New Alcohol Guidelines: 9 Confusing Messages About Alcohol And Health From The Last Five Years

08/01/2016 16:21 | Updated 08 January 2016
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Chief medical officers were accused of "scaremongering" on Friday after they released new guidelines around alcohol.

The new guidelines suggest men should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, bringing them in line with women's recommended drinking levels. Previously, men were advised to consume no more than 21 units per week.

Others in the medical profession have questioned the change in advice, saying the guidelines fail to recognise some of the health benefits of drinking alcohol.

If the debate has left you confused about what you should and shouldn't be drinking, we're not surprised.

Studies around alcohol consumption seem to continually contradict each other and the advice seems to be forever changing.

That's not to say these studies are invalid. As we make new advances in science, we can only expect the thinking around this topic to change.

To show that there is no easy answer when it comes to alcohol and health, here are some of the findings of recent years:

  • Alcohol Increases Dementia Risk
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    In October 2015 The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) released guidelines for preventing the risk of dementia that suggested drinking alcohol is among several factors which can increase a person's vulnerability.

    "Drinking alcohol daily at home has become normal for some people, and this poses a threat to health," they said at the time.

  • Alcohol Sharpens Men's Minds
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    A 2012 study from the University of Illinois in Chicago found that alcohol can actually have a positive affect on men's brain health.

    The study, which involved 40 healthy men, found that creative thoughts begin to flourish after four units were consumed (the equivalent of two pints of beer).

    Men who enjoyed a tipple (or two) were found to be better at solving brain-teasing quizzes and coming up with imaginative solutions to problems, compared to their sober counterparts.

  • Alcohol Increases Risk Of Heart Disease
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    In 2014 the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine teamed up with University College London and the University of Pennsylvania to examine 56 studies on drinking habits of more than a quarter of a million people.

    Their results appeared to contradict previous studies which suggested alcohol is beneficial for the heart.

    Senior author Juan Casas commented: "In our study, we saw a link between a reduced consumption of alcohol and improved cardiovascular health, regardless of whether the individual was a light, moderate or heavy drinker.

    "Assuming the association is causal, it appears that even if you're a light drinker, reducing your alcohol consumption could be beneficial for your heart."

  • Alcohol Reduces Risk Of Heart Disease
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    Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grapes and red wine, has long been associated with a range of health benefits such as cutting the risk of heart disease.

    A 2015 study published in the journal Nature found that resveratrol may protect the body against age-related diseases by prompting an evolutionary defence mechanism which guards human cells against genetic damage.

    Study author Matthew Sajish commented: "Based on these results, it is conceivable that moderate consumption of a couple of glasses of red wine would give a person enough resveratrol to evoke a protective effect via this pathway."

  • Alcohol Reduces Risk Of Heart Disease (But Only If You're Over 65)
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    A study published in The British Medical Journal last February suggested the benefits associated with alcohol (in particular red wine) may be limited to people aged 65 and over.

    The researchers, from the University of Sydney and University College London, found alcohol gave "little to no protection" of diseases such as heart disease to most people, regardless of how much they consumed.

    They did, however, find that women aged 65 and over who reported consuming 10 units or less on average per week had a lower risk of dying from illnesses such as heart disease compared to people who did not drink at all.

  • Alcohol Has Similar Benefits To Exercise
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    Research conducted by the University of Alberta suggested that a drinking a glass of red wine is the equivalent of spending an hour exercising in the gym.

    The researchers found that, resveratrol (a compound found in red wine), improved an individual's physical performance, heart function and muscle strength in the same way that they're improved after a gym session.

    "I think resveratrol could help patient populations who want to exercise but are physically incapable," lead researcher Jason Dyck said.

    "Resveratrol could mimic exercise for them or improve the benefits of the modest amount of exercise that they can do."

  • Alcohol Increases Risk Of Obesity
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    Last April the chairwoman of the Royal Society for Public Health, Dr Fiona Sim, warned that alcoholic drinks are contributing to Britain's growing obesity crisis and should come with mandatory calorie counts.

    "It is impossible to ignore our failure to deal with obesity," Dr Sim said at the time.

    "Drinking alcohol is common and, in excess, harmful."

  • Alcohol Doesn't Harm Baby When Pregnant
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    A 2013 study by the University of Bristol's School of Social and Community Medicine found that drinking in moderation through pregnancy does not harm a baby's neurodevelopment.

    Almost 7,000 10-year-olds were asked to take part in balance tests, which are an indicator of prenatal neurodevelopment.

    Children whose mothers consumed the equivalent of a glass of wine a day were able to balance as well as those who had not been exposed to alcohol in the womb.

  • