Cheers to this new research.
The jury has long been out — and in, and out and in again — over whether any amount of alcohol is safe to drink.
And while many would freely admit their unabashed bias for the studies which favor the occasional imbiber, while ignoring contradictory findings, one group of UK researchers determined themselves to expose one inconvenient report in 2019.
Published then in the prestigious medical journal the Lancet, the study of 500,000 Chinese men and women attempted to put to rest any debate as to whether light to moderate drinking can be harmless or even healthful — finding that “alcohol consumption uniformly increases blood pressure and stroke risk.”
“One cannot now say any amount of alcohol is harmful in the same way as one can say any amount of smoking is harmful,” said University College London professor Sir Nicholas Wald of the 2019 study.
Wald, with co-author Chris Frost, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, argued that there is no scientific model which can dictate exactly how much alcohol it will take to impact one’s health.
“The occasional glass of wine or no more than a glass of beer, say, every other day would be acceptable given our current state of knowledge,” Wald concluded. “One need not feel that the only safe alcohol intake is zero.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol, a habit of safe “moderate” drinking is considered two drinks per day for adult men, and one for adult women (unless pregnant), though they encourage fewer to none. In the US, one standard pour would be the equivalent of a 12-ounce beer of 5% ABV; 5 ounces of wine at 12% ABV; or a 1½-ounce shot of 80-proof distilled spirits.
In the US, one standard pour — a 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine or a 1½-ounce shot — contains approximately 14 grams of ethanol.
The research in question, led by University of Oxford Dr. Iona Millwood, made waves upon publication in April 2019, as two separate responses from disputing researches that were published in November of that year. Each letter described Millwood’s shortcomings in her research, which they said lacked some context and deeper reporting, and failed to account for potential correlative factors.
These rebuttals in turn prompted a final “author’s reply” from Millwood in the Lancet, defending her team’s work — and again in a statement to the Times UK regarding Wald and Frost’s latest response to her work.
She said, “We found that stroke risk increased continuously across the range of predicted alcohol intake, from very low to high intake. Our findings are consistent with a causal effect of higher alcohol intake increasing stroke risk, and no substantial protective effect of moderate alcohol intake.”
However, Wald and Frost found that Millwood’s methods didn’t hold up to their hypothetical models — and that the presumed exponential risk associated with higher levels of drinking couldn’t be duplicated.
Their findings mean not that high alcohol consumption could be safe; rather, it indicates that Millwood’s approach “has a flaw in the analysis.”
“The risk of developing a range of illnesses increases with any amount you drink on a regular basis,” Wald clarified, but to say that “zero” alcohol is best is too extreme for today’s scientific methods.
“That is,” he concluded, “a little alcohol is acceptable, but a lot is harmful.”
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