It really was too good to be true.
The conventional wisdom that moderate drinking boosts health is almost certainly wrong, according to new research.
The good news is probably doesn’t do all that much harm either.
La Trobe University researcher Hassan Vally says moderate drinkers can also take comfort from the fact they do seem to be healthier than non-drinkers.
It just has nothing to do with alcohol.
“Many studies … have suggested the death rate for moderate drinkers is lower than that for non-drinkers,” Dr Vally says.
“In other words, we thought moderate drinkers lived longer than those who didn’t drink at all.
“Most of us embraced these studies with enthusiasm. The problem has always been the potential mixing of many other variables – called confounding factors – with drinking.”
As it turns out, however, non-drinkers are unhealthier as a group to begin with. The non-drinking groups may have included people with other health conditions — hence not taking up drinking in the first place — or included recovering alcoholics with poor health.
When researchers allow for this difference, the supposed health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption quickly evaporate.
On the other hand, Dr Vally says the health impact seems relatively small – about four additional illnesses per 100,000 people.
That’s a fairly modest risk compared to other lifestyle factors such as smoking and obesity.
But Dr Vally warns the picture changes when moderate turns to heavy.
“The evidence is still incontrovertible that drinking high levels of alcohol is very bad for you. It will shorten the length of your life and affect the quality of your life and those around you.”
(The information in this article should not be considered medical advice. Please see your medical professional for information tailored to your personal circumstances.)
Research into healthy lifestyles is only possible if we support our universities. To keep Australia clever, please sign the petition below.