Most of us have heard stories about the potential health benefits of drinking alcohol: light-to-moderate drinkers had fewer heart attacks than abstainers, as well as a lower statistical risk of dying from heart disease. But does alcohol really live up to the hype?
A new study is calling these old claims into question and it seems there’s a proverbial fly in the ointment, so to speak. Let’s dig into the facts.
Clues in Old Data
It all started when some researchers and physicians in the field became suspicious about whether alcohol was truly behind many of the “health benefits” it was linked to. After all, many of the claims – like it lowers the chance of birth defects or alleviates the common cold – just didn’t seem to make sense. So the research team summarized and reanalyzed the data from 87 past alcohol-related studies, specifically looking for some of the problems they felt were clouding previous results. Sure enough, many studies, they found, were flawed, with designs suggesting benefits were iffy at best.
As a matter of fact, the team found no evidence that moderate drinking (people who have up to two drinks per day) was better for a person’s health than those who abstained from alcohol altogether. However, a key issue with the past studies was how the “abstainers” group was defined. They found that former drinkers who had now abstained from alcohol but were in poor health due to their heavy usage were grouped with those who had abstained from alcohol their entire lives. Obviously, this skewed the results, as these two segments shouldn’t have been lumped into the same group and labeled as “the same” in the first place. In the end, that’s why the moderate drinkers looked better in comparison.
It was actually “occasional” drinkers – people who had less than one drink per week – who lived the longest. However, the research team concluded that it was unlikely that such infrequent drinking would be the reason for their longevity. The study showed that how much a person drinks is often a sign of their lifestyle choices, which can certainly matter more than the amount of alcohol in a person’s diet. Those who exercised more, smoked less and ate better were all less likely to have diseases and to die, regardless of their drinking habits.
The Message: Benefits of Not Drinking
The take-home message here is not to start drinking or keep drinking just because you think it may give you some additional health benefits. If you really want to be healthy, the most effective thing to do, according to this most recent study, is to refrain from alcohol altogether.
Additional Reading: This is NOT a Drill: Alcohol Causes 7 Kinds of Cancer
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