Thursday, November 27, 2008

Beer sends you blind (?)

Another stupid "correlation is causation" claim

Knocking back four beers a day doesn't just risk a serious beer gut - it could also be damaging your eyesight, a study of Australian men has found. Melbourne research shows men in their 60s who drink alcohol heavily are about six times more likely to develop the most debilitating form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). About 15 per cent of Australians are affected by the disease - where sight fades in the centre of the visual field - and 1 per cent will have the advanced or end-stage form that eventually steals sight.

Smoking and genetics have been linked to the condition but Dr Elaine Chong from the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital decided to study the diet and eye health of almost 7000 people over a period of time to determine the contribution of alcohol. "We found that higher levels of alcohol, more than four standard drinks a day, was associated with a three-fold increase in end-stage AMD in men," Dr Chong said. Beer drinking, in particular, carried a six-fold increased risk. Quantities of wine and spirits drunk were too low to evaluate their risk. The same link was not see in women, possibly because they were less likely to drink heavily, she said.

Explaining the trigger, Dr Chong said it was possible alcohol could increase oxidative stress to the retina. "Alcohol is a neurotoxin so it is thought that high levels can actually cause retinal damage that might lead to the disease," she said. An earlier study found rats fed alcohol in the lab were more likely to develop signs of end-stage AMD.

While the new findings, presented at an ophthalmology conference in Melbourne today, suggest drinking habits could be contributing, it may not be that clear cut. "It might be that heavy drinkers were also more likely to smoke, which is a well-identified disease risk," Dr Chong said. "But regardless, heavy alcohol intake is harmful so cutting back will always do you good."


Do British women fear fat more than drunkenness?

Could be these days

Bottles of wine and beer could soon carry labels warning of their calorie content. Experts believe binge drinkers, not deterred by information about how much alcohol a drink contains, might think again if they knew how fattening it was. The message would be most likely to hit home with image-conscious young drinkers and women.

One option would see the calorie content equated to a fattening food - such as comparing the calories in a pint of lager to a sausage roll. The proposals, from the Government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, was last night condemned by the drinks industry. It claimed it could simply push drinkers into deciding they may have to 'skip a meal' in order to drink.

The advisory council, an influential body usually listened to by Ministers, said all alcohol bottles should carry labels warning of the 'harm caused', similar to those on cigarette packets. In a paper sent to Ministers, it added: 'Labelling could include calorie content and possibly specific warnings e.g increased risk of accidents.' One example given in the document is: 'A pint of lager = 2.3 units = 170 calories = a sausage roll'. It adds: 'Other types of comparison could be worth exploring.'

The council's views were sent to the Department for Health as part of the 'Safe Sensible Social' drinking laws review. The results of the review, including a crackdown on happy hours and other promotions, will be published once they have been approved by Gordon Brown.

Other advisory council suggestions include increasing taxes on strong drinks. The stronger a drink, the more it would cost. At present, some of the most potent brands of lager and cider are also the cheapest. The ACMD said: 'One major reason for the increase in binge intoxication in the UK is the gradual increase in the alcohol content of alcohol in wines, beers and especially lagers. 'Reducing alcohol content would be a simple approach to reducing intoxication. `Differential taxing - according to alcohol content per unit - could be one such method employed to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed.'

Other controversial proposals include so-called town centre 'wet' or 'damp houses' where drunks could go to sleep off a night's heavy drinking in safety. The ACMD launched a blistering attack on supermarkets, which often sell alcohol as a loss leader to entice more customers. It said: 'Such cheap availability encourages bulk purchase and consumption. Of specific concern is that the pricing puts alcohol more within the budgets of young people.'

A spokesman for the Wine and Spirit Trade Association warned against the calorie labelling plan. 'It's good in principle for consumers to have the information to make an informed choice but you wouldn't want people choosing alcohol by calories or thinking they could have a drink and skip a meal. 'Alcohol with food is better and adults should decide based on alcohol content, not calories.'

Drivers under the age of 21 should have a zero-alcohol limit, the advisory council said. Just one small glass of wine raises the odds of a young driver crashing six-fold, it warned. Drivers under 21 are already banned from drinking in Europe, as well as in parts of the U.S., Canada and Australia.


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