Alcohol benefits challenged: study

glass of alcohol (red wine) being poured

The accepted wisdom that moderate consumption of alcohol may protect against cardiovascular disease is in doubt, with a new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) challenging the belief.

The study queries prevailing claims that moderate drinking is good for health and asserts that any protective benefits from moderate alcohol consumption have been overestimated or exaggerated by previous research.

One of the study authors, Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University of Sydney, says the research had public health implications given alcohol consumption for Australians across all ages is still very high.

“The prevailing message to drinkers has been don’t feel guilty about drinking a few glasses of vino after work each night: a regular dose of alcohol is better for you than none at all,” he says.

“But this new research sheds doubt on the belief that alcohol has robust benefits and there is a ‘healthy’ dose.

“Our research reveals that the protective effects of light drinking that have been widely reported may be exaggerated because the claims are based on studies that have included the inappropriate use of  non-drinkers, regardless of the abstinence reason as a comparator and other ‘selection biases’.

“Our study found that once ex-drinkers—who may have quit due to alcohol-related health issues or abstain due to poor health in general—were  removed from the pool of non-drinkers, the protective benefits of alcohol for moderate drinkers virtually disappeared and there was little to no protection provided by alcohol consumption at any level.”

While the study does not answer the question as to whether people should imbibe or completely abstain when it comes to drinking, it does highlight the importance of other health-promoting and disease risk minimisation strategies for better health, says Prof Stamatakis.

“The message from this study is Australians should not use claims of alcohol’s health benefits as a license to drink and the alcohol industry should not use health-related messages to promote its products,” he says.

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