Health Confusion: is a Little Alcohol Good for You?

Updated: Apr 16



Are you not sure whether or not a little alcohol is good for you?

Do you sometimes hear conflicting information?


It's not easy to find out what's true.


Or is it?


Alcohol corporations have spent decades influencing the public perceptions of alcohol research. It turns out, there are no health benefits of alcohol.


In this article you are going to see exactly HOW alcohol corporations have influenced the way we think about alcohol by manipulating the science and placing the focus and blame on the drinker.


And...


...if you still choose to have a drink, find out what is the 'best' alcoholic beverage to consume.


Would you rather make an informed decision based on facts or would you give that right away to others who decide what you should or should not know?



DISCLAIMER:
This article explains how the alcohol industry has influenced or  manipulated the science, dietary guidelines and our perception of drinking. It provides scientific evidence why no health benefits exist. Whether you choose to drink yourself is, and should be, entirely up to you. But at least you can make that decision based on factual information.
 
Warning: 
This article contains light-hearted humor and sarcasm.



What do the European Guidelines say?


Most dietary guidelines recommend to limit consumption of alcohol to 1 (for women) or 2 (for men) consumptions per day (but not every day) for the average adult, excluding specific groups, such as pregnant and breastfeeding women. (1), (2)


But here's the interesting part:


The guidelines released by the European Union's commission state:


At low doses alcohol consumption may exert beneficial effects to some population groups in relation to cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus. (1)

That sounds rather positive...


...as does this:


In high-income countries, such low-risk* drinking patterns can be associated with better health and lower all-cause mortality than are lifetime abstinence or heavy drinking.

* This can range anywhere from 1 - 4 consumptions per day depending on the European country. (1)


So, basically they're saying is that it may protect your heart and it may make you live longer in comparison to not drinking at all.


Why they don't recommend low to moderate alcohol consumption then?


The reason they don't encourage you to drink is mostly due to increased cancer and liver cirrhosis risks, even at low alcohol consumption. (1)


That sounds crystal clear. So, you can live longer with cancer if you drink?

Was that what they meant?



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If that sounds confusing, don't worry...


The contrast will become clear soon enough.


Regardless:


The "moderate alcohol consumption may be good for your heart" is a recurring topic in the media, on the internet and probably something you've heard before from friends or acquaintances.


For some of us it may be a justification to drink in the first place.


No wonder why the Beer Institute and its members encourage the dietary guideline committee to continue the use of these moderate drinking guidelines. (3)


Then again, that's the Beer Institute.

If they wouldn't say that, they wouldn't have the financial capacity to serve beer at the next annual work party...


...or host a party at all for that matter.



What do the U.S. Guidelines say?


The latest U.S. guidelines don't mention any potential benefits anymore, but they do state:


For those who choose to drink, moderate alcohol consumption can be incorporated into the calorie limits of most healthy eating patterns. (2)

So they mean that alcohol isn't good, but yet it can be part of a healthy diet?

Or do they mean if you eat healthy enough, alcohol will probably not make you fat?


Imagine if they said that about smoking:


For those who choose to smoke, moderate smoking can be incorporated into most anti-cancer diets.

They don't talk about smoking like that because smoking is discouraged completely.


Why do government guidelines discourage alcohol consumption, yet at the same time, make room for consumption or offer vague and confusing statements?


and...


Why is there still a common belief that light to moderate drinking is not harmful?


The reason is because of the successful campaigning by the producers of alcohol themselves.



Successful Alcohol Campaigning




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That's right:


For the past three decades, the alcohol industry has sponsored:

  1. events between governments;

  2. education initiatives;

  3. scientific research;

  4. publications; and

  5. sporting and cultural events. (4)

That means they have been getting involved in politics, education and research.


The sophisticated campaigning by global alcohol corporations has promoted them as good corporate citizens and it has put the focus on the drinkers themselves instead of the alcohol. (5)


Where's the problem in that?


