Sad news, friends: NPR reports that light drinking doesn’t really promote heart health and longer life, despite that old and cherished adage. It turns out that evidence to support what we all hoped was true is quite thin and flimsy, so it’s just probably not true. Let’s everyone hold hands and drown our sorrows with a bottle of Syrah.
Dr. Timothy Naimi, a doctor and epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center, and his colleagues published an analysis of 87 studies on alcohol’s effect on death from any cause. The study found that “low-volume alcohol consumption has no net mortality benefit compared with lifetime abstention or occasional drinking.” Sigh.
The studies’ participants were placed into categories based on how much alcohol they drank, ranging from occasionally to heavy. Naimi’s study found that people who identified as moderate drinkers—1-3 drinks per day—were less likely to die early from things like injury, cancer, or heart disease. But there is the added complication that moderate drinkers tend to be “very socially advantaged” because they’re educated well and they’re more affluent. Their health has little to do with how much wine they consume and a lot more to do with their lifestyles in general.
Additionally, people who are unwell tend to stop drinking, shaping that particular category and dragging its overall health down. Naimi and his colleagues found that the healthiest people were ones who only had one drink about every 10 days. Those with the worst health were the ones who identified as heavy drinkers, which was not a surprising find.
Even the CDC only recommends no more than one drink a day for women and two a day for men. They also advise in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that people should certainly not begin drinking alcohol because they believe that it will be beneficial to their health.
Alcohol also does not appear to raise levels of good cholesterol, despite the myth, the researchers found.
People may continue to argue and believe that moderate alcohol really does have health benefits. The message is pretty well saturated into our culture, and it’s rinse those kinds of myths (myths people like!) out. Links between drinking and good health have been used to argue against alcohol regulations and restrictions, and the alcohol industry maintains control over those “booze is good for your heart” messages.
“Even if it were true [that drinking alcohol had health benefits,” Naimi said, “the idea that people are going to drink only one or two drinks a day as medication for the rest of their lives is just ridiculous. We’ve been sold an idea that’s incoherent.”