Even Moderate Drinking May Be Bad for Health, Finds New Study
The common adage goes that a glass of red wine a day doesn’t hurt — in fact, it helps. The general consensus around moderate drinking, especially involving certain alcohols like wine, is that their antioxidant content makes them more beneficial than not drinking at all. But new research seems to debunk this long-standing myth, stripping its intoxicating effect on our drinking habits.
A new study, involving data from over 350,000 people in the United Kingdom, highlights the flaw at the heart of this theory. Some research has loyally adhered to the famous “J-shaped” curve of drinking: with cardiovascular risk plotted on the y-axis, and the number of glasses on the x-axis, showing that moderate drinking is even better for us than not drinking at all. But it turns out that the J-shaped curve was based on “bad science.”
Published in Clinical Nutrition, the present study looked at data from U.K. Biobank spanning over seven years. The researchers looked at both — 333,259 alcohol consumers, and 21,710 people who had never drunk alcohol. The new thing here was to exclude former-drinkers who may have stopped drinking due to health conditions from the dataset. The current recommended limit for drinking in the U.K. is 14 units of alcohol per week.
But the study noted that this is harmful too, and puts consumers at an increased risk for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease. By comparing the light drinkers with people who drank more, the researchers found little benefit of drinking wine besides marginally offering protection from ischemic heart disease.
“The so-called J-shaped curve of the cardiovascular disease-alcohol consumption relationship suggesting health benefits from low to moderate alcohol consumption is the biggest myth since we were told smoking was good for us,” said cardiovascular physiologist Rudolph Schutte, from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU).
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Previous studies have drawn misleading conclusions because of a few biases. One is the inclusion of non-drinkers with poor health. Those who weren’t drinking at all had a strong reason for doing so: current ill-health. And so when these non-drinkers had subsequent heart attacks or cardiovascular issues, they showed up on the graph as evidence that non-drinkers were at a higher risk of cardiovascular illnesses than moderate drinkers. This bolstered the supposed advantages of “moderate drinking.”
Secondly, the inclusion of all drink types together further blurs the accuracy of research around drinking disadvantages. Third, is distorting the fact that wine is only associated with a lower risk of coronary artery disease, and not overall cardiovascular health.
Moreover, the present study found that those who drank beer, cider, or spirits were more likely to end up in a hospital for a cardiovascular event, even if they drank less than 14 units per week.
“Biases embedded in epidemiological evidence mask or underestimate the hazards associated with alcohol consumption. When these biases are accounted for, the adverse effects of even low-level alcohol consumption are revealed,” said Schutte.
A previous study in The Lancet in 2018 also noted that lower intake of alcohol was better for overall cardiovascular health, and recommended lowering the guidelines for consumption in most countries. While that study aimed to look at the guidelines for alcohol consumption, the present one concretely debunks the notion that moderate drinking may be good for us.