Why Experts Are Debunking the Myths About Moderate Drinking
A new report re-examined more than 100 research studies on the purported benefits of moderate drinking. The results came as a bit of a surprise.
Scientists discovered bias and flawed methodology in much of the previous data collection, which led them to question some of the well-established beliefs about daily alcohol consumption.
Ultimately, they concluded that moderate drinking did not support a person’s long-term health—as it was once thought to—and the cons of daily consumption outweigh any potential pros.
A Healthy Tonic?
The alcohol industry has long touted the health benefits of a drink or two per day—especially red wine. Over the years, experts have claimed that light or moderate consumption can increase a person’s lifespan, improve memory, and decrease the risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, depression, and more.
One study even highlighted the potential of wine and champagne to ward off Covid-19. (But at the same time, the study also noted that beer and spirits may increase the risk of contracting the virus.)
Many of these assertions came from scientific research on the antioxidant resveratrol, which is found in red wine, or more specifically, the skin of the grapes used to make wine. Resveratrol can also be found in blueberries, cranberries, dark chocolate, and other foods, and may help reduce inflammation and blood clots, as well as the risk of heart disease and cancer.
However, the evidence is controversial and has drawn increasing criticism, as researchers have come to better understand the complexities of alcoholism and addiction. Critics have also cited funding from the alcohol industry as a conflict of interest and reason the research could be skewed.
Old Research, New Thinking
Indeed, this most recent review says that much of the information gleaned from older studies is unreliable and inaccurate.
For example, past studies showed that low-intake consumption was better for a person’s health than not drinking at all. But these studies neglected to consider that light or moderate drinkers tend to be healthier for many reasons unrelated to alcohol, such as better diets, dental hygiene, exercise habits, and more.
They also did not account for the fact that many people who quit drinking do so because of worsening health problems. In these cases, the non-drinkers appeared less healthy than the light or moderate drinkers, but that data was misleading.
The new analysis attempted to correct some of these flaws in the original methodology. Through the process, researchers learned that the so-called benefits of light or moderate drinking were insignificant.
More importantly, they discovered that the risks of premature death increased significantly for women who consume just 2 drinks per day and men who consume 3 drinks per day.
A Fine Line Between Moderation and Excess
The timing of the review, which was conducted by Canadian scientists, coincides with the Canadian government’s release of new alcohol guidelines. In Canada, the government now warns that no amount of alcohol is healthy and drinking as little as 2 drinks per week is risky.
But in the U.S., the recommendations are far less strict. Here, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines moderate drinking as 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. Consuming 4 or more drinks on one occasion (for women) and 5 or more drinks (for men) is considered binge drinking.
In 2021, an estimated 21.5% of Americans aged 12 and older (or 60 million people) engaged in past-month binge drinking. An estimated 10.6% (or 29.5 million people) met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder, the clinical term for alcohol addiction.
If you or someone you love has lost control of their drinking, professional treatment can help you begin the road to recovery.
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