Myth: Light drinking is good for your health
Allow us to start with an anecdote that might look inappropriate at first glance: Scientists conducted an experiment to discover where the cockroach’s organ of hearing is located. They took a cockroach, put it on the table and said “go!” The cockroach ran. Then they cut its legs, put it on the table and said “go!” It didn’t move. The conclusion was: the cockroach’s ears are located on its legs.
Maybe the French paradox – the comparatively low rate of heart disease despite a diet that rich in butter and cheese – is another example of the incorrectly set cause-and-effect relationship? Maybe it’s not due to the moderate wine drinking, maybe it’s because butter is good for our health? Of course, it’s a joke but with a grain of truth.
The debate still simmers today, with a lively back-and-forth over whether low-volume alcohol consumption is good for us or bad. Some experts have suggested that red wine is the key whereas other studies have shown that beverage type doesn’t make any difference.
The study on alcohol and mortality conducted by the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia (Canada) at the University of Victoria says that health benefits of light drinking are overestimated.
The research team re-analyzed data of previous studies and found that a bias in their design led to the exaggeration of the light drinking benefits, while underestimating its harm. The literature references analyzed in this research involved more than four million people, including the identification of 350,000 deaths and their causes.
“Low-volume drinkers may appear healthy only because the “abstainers” with whom they are compared are biased toward ill health” – stated in the article “Do “Moderate” Drinkers Have Reduced Mortality Risk?” which was published in “The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.”
The bias is how the research defines abstainers. In the most published studies, the “low-volume drinkers” were compared with the “abstainers”; but in the “abstainers” group there were many people who cut down or completely stop drinking due to their health problems. Their poor health made them “abstainers,” not the alcohol consumption; on this background moderate drinkers looked good. Bottom line, the control groups had been chosen incorrectly which led to the incorrect results.
The following conclusions were made in that study:
“Estimates of mortality risk from alcohol are significantly altered by study design and characteristics. Meta-analyses adjusting for these factors find that low-volume alcohol consumption has no net mortality benefit compared with lifetime abstention or occasional drinking. These findings have implications for public policy, the formulation of low-risk drinking guidelines, and future research on alcohol and health.”
Don’t take this study wrong: it doesn’t prove that low-volume drinking is bad, but it doesn’t prove that one or two drinks a day are good for your health either.
So, it’s a fifty-fifty situation: some studies support the idea of health benefits of light drinking, some don’t. The latter part will definitely upset the liqueur industry. And what about you? You just better be skeptical towards the widespread message of health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.