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Aiming for moderation: Intelligent Drinking

Published:  23 July, 2008

The system of units of alcohol is confusing and misleading, and young people should drink fewer units of alcohol than older people, according to leading experts in the field of nutrition, preventative medicine and hepatology (liver disease).
The seminar was organised by AIM (Alcohol In Moderation), the independent organisation for communicating the responsible drinking message' and encouraging informed debate on alcohol issues. Hosted by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and sponsored by Waitrose, it was held on 8 March at the International Wine and Spirit Centre in London.
Keynote speaker Curtis Ellison, chief of the Evans Section of Preventative Medicine and Epidemiology and Professor of Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, told the seminar that any alcohol in moderation was beneficial when it came to chronic heart disease. Research also showed that there could be a 40% reduction in heart attacks and strokes and a 30% reduction in diabetes.

He admitted that consumption of alcohol did lead to slightly elevated blood pressure' and there was evidence that it contributed to breast cancer, but he said there were findings that alcohol was beneficial in terms of Alzheimer's and dementia.

Ellison added that there was emerging research showing moderate drinkers are leaner. I'm looking forward to writing the book, How to Lose Weight with a Glass of Wine,' he quipped. He also referred to Swiss research which revealed a higher mortality rate among abstainers than moderate drinkers.

His health hit list comprised:

don't smoke

stay lean

eat a diet low in animal fat


drink up to two glasses of alcohol a day.

According to Ellison, the only people who should not drink alcohol were:

those with a history of alcohol and/or drug abuse

those underage or pregnant

those suffering from liver disease

those with religious convictions.

He called for a campaign extolling the virtues of intelligent drinking, and an integral part of this should be making binge drinking and drunkenesss socially unacceptable'.

To counter Ellison, Dr Marsha Morgan, Reader in Medicine and Honorary Consultant Physician at University College London's Centre of Hepatology, told the seminar that the system of units of alcohol is confusing and misleading as different countries have different measures: UK 10ml; Australia 13ml; and the US and Scandinavia 15ml. She described alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver as the silent disease'. She said it affected people across all social classes, predominately aged 35 to 65, but the ratio of male to female sufferers is 3:1. Because of physiological differences (men have more water, women more fat) men can drink more. She said research carried out in Birmingham revealed that non-Muslim Asian men had an intolerance to alcohol.

Dr Morgan then went on to say that there had been a 20% increase in cirrhosis among under-30-year-olds. She said that research was showing that people who started drinking alcohol at a young age were becoming more susceptibile to liver damage and that perhaps the recommended alcohol unit limits should be lowered to seven a week.

I am very concerned with weekly units of 21 (for men) and 14 (for women), particularly for under-age drinkers,' said Dr Morgan. She said that statistically there was no risk' of cirrhosis if you abstained from drinking until you were 35.

Dr Morgan told Harpers after the seminar that the George Best story - him being given a liver transplant, then going back on the booze, then dying in a blaze of publicity - has had a disastrous effect on people willing to donate their liver.

The next speaker was Professor Alan Crozier, Professor of Plant Biochemistry and Human Nutrition at the University of Glasgow, who came to fame when the national press picked up research of his showing that Chilean wine was healthier than any other because the grapes were riper due to near-ideal growing conditions in the country.

He explained the role of antioxidants in combating free radicals in the body. He said that not only was eating plenty of fruit and vegetables good for you, but the type of fruit and vegetables also mattered. He recommended cherry tomatoes (Spanish over English because they get more sun) and Lollo Rosso lettuce over iceberg - the nutritional value of the latter being nearly negligible. He said cider was beneficial but it was important to use the right apples - but did not specify which. He also recommended tea (green over black), dark chocolate, curly kale, broad beans, beetroot, berries and peppers (but not yellow ones).

Crozier said that thicker-skinned grapes and ones which received maximum exposure to UV rays, such as in Argentina's Mendoza region, which lies at 915m, were best for flavonols and flaven-3-ols.

He also cited research done on Syrian golden hamsters which demonstrated the protective effects of red wines.

In concluding the seminar, Dr Thomas Stuttaford, The Times doctor and an outspoken advocator of the benefits of drinking alcohol, said that on hearing of Dr Morgan's proposition of alcohol levels for younger drinkers, he said that the image of a strapping 18-year-old rugby player drinking pints of beer compared to a 75-year-old doctor (himself) tottering around Devonshire Place' (in the Marylebone district of London where University College Hospital is), should be the other way around when it comes to tolerance levels.

Ian Harris, chief executive of the WSET, said in closing that the more educated the alcohol trade becomes, the more likely they are to sell a better-quality product. Equally, the more knowledgeable the consumer becomes, the more likely they will drink better quality rather than quantity.

The more people understand the issues behind alcohol, the better. Alcohol in moderation is the key to the future of our industry,' said Harris. He said modules on responsible retailing, marketing and the sale of alcohol had been added to the WSET's foundation and intermediate certificates.

For more information on AIM, phone Sherry Webster on 01225 471444, or e-mail

For copies of the speeches or information on the conference, contact Alison Rees on



R Curtis Ellison, chief of the Evans Section of Preventative Medicine and Epidemiology and Professor of Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine

Dr Marsha Morgan, Reader in Medicine and Honorary Consultant Physician, University College London's Centre of Hepatology

Professor Alan Crozier, Professor of Plant Biochemistry and Human Nutrition at the University of Glasgow

Dr Thomas Stuttaford, The Times doctor and author of To Your Good Health: The Wise Drinkers' Guide