What happens when women drink 2 beers a week?

Woman drinking beer
Public Domain Library of Congress

A 32-year longitudinal study of alcohol consumption in Swedish women reveals some surprising twists.

What do you get when you follow a group of 1,500 women for 32 years? For researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, the answer is loads and loads of data from which to better understand predictors of certain diseases and to untangle age-old questions like: Is it a good idea to drink a little beer?

In the longitudinal study, researchers tracked a representative group of the middle-aged female population in Sweden from 1968 – when the women were between 38 and 60 years old – to 2000. Now they have gone through the data in an attempt to chart the impact of drinking certain types of alcoholic beverages in reference to incidences of heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and cancer. They looked at beer, wine, and spirits.

Over the 32-year period, 185 women had a heart attack, 162 suffered a stroke, 160 developed diabetes and 345 developed cancer.

And what’s the relationship to drinking? As it turns out, the outlook isn’t too sunny for women who reported a high consumption of spirits – which was defined as more frequently than once or twice a month. The study shows a statistically significant connection with an almost 50 percent higher risk of dying of cancer for these women, compared with those who drink less frequently.

But for ladies who sip a bit of beer, the news is brighter. Women who drank beer once or twice per week to once or twice per month had a 30 percent lower risk of a heart attack than women who drank beer more or who never drink beer at all.

The moral of the story, as far as the study concludes: Moderate consumption of beer seems to protect women from heart attacks.

"Previous research also suggests that alcohol in moderate quantities can have a certain protective effect, but there is still uncertainty as to whether or not this really is the case. Our results have been checked against other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which substantiates the findings," says Dominique Hange from the Sahlgrenska Academy.

So for those who can imbibe a bit, cheers to preventative medicine!

The study was published online in Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care.

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