiveness of WM training, and only weak evidence for sessions less than 30 min. These results are limited to healthy older adults, and do not address the durability of training effects.
CCT is modestly effective at improving cognitive performance in healthy older adults, but efficacy varies across cognitive domains and is largely determined by design choices. Unsupervised at-home training and training more than three times per week are specifically ineffective. Further research is required to enhance efficacy of the intervention.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
As we get older, we notice many bodily changes. Our hair goes grey, we develop new aches and pains, and getting out of bed in the morning takes longer than it did when we were young. Our brain may also show signs of aging. It may take us longer to learn new information, we may lose our keys more frequently, and we may forget people's names. Cognitive decline—developing worsened thinking, language, memory, understanding, and judgment—can be a normal part of aging, but it can also be an early sign of dementia, a group of brain disorders characterized by a severe, irreversible decline in cognitive functions. We know that age-related physical decline can be attenuated by keeping physically active; similarly, engaging in activities that stimulate the brain throughout life is thought to enhance cognition in later life and reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline and dementia. Thus, having an active social life and doing challenging activities that stimulate both the brain and the body may help to stave off cognitive decline.
Why Was This Study Done?
“Brain training” may be another way of keeping mentally fit. The sale of computerized cognitive training (CCT) packages, which provide standardized, cognitively challenging tasks designed to “exercise” various cognitive functions, is a lucrative and expanding business. But does CCT work? Given the rising global incidence of dementia, effective interventions that attenuate age-related cognitive decline are urgently needed. However, the impact of CCT on cognitive performance in older adults is unclear, and little is known about what makes a good CCT package. In this systematic review and meta-analysis, the researchers assess whether CCT programs improve cognitive test performance in cognitively healthy older adults and identify the aspects of cognition (cognitive domains) that are responsive to CCT, and the CCT design features that are most important in improving cognitive performance. A systematic review uses pre-defined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic; meta-analysis uses statistical methods to combine the results of several studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 51 trials that investigated the effects of more than four hours of CCT on nearly 5,000 cognitively healthy older adults by measuring several cognitive functions before and after CCT. Meta-analysis of these studies indicated that the overall effect size for CCT (compared to control individuals who did not participate in CCT) was small but statistically significant. An effect size quantifies the difference between two groups; a statistically significant result is a result that is unlikely to have occurred by chance. So, the meta-analysis suggests that CCT slightly increased overall cognitive function. Notably, CCT also had small to moderate significant effects on individual cognitive functions. For example, some CCT slightly improved nonverbal memory (the ability to remember visual images) and working memory (the ability to remember recent events; short-term memory). However, CCT had no significant effect on executive functions (cognitive processes involved in planning and judgment) or attention (selective concentration on one aspect of the environment). The design of CCT used in the different studies varied considerably, and “moderator” analyses revealed that home-based CCT was not effective, whereas center-based CCT was effective, and that training sessions undertaken more than three times a week were not effective. There was also some weak evidence suggesting that CCT sessions lasting less than 30 minutes may be ineffective. Finally, there was no evidence for the effectiveness of working memory training by itself (for example, programs that ask individuals to recall series of letters).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that CCT produces small improvements in cognitive performance in cognitively healthy older adults but that the efficacy of CCT varies across cognitive domains and is largely determined by design aspects of CCT. The most important result was that “do-it-yourself” CCT at home did not produce improvements. Rather, the small improvements seen were in individuals supervised by a trainer in a center and undergoing sessions 1–3 times a week. Because only cognitively healthy older adults were enrolled in the studies considered in this systematic review and meta-analysis, these findings do not necessarily apply to cognitively impaired individuals. Moreover, because all the included studies measured cognitive function immediately after CCT, these findings provide no information about the durability of the effects of CCT or about how the effects of CCT on cognitive function translate into real-life outcomes for individuals such as independence and the long-term risk of dementia. The researchers call, therefore, for additional research into CCT, an intervention that might help to attenuate age-related cognitive decline and improve the quality of life for older individuals.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Druin Burch
The US National Institute on Aging provides information for patients and carers about age-related forgetfulness, about memory and cognitive health, and about dementia (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website also provides information about dementia and about memory loss
MedlinePlus provides links to additional resources about memory, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC4236015  PMID: 25405755
22.  Alcohol intake, carotid plaque, and cognition: the Northern Manhattan Study 
Background and purpose: Moderate alcohol intake has been associated with better cognitive performance, implicating vascular and neurodegenerative processes. Few studies to clarify the importance of vascular disease have included direct measures of atherosclerosis or minority populations at higher risk of vascular disease and dementia.
Methods: The Northern Manhattan Study includes stroke-free community based Hispanic (54%), black (25%), and white (22%) participants. We performed a cross-sectional study of alcohol intake and performance on the Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE) in subjects with sonographic measurement of maximal carotid plaque thickness (MCPT) and adjusted for sociodemographic and vascular risk factors.
