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A drink a day keeps the doctor away? Not so fast

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

It has long been a popular belief that mild to moderate alcohol consumption confers certain health benefits. In fact, there is a plethora of studies in the medical literature that seem to legitimize this concept. The most well-known is the so-called French Paradox. I still remember being taught this as a young medical student, namely that the French have a lower rate of heart disease, including heart attacks, likely due to their mild to moderate alcohol consumption.

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However, recently there have been multiple studies that show the opposite is, in fact, true. Mild alcohol consumption actually confers no health benefits, and moderate alcohol use actually leads to an increase in all-cause mortality. This means that death from heart disease and, in fact, most other causes of death (i.e., cancer, accidental death, and death from most other diseases including infections) is actually higher with moderate alcohol use.

In March 2023, one of the largest studies to date brought out these results[1]. The study authors looked at the death rate in almost 5 million people. Their results will be surprising to many.

The study looked at those who used mild to moderate alcohol and compared each person with what they would call a non-drinker. Their results are summarized as follows:

Findings: This systematic review and meta-analysis of 107 cohort studies involving more than 4.8 million participants found no significant reductions in the risk of all-cause mortality for drinkers who drank less than 25 g of ethanol per day (about 2 Canadian standard drinks compared with lifetime non-drinkers) after adjustment for key study characteristics such as median age and sex of study cohorts. There was a significantly increased risk of all-cause mortality among female drinkers who drank 25 or more grams per day and among male drinkers who drank 45 or more grams per day.

Another quote from the authors of this study summarized their ideas well:

"The bottom-line message is that in terms of health, less alcohol is better," said Tim Naimi, who is an author of the study and the director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research and a professor of public health and social policy at the University of Victoria. "Or you could say: Drink less, live more.”

In the face of multiple other studies that refer to the so-called benefits of mild alcohol consumption, the authors of this study showed that many past studies contained biased data, were poorly designed, or were sponsored by the alcohol industry.

Many of the past studies that concluded there was a health benefit to drinking erred when they compared drinkers with non-drinkers. This happened because some of the "non-drinkers" were those who previously drank heavily and stopped after going through rehab. Although you could have been counted as a non-drinker for the last 30 years, the damage inflicted by alcohol earlier on will still affect your health at a later age. Also, at times, people may stop drinking as they incur another disease ie drinking moderately assumes that you are in reasonable health to do so.

Another problem is that many studies out there are sponsored by the alcohol industry. This report shows that since 2009 there has been a 56% increase in research funded by alcohol companies or affiliated organizations[1]. This can be very deceptive. Instead of doing its own research, the industry funds other studies and exploits a loophole. Readers assume the research is non-biased, not knowing that some of these research organizations are not independent but, in fact, charities sponsored by the alcohol industry.

A recent paper from the World Heart Federation concurs: "Over the past several decades, the prevalence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) has nearly doubled, and alcohol has played a major role in the incidence of much of it. Alcohol has also been attributed to deaths due to infectious diseases, intentional and unintentional injuries, digestive diseases, and several other non-communicable diseases, including cancer." [2]

This paper was unequivocal, stating that: “Contrary to popular opinion, alcohol is not good for the heart. This directly contradicts the common and popular message that alcohol prolongs life, chiefly by reducing the risk of Cardiovascular disease (CVD).”

Many more articles can be cited as proof that alcohol has no health benefit. This will likely not change the behavior of many. Humans love to drink. For years, marketing has taught us that in order to have a good time or to relax, you simply need a drink. Among youth, alcohol is portrayed as the cool and accepted thing to do when you enter adulthood. But be informed, any level of drinking increases your risk of earlier death.

This information is particularly important for those who have stopped drinking and have achieved sobriety. You are not losing out on heart health by not drinking. Let’s remove it as a reason, excuse, or temptation to resume drinking..

By Dr. Hilgard Goosen - CEO iRecover US, Howard SD

[1] [2] [1] Zhao J, Stockwell T, Naimi T, Churchill S, Clay J, Sherk A. Association Between Daily Alcohol Intake and Risk of All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-analyses. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(3):e236185. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.6185

iRecover US is considered by many to be the top alcohol rehab and drug rehab in South Dakota. iRecover US employs evidence based treatment programs to provide the best alcohol addiction treatment and drug addiction treatment to all residents of South Dakota and the Mid-West. We accept insurance and self-pay options are available.

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