Is the sherry that makes you merry going to make you heavy?

Alcohol and weight gain are two things associated with the season of merriment also known as Christmas. Most people pile on a few pounds over the festive period but is it really down to the sherry?

Falalalala la la la la
A recent story highlighted  the hidden calories in booze and warns of high calorie intake from alcohol in the US population.  It makes a good point, people forget that drink contain calories and therefore may unintentionally be consuming more than they realise, leading to an increase in dress size. The NHS choices website from the UK also have a section about booze, weight and hidden calories. 

If you didn't know, alcohol is made from sugar and starch and is extremely calorific. On the scale of calorie content to volume it comes second only to fat itself. There are around 500 calories in a bottle of wine, which if you are female is one quarter of your recommended daily calorie intake. You can use this handy drinks calculator (which includes different brands and mixers) to work out the calories you are taking in when drinking. 





But don't put your glass of port down just yet... the link between alcohol, calories and weight gain isn't 100% clear.


However, (put that glass of port back on the table) that doesn't mean that there isn't an association because if there is a direct association then it would be extremely difficult to demonstrate...

Weight gain can be caused by any number of different reasons. As you as a human probably realise. A new job, age, genetics, illness, medication, holidays, time of the year (and month) can all cause fluctuations in weight. Over a number of years and lifetime weight can vary enormously too. On top of all this many studies that monitor weight and try to look for associations often rely on participant recording of weight, height, amount of exercise,  food intake and alcohol consumption. This is important and problematic because people lie, especially about their height, weight, exercise, food intake and alcohol consumption. See a previous blog post about a study about how people lie about the amount of chocolate they consume.

No-one drinks pure ethanol either, and that adds a further complication. Alcohol is extremely calorific but drinking it with mixers that are fat and calorie heavy (like milk and sugary drinks) obviously increases the calorie intake. If you are part of a study and you mix up your drinks a lot, how can you (and it makes it difficult for studies) record your intake accurately.  And how can studies separate out an infinite number of drink combinations to decide if it's the alcohol or the chocolate milkshake that you drank with it that is causing your waistline to bulge?

Alcohol and calorific mixers would suggest that drinking more would lead to an increase in weight. It isn't all doom, gloom and hidden calories though, going back to the systematic review (pick that glass of port back up again).. some rather interesting findings were made.

Across all the different types of trials analysed, the results were inconclusive. BUT, big news for those that like the vino, when studies analysed the type of drink consumed a negative association between wine and weight gain was found (people that drink wine are skinnier).. This doesn't mean wine makes you skinner.. it could all be explained by the particular diet choices, and the lifestyle of wine drinkers. However, some studies (on rats, not humans) have shown that red wine can reduce fat  (associated with the red wine, not the alcohol) through a compound called resveratrol that is found in red wine, and is the source of many 'red wine is good for you' stories (note, studies are done on rats, or in dishes, not on humans) I found one study on resveratrol in humans. It wasn't reported very well and I debunked it here

Unfortunately drinking spirits was positively associated with weight gain. So if you like your whisky you are more likely to be a wee bit chubbier (but that might not necessarily be due to your tipple of choice).

A study of 37,000 US citizens (non smokers), investigated the amount and frequency of drinking alcohol determined that the people that drank alcohol the least (but did drink frequently) had lower BMI values than those that drink more, but less frequently. This study corrected for activity levels, suggetsing that something

Interestingly a US study found a positive correlation between slight to MODERATE alcohol intake and activity levels - which translates to mean that people that have a moderate alcohol intake are more active. This correlation continued even at high levels of alcohol intake. 

It has also been found that, alcoholics exercise less, but also have a lower body weight. Which contradicts the above study. But alcoholics might eat less as they can replace food intake with drink, and drinking excess alcohol can lead to liver disease, and other complications which can prevent the body from breaking down other nutrients causing malnutrition...

There are endless limitations, problems and variables associated with all of these studies. Which, like I said at the beginning, makes it difficult to understand the real relationship between alcohol and weight gain.

However, if you know that after a glass or two of wine, or a pint or two of beer you start reaching for the leftover turkey or cooking up a storm of fatty treats despite sticking to large helpings of sprouts and carrots during the daylight hours..... then sadly you probably know that a few nights getting merry might cause you to tip the scales in the wrong direction.

Alcohol has been proven to increase risk of other health problems so be wary of the amounts you drink. See here for more information and advice.

References:

Sayon-Orea C, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Bes-Rastrollo M. Alcohol consumption and body weight: a systematic review. Nutr Rev 2011; 8: 419–431. | Article |

Monteiro RSoares RGuerreiro SPestana DConceicao CAzevedo IRed wine increases adipose tissue aromatase expressin and regulates body weight and adipocyte sizeNutrition. 2009;25:699705.

 

S. Liangpunsakul, D. W. Crabb, and R. Qi, “Relationship among alcohol intake, body fat, and physical activity: a population-based study,” Annals of Epidemiology, vol. 20, no. 9, pp. 670–675, 2010. View at Publisher · View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus







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