Since ancient times, people have attributed a variety of health benefits to moderate consumption of fermented beverages such as wine and beer, often without any scientific basis. There is evidence that excessive or binge alcohol consumption is associated with increased morbidity and mortality, as well as with work related and traffic accidents. On the contrary, at the moment, several epidemiological studies have suggested that moderate consumption of alcohol reduces overall mortality, mainly from coronary diseases. However, there are discrepancies regarding the specific effects of different types of beverages (wine, beer and spirits) on the cardiovascular system and cancer, and also whether the possible protective effects of alcoholic beverages are due to their alcoholic content (ethanol) or to their non-alcoholic components (mainly polyphenols). Epidemiological and clinical studies have pointed out that regular and moderate wine consumption (one to two glasses a day) is associated with decreased incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD), hypertension, diabetes, and certain types of cancer, including colon, basal cell, ovarian, and prostate carcinoma. Moderate beer consumption has also been associated with these effects, but to a lesser degree, probably because of beer's lower phenolic content. These health benefits have mainly been attributed to an increase in antioxidant capacity, changes in lipid profiles, and the anti-inflammatory effects produced by these alcoholic beverages. This review summarizes the main protective effects on the cardiovascular system and cancer resulting from moderate wine and beer intake due mainly to their common components, alcohol and polyphenols.
Keywords: alcohol; beer; cancer; cardiovascular disease; polyphenols; wine.