Alcohol Probably Isn’t Good For You (But Don’t Start Crying Just Yet)

Vinted on February 16, 2016 binned in commentary, wine health, wine news

Recently, a 1WD reader wrote in to ask me what I thought about the recent spate of news indicating that alcohol is bad for your health. Here’s his initial correspondence, which he gave me permission to share with you all:

Hey, Dude,
I was reading a few articles in Decanter for class when I came across one (admittedly attention-grabbing) article. The UK’s equivalent of the Surgeon General has apparently decided there’s “no safe level of drinking”. She has also cut the guideline maximum for men weekly to 14 units (a unit is approximately 2.5 US fluid ounces of 13% abv wine). Here is the article: http://www.decanter.com/wine-news/uk-alcohol-guidelines-no-safe-drinking-level-as-daily-limit-cut-287142/.

To put it mildly, I think this is complete and utter bullshit. It’s not that I think moderate alcohol consumption is bad–far from it. Indeed, I think there are people who should try to avoid alcohol completely, including those who have no control over their own drinking whatsoever. However, from what I’ve read over the years, there is a “J-shaped curve” associated with various diseases (particularly coronary-related) and alcohol consumption. A quick internet search led me to this for cardiovascular health: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/562474_2, and WineAnorak had this for other benefits: http://www.wineanorak.com/healother.htm.

While there are health risks associated with alcohol use, as well, including oesophageal cancers, there are health risks associated with nearly everything. Taking a stroll after work is healthy, for example, but there’s a risk I could get hit by a car, or get hypothermia or heat stroke (depending on the weather), or bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile virus. Even hiding at home trying to avoid all risks of mortality doesn’t rule out dying of various things, such as unexpected meteor impact, heart attack from a combination of lack of exercise and stress from perceived impending doom, or starvation since I’d run out of groceries eventually if I refuse to leave the house. Paranoia to that extent is almost reason to cause someone to drink.

Sorry about that rant. I read that article and it riled me up; I felt it would be something I’d love to hear your opinion and commentary on, as well.

In a follow-up correspondence, he had this to add about the subject:

In Decanter, Andrew Jefford also wrote an interesting article about the topic: http://www.decanter.com/wine-news/opinion/jefford-on-monday/jefford-on-monday-uk-drinking-limits-toxic-advice-287989/.
 I read another two studies about raised breast cancer risks from light-to-moderate alcohol usage as compared to abstinence this last week.  One was a study of about 48000 people from the 1980s to 2010.  The other was a meta-study.  Both found an approximately 10% risk of breast cancer in abstainers, and an approximately 12.5% risk in light-to-moderate drinkers. I didn’t see anything about mortality, metastasizing, or recurrence.  It didn’t seem that other risk factors besides smoking were necessarily controlled for.  I’ll have to use some Google-fu to find them again, but though neither was precisely friendly towards alcohol, what I understood from their conclusions was essentially, “There’s a slightly elevated risk of breast cancer from drinking alcohol.  It’s not much to worry about, but if you are paranoid, you can stop drinking.”
Now, bearing in mind that, to the best of my knowledge, neither he nor I are medical professionals, here’s my take on all of this…

Alcohol is almost certainly not good for you.
Seriously, it’s not. You don’t increase your life span by drinking the way that you might from eating blueberries and carrots. But that doesn’t mean that it is going to kill you, either.
From what I’ve been able to discern in following developments on this topic for years, alcohol probably has some minor health benefits when consumed in moderation, but it comes with a host of potential health risks (cancers, digestive issues, liver problems, etc.), almost all of which can be fatal, and almost all of which are associated with consuming it in excess.
However, I am personally not afraid of consuming alcohol. Unlike smoking, which by most measures is likely to kill you if you use it as directed, just about every study on alcohol performed to date suggests that moderate, responsible consumption of alcohol is unlikely to kill you dead.
None of the recent news regarding alcohol health risks has me scrambling to dump all of my wine samples down the drain. I still abstain from drinking any alcohol at least two nights per week, and have been thinking about increasing that, only because I want to have a balanced life and reduce my risk of the negative health-related potential side effects of drinking; none of that is being done because I think that alcohol is anywhere close to ruining my health or life, however.
From what I have been able to discern, from a health perspective I need to be much more worried about, say, making sure my radon fan is working properly than whether or not having a couple of glasses a wine on most nights is going to put me into the grave. If I didn’t exercise regularly, didn’t eat as healthily as time/money/opportunity allows, and was a smoker, cutting back moderate drinking levels would be the last thing on my list of potentially life-saving improvements.
We take a risk of dying whenever we walk out of the door and drive in our cars. That doesn’t stop us (or all of the other idiots behind the wheel) from driving. You take a risk when you drink booze, but the binge drinking epidemic in the UK notwithstanding, I think it’s a disservice to the public at large to proclaim that risk to be on par with pest poisons, or even hydrogenated oils.
I’ll still be drinking in moderation, in full sight of my daughter, who I hope will see her old man live a long, happy life, and one in which responsible alcohol consumption has a routine place.
Cheers!
13

 

 

    Comments

  • Jordan


    Thanks for sharing this. I hope people weren’t guzzling down alcohol thinking it was beneficial. There’s a lot of things that are great about it, but healthy it is not.

