We know that heavy drinking kills thousands of people every year, but is moderate drinking good for you?
That’s a question that’s been hotly debated for quite a long time.
Based on the Mediterranean way of life, it’s been assumed for many years that drinking one or two drinks daily, particularly red wine, has life increasing benefits.
However, new research is starting to debunk this myth, as you simply can’t look at moderate drinking in total isolation as a benefit to health.
The Mediterranean way of life is a good example. Longevity of life in Mediterranean countries involves a whole holistic way of living. Their diet is rich in essential fatty acids from seafood, olive oil and wonderful fruits and salads, so generally they appear to be a lot healthier than the rest of the Western world irrespective of whether they drink moderately or not at all. Add the wonderful climate and relaxed way of life into that mix then you are on a sure-fire winner.
Adding to the belief that moderate drinking is good for us has come from many studies over the last thirty years or so suggesting the death rate for non-drinkers is greater than that for moderate drinkers. Again, reinforcing the belief that moderate drinking had a positive benefit to health.
However, more recent studies have suggested that these findings were probably too good to be true as they ignored contributing factors such as people who could not drink because of life threatening illness, or people who were forced into sobriety because they had damaged their health and shortened their life expectancy through excessive drinking.
The result of these contributing factors appears to have made moderate drinkers on the whole look healthier than non-drinkers, and of course everybody celebrated that finding by opening another bottle.
So is moderate drinking good for you?
Newer more targeted studies actually suggest that from a health perspective moderate drinking is not good for us at all. In fact no amount of alcohol, even very moderate amounts can claim to give any health benefit.
In a recent study published in Lancet it suggested that just one alcoholic drink per day gave a 0.5% higher chance of developing one of the many recognised alcohol related illnesses.
While this may appear to be a small risk, it is actually quite significant when applied to a population. It appears that an activity which was once considered to be marginally beneficial now has a cost to health. (Source: Hassan Vally Associate Professor, La Trobe University).
Quote from the Lancet study –
“The conclusions of the study are clear and unambiguous: alcohol is a colossal global health issue and small reductions in health-related harms at low levels of alcohol intake are outweighed by the increased risk of other health-related harms, including cancer“.
While current studies show that light to moderate drinking only runs a very small risk of alcohol related illness, it also debunks the myth that light to moderate drinking has a positive health benefit. This is clearly not true, especially when low levels of alcohol consumption start to rise, as we have seen recently during the pandemic lock down – and nobody is in any doubt that consistent high levels of drinking will shorten your life or dramatically increase your chances of contracting one of many alcohol related diseases, including several types of cancer.
Of course, neither is anybody suggesting that you shouldn’t enjoy drinking alcohol. It’s a highly sociable activity and deeply rooted in most cultures. However, looking for an excuse to drink alcohol when you don’t need to (aka health benefits) is also highly dangerous and potentially very damaging to your health and wellbeing.
It’s all too easy to find the excuse in populist writings and circles that certain types of alcohol are beneficial – and often that’s just the excuse we are looking for to crack open that next bottle.
World-renowned Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology David Nutt breaks down the science and effect of alcohol on our health, mood, sleep and productivity and how it travels through our bodies and brains and explains on a practical level how we can make changes to positively impact our relationship with it and understanding of it, thereby improving our quality of life for the long-term.