Results: The median MMSE score was 27 (interquartile range 24-29; N=2,215). Reported alcohol intake was divided into four groups: never (N=509), past (N=494), <1 drink/week (N=300), 1/week to ≤2 drinks/day (N=796), and >2 drinks/day (N=116). Drinking up to 2 drinks/day was associated with better performance on the MMSE (OR=1.19; 95% CI=1.10-1.26) compared to never drinkers in women (P=<0.0001) but not in men, adjusting for sociodemographic and vascular risk factors. MCPT (mean 1.1 mm; SD 1.2 mm) was not associated with alcohol intake and did not mediate the relationship between alcohol and cognition.
Conclusions: Moderate alcohol consumption was independently associated with better cognitive performance in women from this multiethnic sample. Carotid plaque was not a mediator of this association suggesting alcohol may impact cognition through a separate vascular or degenerative pathway.
PMCID: PMC1447604  PMID: 16601215
cognition; carotid diseases; alcohol intake
23.  Smoking, drinking, and incident cognitive impairment: a cohort community based study included in the Gospel Oak project 
OBJECTIVES—Recent longitudinal studies have reported that smoking increases risk for cognitive impairment and that moderate alcohol intake could be preventive.The association between both cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking and incident cognitive impairment was studied in a representative population.
METHODS—This is a 1 year prospective population based cohort sudy of all residents aged 65 or over in the electoral ward of Gospel Oak in London, UK (n=889). Cognitive impairment was assessed at baseline and 1 year later using the organic brain syndrome (OBS) cognitive impairment scale from the short CARE structured assessment. Subjects who were cognitively impaired at baseline were excluded from this analysis.
RESULTS—The prevalence of OBS cognitive impairment was 10.4% at index assessment and the 1 year cumulative incidence of cognitive impairment was 5.7%. Cognitive impairment was not associated with use of alcohol, although there was a non-significant association in the direction of a protective effect against onset of cognitive impairment for moderate drinkers compared with non-drinkers and heavy drinkers. Current smoking status predicted cognitive impairment (risk ratio (RR) 3.7; (95% confidence interval (95% CI)=1.1-12.3) independently from sex, age, alcohol, occupational class, education, handicap, depression, and baseline cognitive function.
CONCLUSIONS—Smoking seems to be a prospective risk factor for incident cognitive impairment; thus encouragement of older people to stop smoking could be considered as part of a strategy to reduce the incidence of cognitive impairment.

PMCID: PMC1736927  PMID: 10766894
24.  Comparative Analysis of Alcohol Control Policies in 30 Countries 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(4):e151.
Alcohol consumption causes an estimated 4% of the global disease burden, prompting goverments to impose regulations to mitigate the adverse effects of alcohol. To assist public health leaders and policymakers, the authors developed a composite indicator—the Alcohol Policy Index—to gauge the strength of a country's alcohol control policies.
Methods and Findings
The Index generates a score based on policies from five regulatory domains—physical availability of alcohol, drinking context, alcohol prices, alcohol advertising, and operation of motor vehicles. The Index was applied to the 30 countries that compose the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and regression analysis was used to examine the relationship between policy score and per capita alcohol consumption. Countries attained a median score of 42.4 of a possible 100 points, ranging from 14.5 (Luxembourg) to 67.3 (Norway). The analysis revealed a strong negative correlation between score and consumption (r = −0.57; p = 0.001): a 10-point increase in the score was associated with a one-liter decrease in absolute alcohol consumption per person per year (95% confidence interval, 0.4–1.5 l). A sensitivity analysis demonstrated the robustness of the Index by showing that countries' scores and ranks remained relatively stable in response to variations in methodological assumptions.
The strength of alcohol control policies, as estimated by the Alcohol Policy Index, varied widely among 30 countries located in Europe, Asia, North America, and Australia. The study revealed a clear inverse relationship between policy strength and alcohol consumption. The Index provides a straightforward tool for facilitating international comparisons. In addition, it can help policymakers review and strengthen existing regulations aimed at minimizing alcohol-related harm and estimate the likely impact of policy changes.
Using an index that gauges the strength of national alcohol policies, a clear inverse relationship was found between policy strength and alcohol consumption.
