Research in the past few years has seesawed pretty heavily on the question of whether a little alcohol is good for us. Some studies have suggested that alcohol in moderation is linked to reduced risk for a number of diseases, compared to those who don’t drink–it’s good for heart, it reduces Alzheimer’s disease risk, and may even be linked to a longer life, some studies have found. And some researchers have even suggested that doctors recommend drinking to their alcohol-abstinent patients. But a new study casts some doubt on the connection entirely, asking whether moderate drinkers are really in better shape than abstainers. And this is really because we don’t know why the abstainers are abstaining in the first place.
“A fundamental question is, who are these moderate drinkers being compared against?” study author Tim Stockwell asked.
Stockwell and his team looked over 87 earlier studies, to determine whether moderate alcohol was really better than none. For the majority of the studies, former drinkers were included in the “abstainer” or the “occasional drinker” groups, which poses a lot of problems and biases for the research. It could be, for instance, that people quit alcohol precisely because they were dealing with health issues. Which would bias the results entirely, making it look like abstinence was the cause of health problems rather than the “result.” In fact, the team found only 13 studies that accounted for why the abstainers abstained. And for these studies, there was no benefit in drinking alcohol over avoiding it.
The researchers also pointed out that in past studies, it’s generally the “occasional” drinkers who have the real advantage in longevity–but it’s unlikely that it’s the alcohol that’s really responsible for the benefit. It’s probably something else.
Time will tell how our attitudes toward alcohol shift in light of these new studies. Maybe occasional drinking will become the new norm–rather than a glass or two a day, perhaps a glass or two a week will become the accepted level. In any case, the new study may throw another kink in our relationship to alcohol. (That said, some researchers are still arguing that the research behind alcohol’s benefits, or at least its safety, is still convincing enough not to discourage its consumption completely.)
“There’s a general idea out there that alcohol is good for us, because that’s what you hear reported all the time,” Stockwell said. “But there are many reasons to be skeptical.”
David Says: Makes a lot of sense to at least consider that moderate alcohol consumption may not be the reason for benefits observed in previous studies. What ELSE do moderate drinkers do that impact their health?
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Forbes. The original item was written by Alice Walton. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
Stockwell, T., Zhao, J., Panwar, S., Roemer, A., Naimi, T., & Chikritzhs, T.Do “moderate” drinkers have reduced mortality risk? A systematic review and meta-analysis of alcohol consumption and all-cause mortality. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 2016 DOI: 10.15288/jsad.2016.77.185