(CNN)Now here’s some news that may have you crying into your beer. Alcohol, when consumed in moderation, may not improve your health after all.
Over the years we’ve all seen the studies that show a glass of wine a day may help protect you from developing heart disease, will help with cancer and keep type 2 diabetes away, and will ultimately help you live longer. But this new research may be a buzz kill for those who like to drink in moderation. Toasting to your health may actually be an oxymoron.
So, belly up to the bar and we’ll explain what the scientists behind this new meta-analysis running in the latest edition of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs think happened with the earlier studies that show the health benefits of moderate drinking.
This team of scientists looked at a wide variety of studies on the topic, specifically looking at alcohol’s impact on mortality. Narrowing their list down to 87 studies, the authors found the majority of them may have been coming to conclusions based on what the authors label as “biased” data.
It’s not that the other scientists were working under the influence of the industry or something more potent. This latest study found that when those other studies divide people into groups they typically put them into common categories: heavy drinkers, moderate drinkers, occasional drinkers and abstainers.
What the new study found is that the abstainer group isn’t only made up of people who have never touched a drop. Instead, some in this group may be recovering alcoholics. Some may also be abstaining now because of a health condition. In general, those two groups of people in the abstainer category are not as healthy as those who are lifelong teetotalers, research shows. That means these less healthy people skew the data. So, the moderate drinkers end up looking healthier by default. Make sense?
White said there is “considerable”lab data that shows a small amount of alcohol may be beneficial for health in terms of reducing inflammation and helping with cardiovascular health and stroke reduction. To see these effects, however, requires “taking alcohol like you would take medicine, in small doses.” And it would be rare for a doctor in the 20 minutes they have with you in an appointment to give you this nuanced kind of advice.
Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, who is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard’s School of Public Health who has no affiliation to the study, said he thinks the authors defined the categories of drinkers and nondrinkers too narrowly and that focusing on studies that look strictly at mortality may also be too narrow.
“At this point we still don’t have the level of proof that we want,” Mukamal said. “This is a little overstated.”
To determine if moderate drinking is good or bad for your health will take true clinical trials rather than observational studies, he said.
And before you go and drown your sorrows about this news, perhaps you can look at what this new study is not saying. The study is not telling you that an occasional drink is bad for you. Ultimately, what this study is saying is that there are limitations to what we know. It’s possible that abstainers and moderate drinkers may have similar long-term health results.
There are many additional studies that show heart-protective effects of alcohol and other studies show that there are psychological benefits to having a drink every once in a while as stress relief.
Other studies show that drinking can increase a risk of breast cancer in women. So, if you plan to debate this at your local tonight, take the current study author’s advice to heart.
“My advice: Drink for the enjoyment, sure,” Stockwell said. “But just don’t kid yourself that you are doing it for your health.”
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