Small amount of alcohol can increase risk of pancreatitis — unless you’re drinking wine

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Wine bottlesDrinking just one 4cl measure of alcohol — or 40 milliliters — can increase your risk of acute pancreatitis, according to a study published by the British Journal of Surgery. But wine and beer apparently do not have this effect.

“Our study revealed a steady increase between each measure of spirits a person drank on one occasion and the risk of having an acute attack of pancreatitis, starting at just under ten per cent for one 4cl drink” said lead author Dr. Omid Sadr-Azodi.

The study was based on 84,601 people from 46 to 84 years of age, and was published in August of 2011.

The study found that in 56 per cent of cases the cause of the acute pancreatitis was alcohol-related.

“For example, drinking 20cl of spirits – five standard Swedish measures – on a single occasion increased the risk of an acute episode by 52 per cent and the risk then continued to increase at that rate for every five additional units consumed,” Sadr-Azodi added. “But drinking more than five 15cl glasses of wine or five 33cl beers on one occasion did not increase the risk.”

Preliminary studies have found that consuming red wine in moderation may reduce women’s risk for breast cancer, despite the fact that alcohol is a carcinogen. Researchers attributed this effect to chemicals in the skins and seeds of red grapes.

Research also has found that other chemicals in the skins and seeds of red grapes may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

But Sadr-Azodi said that rather than something in wine having a protective effect against acute pancreatitis, it was something in spirits that raised the risk of a sudden inflammation of the pancreas.

“When alcohol metabolises it induces oxidative stress and this in turn can lead to damaged pancreatic tissue” he explained.

“However research has shown that alcohol on its own is not sufficient to cause acute pancreatitis. Our study suggests that there are constituents in spirits that are not present in wine and beer and that they can cause acute pancreatitis, either on their own or in combination with alcohol.”

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