Alcohol and Belly Fat

Is there really such a thing as a beer belly or a beer gut? According to a recent study, blaming beer for a big belly is not that simple. The researchers found that an individual’s drinking pattern may have more of an influence on how big a belly you will get from alcohol.

Abdominal height
Alcohol has calories and any source of excess calories will make you gain weight but the scientists at the University of Buffalo wanted to uncover the relationship between alcohol and fat that is specifically deposited in the abdomen.

They used a measurement called “abdominal height”. This is the height that the abdomen rises above the torso when you lie on your back. It is an external indication of visceral fat or the fat that lies deep inside the torso surrounding the internal organs. This is the type of fat is associated with heart disease and diabetes.

Drinking pattern
The study looked at frequency, intensity (how many drinks per drinking day), and type of drink.

Participants in the study were men and women between the ages of 35 and 79. On the average, they were overweight (body mass index of 28). They were classified as daily drinkers, weekly, but less than daily drinkers (drank more than one time per week but not daily), and less than weekly (drank less than one time per week).

Weekly drinkers were further divided into weekend only drinkers (Friday, Saturday or Sunday) and throughout the week drinkers (drank on weekdays and weekends).

For this study, a “drink” was considered to be 355 ml of beer (12 ounces), 148 ml of wine (five ounces) and 37 ml of liquor (1.2 ounces). This is similar to the guidelines set by American health authorities for a “standard drink”. The only difference is liquor, which is 1.5 ounces (straight or in a mixed drink).

Type of alcohol
Among women, wine drinkers had the lowest abdominal height and liquor drinkers had the highest. Beer drinking was not associated with “centrally located fat”.

For the males, beer and liquor drinkers had similar abdominal heights and wine drinkers had the lowest height.

Other studies have found different results for varying ethnic backgrounds (the measurement used was waist-to-hip ratio). Could it be that different races metabolize alcohol differently? More research is needed.

· Japanese: Only shochu (and no other type of beverage) was associated with a bigger belly. Shochu is similar to sake except sake is brewed and shochu is distilled.
· French: Women drinkers of wine and beer had a bigger waist to hip ratio but no association was seen in men. Liquor had no effect for both sexes.
· Caucasian: For men, there was a bigger waist-to-hip ratio for drinkers of beer, wine, and liquor. For women it was only liquor and beer.
· African-American: Beer, wine, and liquor gave men a big belly but for women, only beer and wine had an effect.
· Swedes: Women drinkers were affected by liquor but not by beer or wine.
· Czechs: There was no link between drinking beer and a beer belly in men and women.

Female weekend-only drinkers had a greater abdominal height than women who drank the same amount but did so throughout the week.

In male drinkers, abdominal height remained the same whether they were weekend-only or throughout-the-week drinkers.

Number of drinks
The study found that men and women who were daily drinkers of less than one drink per drinking day had an abdominal height that was 2.72 cm smaller than daily drinkers of 4 or more drinks.

Even for weekly drinkers (more than one time per week but not daily), the number of drinks mattered. Those who drank less than one drink per drinking day had an abdominal height that was 2.01 cm smaller than those who drank four or more drinks.

Take home message
Drinkers of small amounts of alcohol consumed on a regular basis had the lowest abdominal height while those who drank intensely (3 to 4 drinks per drinking day) but infrequently (once or twice a week) had the highest measurements.

Moderate consumption of alcohol has been set at one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Don’t try to “accumulate” your drinks and drink them all in one day and rationalize that you are still within the recommended low-risk drinking guidelines. It’s not good for your health or your waistline.

For the full study, click here

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