It has long been suggested that a small amount of alcohol may be a good choice that provides health benefits to drinkers, both mental and physical.
One study compared the ages of death among those who drank one or two drinks a day, those who drank no alcohol at all, and those who drank more than one or two drinks a day on average. They found that the moderate drinkers were more likely to live longer than both groups – even those who never drank.
Now new evidence suggests that there is no health benefit to drinking even a moderate amount of alcohol for most people. Researchers on this study advise avoiding the stuff as much as possible for ultimate health benefits.
So which study is right? Should you take a dose of heart health in the form a little wine every evening, imbibe in a couple of drinks if you feel like it on a daily basis, or are you better off avoiding the toxic effects of alcohol completely?
An analysis of 53,000 people over the age of 21 was conducted by researcher Craig Knott of University College London, and his findings suggest that past studies with results that suggested any positive benefit to moderate alcohol intake were flawed.
How? In the defining parameters. In the study that found that moderate drinking was linked to longevity, the participants who were in the “non-drinker” group included those who had never really indulged in alcohol as well as those who were former drinkers. Knott says that that is not a fair comparison, and that the damage caused by earlier drinking may have contributed to earlier deaths as compared to the “light drinker” group. According to HealthDay, the later analysis adjusted the original findings to take into consideration a number of social, economic, lifestyle, and personal factors that were previously ignored.
Says Knott: “Importantly, former drinkers appear to be less healthy and at greater risk of mortality than never drinkers. With existing research having largely grouped former and never drinkers together, there was the possibility that protective effects seen among lighter drinkers may be less a consequence of a real biological relationship and more a statistical artifact arising from their comparison against people who are simply less healthy.”
No Benefits at All to Moderate Alcoholic Intake?
Of course, the answer isn’t a simple “yes” or “no.” Knott says that some populations may benefit from a moderate amount of alcohol intake – maybe. The report published in BMJ says that there may be some health protection benefits to drinking between 15 and 20 drinks a week among men between the ages of 50 and 64 and that the same could be said for about 10 drinks each week among women over the age of 65. But even in these limited circumstances, the potential benefits were not huge and may not matter if there are other negative issues at play (e.g., little to no physical exercise, eating poorly, etc.).
Knott also made sure to emphasize that alcohol is a toxin that has been linked to the development of a range of chronic and deadly ailments, including heart disease, certain cancers, liver disease, and more.
Even if the research as to whether or not alcohol is beneficial, and if so in what amounts and under what circumstances, was more clear, the bottom line is that we do know for sure that alcohol is a toxic substance with a host of negative effects that can build up over the long-term. Whether you drink more than a few drinks a day or binge drink on the weekends, you’re doing damage to your body that could add up to a chronic disease sooner rather than later in life.
Part of the problem is that it’s often unclear what exactly constitutes a drink. Many assume that a glass of alcohol equals one drink, but not only do glasses come in different shapes and sizes, but different drinks also have more or less alcohol content.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the following constitutes one drink:
- 12 ounces of a beer or wine cooler that contains less than 5 percent alcohol
- 8 or 9 ounces of malt liquor that contains less than 7 percent alcohol
- 5 ounces of wine that contains less than 12 percent alcohol
- 1.5 ounces of hard liquor that contains less than 40 percent alcohol
Additionally, the NIAAA offers recommendations for how much one can safely drink each day and week according to gender:
- Moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink per day or seven per week total for women, and no more than two drinks per day or up to 14 drinks total per week for men.
- Binge drinking is dangerous for everyone and defined by drinking more than four drinks in a two-hour period for women and by drinking more than five drinks in a two-hour period for men.
- Heavy drinking is characterized by having five or more alcoholic beverages on a single occasion on five or more days in a 30-day period.
- There is no safe level of alcohol intake for people under the age of 21, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, those who are taking medication that interacts negatively with alcohol, or people who have underlying medical issues that may be exacerbated by the use of alcohol.
Often, getting help for alcohol abuse and dependency starts by understanding what characterizes those issues and then determining whether or not any of those apply to you.
If you see your behaviors in any of the definitions of dangerous drinking above and you are unable to stop drinking or cut back, it’s time to get help.