Drinking Lowers COPD Risk?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is less likely among college grads who drink moderately

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) A college degree may earn you more money and moderate drinking may be good for your heart. To lower risk of COPD, however, a mix of college and a little drinking may be just the thing.

Researchers recently discovered that college graduates who drank 1-2 drinks a day had a lower risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) compared to non-college grads who didn’t drink.

"Ask your doctor about alcohol's potential benefits."

Stanton Siu, MD, chief of critical care and pulmonary medicine at Permanente Medical Group, Oakland Medical Center, Pulmonary/Nephrology Clinic in California, headed a team of investigators who analyzed information on patients with three types of COPD. A group of 430 patients had bronchitis, 86 had emphysema and 225 had chronic airway obstruction (CAO). None of the patients had asthma.

COPD is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. The disease causes persistent coughing that produces large amounts of mucus. Patients typically experience wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.

The sickness includes emphysema (a damaging of the air sacs in the lungs) and chronic bronchitis (a condition that irritates and inflames the airways)

Cigarette smoking causes about 90 percent of all cases of COPD, and a smoker is 10 times more likely to die of COPD than a non-smoker, according to the American Lung Association.

As expected, cigarette smoking, increasing age and history of respiratory disease/symptoms were powerful predictors for all three types of COPD, according to this research.

Dr. Siu told daily Rx News that his team found certain subgroups of patients whom they did not expect to be less likely to have certain types of COPD.

College graduates were at modestly lower risk for having emphysema, bronchitis or chronic airway obstruction compared to those without a college degree.

“We know from other studies that college graduates tend to eat healthier and exercise more, so I suspect that has a lot to do with it,” said Dr. Siu.

The study also noted that those who had one to two alcoholic drinks per day had less chance of having emphysema compared to those who never drank.

Dr. Siu told daily Rx News, “I don’t know if this is because of an antioxidant effect from the alcohol. It’s not clear. It’s simply an observation.”

Caution is advised, however, when it comes to alcohol consumption. About 80,000 deaths are attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other results highlighted by Dr. Siu were:

  • Asian Americans were at modestly lower risk to have any type of COPD compared with white Americans.
  • Men were twice as likely to have emphysema as women.
  • Those with a body mass index (BMI) of greater than 30 had a much lower chance of getting emphysema.

Dr. Siu and his team measure likelihood for COPD according to hazard ratios (HR), which measures of how often a particular event happens in one group compared to how often it happens in another group, over time.

At this stage, Dr. Siu said that his study provides “noteworthy unexplained disparities in risk factors for COPD subtypes.”

“The results are giving us direction as to what we’d like to look at to better understand COPD,” said Dr. Siu.

He added that the results are raising some very interesting questions, such as why Asian Americans are less likely to have COPD, as well as why heavier people are less likely to have emphysema.

“We need more patients in a larger study to have better (more definite) results,” said Dr. Siu.

The study was presented in a poster, which was not peer-reviewed, in October at CHEST 2012, the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 24, 2012
Last Updated:
December 30, 2012