Editors' Summary
Alcohol drinking is now recognized as one of the most important risks to human health. Previous research studies (see the research article by Rodgers et al., linked below) have predicted that around 4% of the burden of disease worldwide comes about as a result of drinking alcohol, which can be a factor in a wide range of health problems. These include chronic diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver and certain cancers, as well as poor health resulting from trauma, violence, and accidental injuries. For these reasons, most governments try to control the consumption of alcohol through laws, although very few countries ban alcohol entirely.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although bodies such as the World Health Assembly have recommended that its member countries develop national control policies to prevent excessive alcohol use, there is a huge variation between national policies. It is also very unclear whether there is any link between the strictness of legislation regarding alcohol control in any given country and how much people in that country actually drink.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers carrying out this study had two broad goals. First, they wanted to develop an index (or scoring system) that would allow them and others to rate the strength of any given country's alcohol control policy. Second, they wanted to see whether there is any link between the strength of control policies on this index and the amount of alcohol that is drunk by people on average in each country. In order to develop the alcohol control index, the researchers chose five main areas relating to alcohol control. These five areas related to the availability of alcohol, the “drinking context,” pricing, advertising, and vehicles. Within each policy area, specific policy topics relating to prevention of alcohol consumption and harm were identified. Then, each of 30 countries within the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) were rated on this index using recent data from public reports and databases. The researchers also collected data on alcohol consumption within each country from the World Health Organization and used this to estimate the average amount drunk per person in a year. When the researchers plotted scores on their index against the average amount drunk per person per year, they saw a negative correlation. That is, the stronger the alcohol control policy in any given country, the less people seemed to drink. This worked out at around roughly a 10-point increase on the index equating to a one-liter drop in alcohol consumption per person per year. However, some countries did not seem to fit these predictions very well.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The finding that there is a link between the strength of alcohol control policies and amount of alcohol drinking does not necessarily mean that greater government control causes lower drinking rates. The relationship might just mean that some other variable (e.g., some cultural factor) plays a role in determining the amount that people drink as well as affecting national policies for alcohol control. However, the index developed here is a useful method for researchers and policy makers to measure changes in alcohol controls and therefore understand more clearly the factors that affect drinking rates. This study looked only at the connection between control measures and extent of alcohol consumption, and did not examine alcohol-related harm. Future research might focus on the links between controls and the harms caused by alcohol.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
A Perspective in PLoS Medicine by Alison Ritter accompanies this article: “Comparing alcohol policies between countries: Science or silliness?”
Facts and figures on alcohol are available from the World Health Organization, including information about the burden of disease worldwide as a result of alcohol
Information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is available about alcohol and public health
A 2004 PLoS Medicine research article includes discussion of the health burdens of alcohol: Rodgers A, Ezzati M, Vander Hoorn S, Lopez AD, Lin RB, et al. (2004) Distribution of major health risks: Findings from the global burden of disease study. PLoS Medicine 1(1): e27. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0010027
Current information about research on alcohol and alcoholism is available from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
PMCID: PMC1876414  PMID: 17455992
25.  Psychological and/or educational interventions for reducing alcohol consumption in pregnant women and women planning pregnancy 
It is estimated that more than 20% of pregnant women worldwide consume alcohol. Current research suggests that alcohol intake of seven or more standard drinks (one standard drink = 13.6 grams of absolute alcohol) per week during pregnancy places the baby at risk of serious, lifelong developmental and cognitive disabilities. Psychological and educational interventions may help women to reduce their alcohol intake during pregnancy.
To determine the effectiveness of psychological and educational interventions to reduce alcohol consumption during pregnancy in pregnant women or women planning pregnancy.
Search methods
We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group’s Trials Register (August 2008), CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2007, Issue 4), MEDLINE (1966 to November 2007), EMBASE (1980 to November 2007), CINAHL (1982 to November 2007), Counsel.Lit (1980 to November 2007), PsycLIT (1974 to November 2007) and PsycINFO (1967 to November 2007) and checked cited references from retrieved articles.
Selection criteria
Randomized controlled trials examining the effectiveness of psychological and educational interventions for reducing consumption of alcohol among pregnant women, or women planning for pregnancy.
Data collection and analysis
At least two review authors independently extracted information from the results sections of the included studies.
Main results
Four studies met the inclusion criteria (715 pregnant women), and reported on at least one of the outcomes of interest. We performed no meta-analyses as the interventions and outcomes measured in the studies were not sufficiently similar. For most outcomes there were no significant differences between groups; and results relating to abstaining or reducing alcohol consumption were mixed. Results from individual studies suggest that interventions may encourage women to abstain from alcohol in pregnancy. There was very little information provided on the effects of interventions on the health of mothers and babies.
Authors’ conclusions
The evidence from the limited number of studies suggests that psychological and educational interventions may result in increased abstinence from alcohol, and a reduction in alcohol consumption among pregnant women. However, results were not consistent, and the paucity of studies, the number of total participants, the high risk of bias of some of the studies, and the complexity of interventions limits our ability to determine the type of intervention which would be most effective in increasing abstinence from, or reducing the consumption of, alcohol among pregnant women.
PMCID: PMC4164939  PMID: 19370597
Alcohol Drinking [adverse effects; *prevention & control]; Counseling [*methods]; Ethanol [*poisoning]; Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders [prevention & control]; Preconception Care; Pregnancy Complications [prevention & control]; Psychotherapy [*methods]; Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic; Female; Humans; Pregnancy

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