We’ve been led to believe ‘everything in moderation’ is okay and that extends to those who like a tipple, but researchers are now challenging the approach that moderate drinking will bring us a longer, healthier life.
Research published in the March 2016 Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs disputes earlier studies supporting us having one or two drinks per day because it brought a range of health benefits.
Professor Tanya Chikritzhs, from the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University in Western Australia, and her team investigated 87 studies and found most used flawed research methods.
She says the biggest problem was that many of the studies compared drinkers to non-drinkers to determine who was healthier. The researchers found that within the non-drinkers were recovering alcoholics and those that cannot drink due to other health concerns.
Professor Chikritzhs says including these people would increase the risk of heart disease and other illnesses, thereby making the entire non-drinker group seem worse and those having the occasional drink each week appear better.
“What we found in our study is that the best comparison group is not non-drinkers at all, but occasional drinkers, so these are people who drink in such small amounts that biologically alcohol could have no effect on their body in terms of protection,” Chikritzhs said.
However, the notion that low to moderate level drinking has health benefits is so widespread we may have even heard it from our doctors.
The question then might not be ‘should I have a glass of wine with dinner?’ but ‘how much wine should I have at all?’
According to Australia’s current drinking guidelines, more than two standard drinks per day can pose an ‘unacceptable’ risk of lifetime harm to adults.
For those who believe it, that means drinking levels below two standard drinks a day would have protective effects against heart disease, diabetes and stroke. For those who remain sceptical though, there are many other things you can do before turning to alcohol.
In addition to correcting the non-drinker ‘biases’ and other study-design issues, Chikritzhs says the research highlights that moderate drinkers no longer showed a longevity advantage.
“What we actually found in terms of these occasional drinkers in terms of the longevity stake – who lives longer – it’s the occasional drinker who lives the longest, so they outdo the people who are drinking at moderate levels,” she said.