The daily drink – healthful or hurtful?

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brandy glasses

“A drink a day keeps the doctor away” – substituting your favorite alcoholic beverage in place of that boring apple in the old saying seems too good to be true and just may be.

A number of population studies have indicated that there is health benefit from moderate alcohol intake (moderate being two or fewer drinks per day). Recently, a meta-analysis of studies examining alcohol consumption brought into question the health benefits of moderate intake.

Past studies evaluating the health affects of alcohol intake break down populations of people based on their alcohol consumption and assess the health of those groups. It is unsurprising that individuals considered heavy consumers have poorer health. The most celebrated finding of such studies was the health advantages moderate consumers seemed to enjoy over alcohol abstainers.

A recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of Alcohol and Drugs uncovered a problem with past investigations – most studies did not exclude individuals from the abstaining group that were avoiding for alcohol for health reasons. In some cases, these alcohol abstainers had given up the drink because of health conditions caused by excessive consumption. Individuals that were avoiding alcohol intake for pre-existing health conditions were actually skewing results and making the abstaining group appear less healthy.

When removing those individuals avoiding alcohol for pre-existing health conditions, the health advantage moderate consumers were thought to have had disappears.

So what does it all mean? While no study should be viewed as definitive, the recent analysis suggests there is no net benefit to moderate alcohol consumption when compared to alcohol avoidance – but it also did not find worse outcomes in moderate drinkers. So even if occasionally raising the glass to good health isn’t actually providing health benefit, it doesn’t appear to be hurting.

 

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