By kelly Sinoski & Randy shore, Vancouver Sun
If you’ve been toasting recent headlines that declared alcohol a life-extending elixir, you might want to put a cork in it.
A party-pooping new study from the University of Victoria took a closer look at data from 87 long-term studies, many of which suggest that moderate drinking has protective health benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Sadly, many of those studies goofed. Tim Stockwell of UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research said previous research has over-estimated the health benefits of alcohol.
The studies — involving nearly four million people — did not properly define those who abstained from drinking, many of whom may have been heavy drinkers before they stopped the tipple altogether, he said.
At first glance, the data analysis showed that low-volume drinkers (those who had up to two drinks a day) had lower mortality risks than those who abstained from alcohol.
But abstainers include many people whose poor health has led them to cut down or completely abstain. They make the health and life expectancy of moderate drinkers look good by comparison.
Once the authors adjusted for errors such as how abstainers are defined, they found that the protective effect of light drinking disappeared.
“The bottom line is that we need to be more skeptical of claims that low-volume alcohol consumption is good for you, and take a long, hard look at how studies around alcohol and health are designed,” said Stockwell.
The authors also suggest that improved methods are required to make unbiased estimates of alcohol’s health impacts, and that although alcohol is recognized by international health authorities as a leading cause of preventable death, illness and injury, the extent of this is underestimated.
This could have major implications for the crafting of alcohol policies and for physician advice about low-risk drinking, Stockwell said.
“If you’re going to drink, drink under the low-risk drinking guidelines: less than two drinks for women and three drinks for men,” he said. “Drinking in these limits, you’re unlikely to have a problem.”
The study was published Monday in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.