They place the source of the harm in the drinkers that use alcohol in excess. Not only is this group a small minority, it also diverts attention away from alcohol as a substance.

This has contributed to a global acceptance in policy development. (4)


That's not all:


Groups closely associated with the industry have actively promoted advice about alcohol’s benefits through events like conferences. (5)


Don't underestimate the formidable economic power of the international alcohol industry.

Governments have often shown unwillingness to deal with them. (5)


Why?


They balk at every obstacle on the course—from taxation to restrictions on advertising and sponsorship, evidence based warning messages, and strong, well funded education programmes. (5)


Those underlined parts already speak a thousand words.


The science that alcohol corporations have been involved with, praising the health benefits of moderate consumption has received a lot of news coverage.

And who doesn't like to hear good news about things that bring pleasure and enjoyment. (6)



Distorted Science


The supposed health benefits of light to moderate drinking originate from the infamous

J-curve:


As you you can see from the image above, you start out at a neutral position. As you drink just a little bit the risk of dying prematurely drops, but as you drink more the risk increases.


A giant review of studies involving almost 4,000,000 participants indeed confirmed this J-curve. (7)


But now it gets interesting...


74 out of 87 studies were severely biased. (7)


How biased exactly?

The majority of the studies included former drinkers, but they were classified as abstainers; people that don't drink even a drop of alcohol.


What's the bad part about that?

The researchers consistently found that former drinkers were actually at a much higher risk of dying prematurely than actual abstainers. (7)


There's a simple explanation for that:


Former drinkers may quit drinking because of poor health.

People who have health problems or long term chronic illness are more inclined to stop drinking. (8)


The issue that arises though, is that it makes drinkers look better than actual non-drinkers.


The tobacco industry played the same tricks a long time ago, when they classified people who quit smoking, because they got sick, as NON-SMOKERS. That's how the the tobacco industry managed to downplay the risks of smoking for DECADES. (9)


But that's all okay, because doctors smoked Camel after all.



All of this may or may not sound 'sensical' up to this point, but...

...how would the infamous J-curve look like, if we were able to correct for these mistakes?


It turns out, the J-curve doesn't look so curvy anymore:



Whereas before there were some health benefits from moderate consumption, when adjusted for these biases, the health benefits evaporated. (7)


It seems the alcohol benefits evaporate a whole lot faster than the alcohol you add to your cooking. That doesn't seem to evaporate quite as fast. (10)


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The 'Best' Alcoholic Beverage


Does this mean you can't enjoy yourself a glass of beer, wine or perhaps something stronger?


Of course you can.


Just don't be under the illusion that your drink is going to provide you with health benefits.


The best out of the bunch, or more accurately the least harmful one out of all the choices you have at your disposal, probably is...


Red wine.



Why?


Red wine generally has a higher antioxidant content (11), which may undo some of the damage alcohol induces through the lowering of oxidative stress. (12), (13)


Perhaps less enjoyable for some, but...


...red wine with the alcohol removed is more beneficial for your health. (14), (15)



Conclusion


It is normal for companies and corporations to influence your perception of their product.


However, when their product is harmful and they don't shy away from acts of deception and manipulation, it takes our right away of making informed decisions.


This is especially so when we think we're doing the right thing, but in reality we are causing harm to ourselves and perhaps even others.


Whether you want to drink or smoke is up you, especially when you are trying to avoid causing harm to others.


Maybe you think the health effects are not a big deal.

Maybe you have your own reasons.


But no matter what:


Would you rather make an informed decision based on facts or would you give that right away to others who decide what you should or should not know?


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References:


  1. https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/health-knowledge-gateway/promotion-prevention/alcohol

  2. https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-9/

  3. https://www.beerinstitute.org/beer-policy/regulatory/dietary-guidelines/

  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23496067

  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25670722

  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27891690

  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4803651/

  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28499103

  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15213107

  10. https://www.nal.usda.gov/sites/default/files/fnic_uploads/Alcohol-Retention.pdf

  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20096093

  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17570440

  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6204759/

  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4671344/


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