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Beer, spirits detrimental to visceral fat and heart, but not wine – US study

Drinking beer and spirits is linked to elevated levels of visceral fat – the harmful type of fat that is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and other health complications – whereas drinking wine shows no such association with levels of this harmful fat, writes Brittany Larsen of Iowa State University in The Conversation.

Wine may even be protective against visceral fat, depending on the type of wine consumed. In fact, we found that drinking red wine is linked to having lower levels of visceral fat.

These are some of the key takeaways of a study that my colleagues and I recently published in the Obesity Science and Practice journal.

Although white wine consumption did not influence levels of visceral fat, our study did show that drinking white wine in moderation might offer its own unique health benefit for older adults: denser bones.

We found higher bone mineral density among older adults who drank white wine in moderation in our study. And we did not find this same link between beer or red wine consumption and bone mineral density.

Our study relied on a large-scale longitudinal database called the UK Biobank. We assessed 1,869 white adults ranging in age from 40 to 79 years who reported demographic, alcohol, dietary and lifestyle factors via a touchscreen questionnaire.

Next, we collected height, weight and blood samples from each participant and obtained body composition information using a direct measure of body composition called dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Then, we used a statistical programme to examine the relationships among the types of alcoholic beverages and body composition.

Why it matters

Aging is often accompanied by an increase in the problematic fat that can lead to heightened cardiovascular disease risk as well as by a reduction in bone mineral density. This has important health implications given that nearly 75% of adults in the United States are considered overweight or obese.

Having higher levels of body fat has been consistently linked to an increased risk for acquiring many different diseases, including cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer and a higher risk of death. And it’s worth noting that national medical care costs associated with treating obesity-related diseases total more than US$260.6 billion annually.

Considering these trends, it is vital for researchers like us to examine all the potential contributors to weight gain so that we can determine how to combat the problem.

Alcohol has long been considered one possible driving factor for the obesity epidemic. Yet the public often hears conflicting information about the potential risks and benefits of alcohol. Therefore, we hoped to help untangle some of these factors through our research.

What still is not known

There are many biological and environmental factors that contribute to being overweight or obese. Alcohol consumption may be one factor, although there are other studies that have not found clear links between weight gain and alcohol consumption.

One reason for the inconsistencies in the literature could stem from the fact that much of the previous research has traditionally treated alcohol as a single entity rather than separately measuring the effects of beer, cider, red wine, white wine, champagne and spirits. Yet, even when broken down in this way, the research yields mixed messages.

For example, one study has suggested that drinking more beer contributes to a higher waist-to-hip ratio, while another study concluded that, after one month of drinking moderate levels of beer, healthy adults did not experience any significant weight gain.

As a result, we’ve aimed to further tease out the unique risks and benefits that are associated with each alcohol type. Our next steps will be to examine how diet – including alcohol consumption – could influence diseases of the brain and cognition in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.

[i]Brittany Larsen is a PhD candidate in neuroscience and a graduate assistant at Iowa State University in the United States.[/i]

[i]This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. See the link below for the original article.[/i]


Study details

Beer, wine, and spirits differentially influence body composition in older white adults – A United Kingdom Biobank study
Brittany A Larsen, Brandon S Klinedinst, Scott T Le, Colleen Pappas, Tovah Wolf, Nathan F Meier, Ye-Lim Lim and Auriel A Willette
Author affiliations: Iowa State University, Western Carolina University, Concordia University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute in the United States.

First published online in in Obesity Science and Practice journal on 07 February 2022.


Aging is characterised by body composition alterations, including increased visceral adiposity accumulation and bone loss. Alcohol consumption may partially drive these alterations, but findings are mixed.

This study primarily aimed to investigate whether different alcohol types (beer/cider, red wine, white wine/Champagne, spirits) are differentially associated with body composition.


The longitudinal UK Biobank study leveraged 1,869 white participants (40 to 80 years; 59% male). Participants self-reported demographic, alcohol/dietary consumption and lifestyle factors using a touchscreen questionnaire.

Anthropometrics and serum for proteomics were collected. Body composition was obtained via dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Structural equation modelling was used to probe direct/indirect associations between alcohol types, cardiometabolic biomarkers, and body composition.


Greater beer/spirit consumptions were associated with greater visceral adiposity (β = 0.069, p < 0.001 and β = 0.014, p < 0.001, respectively), which was driven by dyslipidemia and insulin resistance.

In contrast, drinking more red wine was associated with less visceral adipose mass (β = −0.023, p < 0.001), which was driven by reduced inflammation and elevated high-density lipoproteins. White wine consumption predicted greater bone density (β = 0.051, p < 0.005).


Beer/spirits may partially contribute to the ‘empty calorie’ hypothesis related to adipogenesis, while red wine may help protect against adipogenesis due to anti-inflammatory/eulipidemic effects. Furthermore, white wine may benefit bone health in older white adults.


The Conversation article – Beer and spirits have more detrimental effects on the waistline and on cardiovascular disease risk than red or white wine (Open access)


Obesity Science and Practice article – Beer, wine, and spirits differentially influence body composition in older white adults – A United Kingdom Biobank study (Open access)


See also from the MedicalBrief archives


Overweight substantially worsens liver-damaging effects of excessive alcohol use


Moderate alcohol use associated with lower CVD risk and all-cause mortality – ASPREE


No amount of alcohol is good for the heart – World Heart Federation


International study reveals potential target for alcohol-associated liver disease



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