    • 1WineDude


      Jordan – what if I was guzzling down alcohol while writing it…? ;-)

  • the drunken cyclist


    Last time I checked, none of us get out of this alive so with what time I have left, I am going to enjoy some of the pleasures of life. I would much rather have some fun while I still have teeth (and hair) then ensuring that I live an extra dozen years when I can barely move around without the assistance of a very unattractive nurse.

    • 1WineDude


      DC – It has been said that if you don’t drink, you might not actually live longer, it will just *feel* longer. It’s also been said that if you don’t drink, you might get extra years on your life, but those aren’t necessarily the years that you want! :)

  • MyrddinGwin


    Great. With my pescatarianism apparently going to kill me from mercury poisoning and now moderate drinking apparently going to kill me somehow, all that’s keeping me alive is apparently my tea drinking, until new research comes out and says it causes aneurysms or something. At that point, I may as well have myself declared medically dead early so I can get on with enjoying things, rather than pay any attention to what the latest thing that’s going to kill me apparently will be.

    • 1WineDude


      MG – good strategy! Don’t forget that you also have a terminal condition guaranteed to kill you; it’s called being human. ;-)

  • Bob Henry


    I am late to the party, but let me offer this comment.

    Extended longevity has been observed in those who practice the so-called Mediterranean Diet.

    And moderate alcohol consumption is part of that diet.

    http://www.medpagetoday.com/primarycare/dietnutrition/14843

    • 1WineDude


      The key word there being moderate.

      • Bob Henry


        Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Personal Journal” Section
        (June 21, 2016, Page D1ff):

        “Study Goes to Texas to Test Alcohol and Health”

        Link: http://www.wsj.com/articles/study-finds-drinking-alcohol-associated-with-heart-rhythm-disorder-1466442728

        By Ron Winslow
        “Heart Beat” Column

        A study comparing hospital admissions in “wet” versus “dry” counties in Texas offers a surprising new perspective on how alcohol consumption may affect the health of your heart.

        The analysis found that people living in dry counties, where sales of alcoholic beverages are prohibited, had a higher risk of being hospitalized for a heart attack or congestive heart failure than people living in wet counties, where such sales are allowed. But residents of wet counties were at elevated risk for a heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation.

        The report, published last week in the British Medical Journal, or BMJ, is the latest to address a long-running controversy in heart-disease prevention: Does alcohol contribute to, or protect against, heart disease?

        Researchers took advantage of the legacy of Prohibition-era laws in Texas to compare heart-related illnesses where access to alcohol had been curbed for decades with illnesses where alcoholic beverages have been commonly available.

        The upshot: “It’s not so simple that alcohol is good for you or alcohol is bad for you,” says Gregory Marcus, associate professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco and senior author of the study. “Rather it depends on the individual.”

        . . .

        • 1WineDude


          You know, Bob, that one is a very interesting study. One thing that I learned from doing the research for the hangover article I wrote ( see http://www.1winedude.com/youre-welcome-hangover-prevention-at-fix-com/ ) was that there are no real “simple” rules when it comes to how our bodies process alcohol. Alcohol is a fairly complex chemical beast, as are its liquid delivery mechanisms, and all of that stuff together makes for a complex web of inter-related reactions in our bodies when we drink.

          • Bob Henry


            See this article on how the body metabolizes alcohol. The rate of absorption varies by gender and body weight and how “acclimated” you are to alcohol.

            From the San Francisco Chronicle “Food & Wine” Section
            (August 7, 2011, Page G6):

            “Alcohol Levels Can Make Big Difference”

            http://www.sfgate.com/food/article/Small-changes-in-wine-alcohols-can-make-a-big-2336133.php

            By Michael Apstein
            [a gastroenterologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School]

  • Bob Henry


    Excerpts from The New York Times Online
    (July 5, 2016):

    “The Upshot: Is Sushi ‘Healthy’? What About Granola?;
    Where Americans and Nutritionists Disagree”

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/07/05/upshot/is-sushi-healthy-what-about-granola-where-americans-and-nutritionists-disagree.html?_r=0

    By Kevin Quealy and Margot Sanger-Katz

    “With the Morning Consult, a media and polling firm, we [New York Times] surveyed hundreds of nutritionists – members of the American Society for Nutrition – asking them whether they thought certain food items (about 50) were healthy. The Morning Consult also surveyed a representative sample of the American electorate, asking the same thing.

    “Foods considered healthier by experts than by the public:

    “Wine . . . 70% [by nutritionists versus] 52% [by the general public]”

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Bob. Interesting stuff. Nice to know that our general perception isn’t aligned to reality, at least when it comes to *moderate* consumption.

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