New study says alcohol doesn’t have any health benefits for consumers. Do you agree?

Health benefits of wine called into question
Health benefits of wine called into question by new study

Just when you may have thought that the debate on the health benefits of drinking alcohol had been put to rest, it has flamed up once more. A new study concludes that no amount of alcohol consumption is safe for overall health, yes no amount of alcohol consumption at all. The strongly worded study has not surprsingly left some experts unconvinced.

Public health officials have long believed that moderate drinking (as defined as upto a drink per day for women and upto two per day for men) probably won’t hurt anyone who already drinks and may in fact confer some benefits too. This is the standard written into the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and is supported by organizations including the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society. It is a prevelant view that the editors at Sommelier India have endorsed too – drink in moderation (in our case wine specifically) if you’re of age and it’ll provide you with some specific health benefits. However, a new paper published in The Lancet, calls that long-held conclusion into question.

“The evidence is adding up that no amount of drinking is safe,” says study co-author Emmanuela Gakidou, a professor of global health and health metrics sciences at the University of Washington, in Time magazine. “I don’t think we’re going out on a limb to say anything that the data do not support.” The new research is based on a review of 700 existing studies on global drinking prevealnace and nearly 60 studies on alcohol and health. It found that alcohol was the seventh leading risk factor for premature death in 2016, contributing to 2.8 million deaths worldwide or 2.2% of all female deaths and 6.8% of all male deaths that year.

Not surprisingly, the report finds that the more you drink, the more your health risks increase. People who had one alcoholic beverage per day had a 0.5% higher risk of developing one of 23 alcohol-related health problems, inclduing cancer, road injuries and tuberculosis in a given year according to the report. Those who drank two drinks per day had a 7% risk higher than non-drinkers. And frighteningly, according to the report, those who drank  five drinks per day had a risk that was 37% higher.

Due to their large populations, China, India and Russia led the world in the total number of alcohol-related deaths in men and women. The US ranked fifth among men and seventh among women on that list; the UK ranked 21st for men and ninth for women. The total acohol-attributable male deaths for Indians appeared particularly high at 289,859 for India.

“The most surprising finding was that even small amounts of alcohol use contribute to health loss globally,” said co-author Emmanuela Gakidou. “We’re used to hearing that a drink or two a day is fine. But the evidence is the evidence.”

Not every expert endorses the view of the paper though. Walter Willett, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, questions the conclusion that the cons of drinking always outweigh the pros. While there’s “no question” that heavy drinking is harmful, he says that plenty of data supports links between moderate drinking and lower total mortality and a decreased risk of heart disease — which, he says, are far more relevant concerns for most Americans than something like tuberculosis, which the Lancet paper identifies as a leading alcohol-related disease worldwide. Tuberculosis is very rare in the U.S.

David Spiegelhalter, the Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, “Given the pleasure presumably associated with moderate drinking, claiming there is no ‘safe’ level does not seem an argument for abstention. “There is no safe level of driving, but governments do not recommend that people avoid driving,” Spiegelhalter, who also was not involved in the research, said in a statement. “Come to think of it, there is no safe level of living, but nobody would recommend abstention.”