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:
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.”