Many doctors and other health professionals continue to recommend alcohol consumption based on research that we now know was faulty. Some of you probably don’t want to hear this, but current evidence is mounting that even low intakes of alcohol increases the risk of many health issues. Alcohol is not harmless, and despite studies sponsored by the alcohol industry, no health benefits are associated with drinking a glass of wine (or other alcohol) per day.
The alcohol industry has been quite successful in its decades-long campaign to distort the facts by claiming the protective effects of alcohol, even though there are none. The basis for many of the industry’s claims are studies in which certain groups of people were misclassified as “non-drinkers.” Dr. Michael Greger explains it like this: “If you look at studies of smokers, sometimes you see higher mortality rates among those who quit smoking, compared to those that continue smoking. Why? Because the reason they quit smoking is because they got sick. So, of course, sick people die more often than less sick people. That’s why when you classify someone as a non-smoker in a study, you have to make sure they’re a ‘lifelong’ non-smoker and not just a non-smoker…since last Tuesday.”[i]
Alcohol studies also misclassify former drinkers as if they were lifelong abstainers—drinkers who may have quit because they got sick. When the studies with the misclassified drinkers were corrected, the results showed no apparent benefit of light or moderate drinking. What about the studies that show alcohol raises “good” cholesterol (HDL)? It turns out that HDL is no longer considered protective, but rather it’s the lifelong reduction of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) which does indeed decrease the risk of heart disease.[ii]
Cancer remains a growing concern too. In addition to the increased risk of stroke, heart failure, high blood pressure, physical addiction, kidney disease, and mental health problems, alcohol drinking is linked to the increase of certain cancers—especially pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, melanoma, mouth and throat cancers, colorectal cancer, liver cancer, and breast cancer. Current estimates suggest that alcohol causes nearly 6 percent of all cancer deaths worldwide.[iii]
Another reason we hear about the benefits of alcohol is because of the many conflicts of interest between industry and our government. The alcohol industry has recently partnered with one of our government agencies, the National Institutes of Health, to fund trial research costing $100 million. The research is designed to show that daily alcohol consumption promotes better health. Government officials claim that the alcohol industry has no input on the study planning, but documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act prove otherwise. The alcohol companies indeed have their hands in determining the study design[iv] in order to influence the results they desire. As we discussed in the “How to Manage a Temple” chapter, follow the money when hearing about studies to determine if they’re credible!
Based on the latest research, it would be irresponsible for me to condone even light or moderate drinking on a regular basis. There’s probably no harm in having an occasional drink at a wedding or a holiday celebration—that is your decision. But routine alcohol consumption cannot be considered an acceptable part of a healthy diet.
[i] Dr. Michael Greger, “Is It Better to Drink a Little Alcohol than None at All?” dated April 4, 2018; accessed September 6, 2018. https://nutritionfacts.org/video/is-it-better-to-drink-little-alcohol-than-none-at-all/
[ii] Greger, “Is It Better to Drink a Little Alcohol than None at All?”
[iii] Dr. Michael Greger, “Can Alcohol Cause Cancer?” dated March 28, 2018; accessed September 6, 2018. https://nutritionfacts.org/video/can-alcohol-cause-cancer/
[iv] Dr. Pamela Popper, “A New Business Relationship: The NIH and the Alcohol Industry.” Posted to the Health Briefs section at www.wellnessforumheath.com on March 22, 2018. Accessed September 6, 2018.