While there’s plenty of scientific evidence and research to suggest that too much drinking could be bad for overall health, an influx of studies in recent times have claimed that moderate drinking could actually have health benefits.
From studies that suggest drinking could be good for heart health, to research that found alcohol consumption could boost fertility, there’s plenty of information out there that’s contradictory and confusing.
Starts at 60 recently spoke to Melbourne-based doctor Kieran Kennedy about these studies and whether drinking is ever really recommended by health professionals.
“Obviously doctors see those studies popping up every now and then and it can be difficult because different studies show different results and the data at the moment overall is really quite conflicting,” he explained. “What we do know is the World Health Organisation have put out statements concluding that overall, the evidence doesn’t support at the moment that alcohol does or have the potential to have a positive effect on our health.”
In fact, the latest stats from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that more than three million people around the world die each year as a result of harmful alcohol use. This represents one in 20 deaths, while the harmful use of alcohol causes more than 5 per cent of the total global disease burden.
Alcohol plays a significant role in 230 different types of diseases, while WHO also points out that alcohol can also impact the well-being and health of those around the person who is actually drinking. Many studies claim that even moderate amounts of alcohol per day can be good or protective for health, although health experts say there isn’t yet enough evidence surrounding the data.
“Those notions of a moderate amount of alcohol per day is actually good for your health or protective for your health, we don’t actually have the conclusive evidence at the moment to say that,” Kennedy said. “What we do have quite clear evidence on is that alcohol can be really quite risky – particularly for older people if they have any major medical health issues or if they’re on certain types of medication that can interact with alcohol.”
While it can depend on the specific medication people are taking, cold and flu medication, sleeping tablets, blood thinning medication and aspirin are some of the common drugs that can interact badly with alcohol. Kennedy noted that there has been more evidence that claims small amounts of red wine can potentially have benefits on health, but explained that the data is complex and inconclusive to say that a certain amount of alcohol is good for health.
“At the moment, the recommendations would be to drink responsibility and to not drink over those recommended amounts and to always talk to your doctor about alcohol use – particularly if you’re taking medications or you’ve got any major health problems,” Kennedy said.
People should not be consuming more than two standard drinks on any one day, while no more than four standard drinks should be consumed in a single session to reduce acute and long-term risks from alcohol. Having said that, there are small changes people can make, such as switching to lower strength or alcohol-free beers and beverages as an alternative.
“Alcohol-free alternatives are a great way to remove that risk and things around alcohol use,” Kennedy said “That’s particularly important if someone is on a lot of medication or if their physical health is to a point where drinking alcohol wouldn’t be something that would be recommended.”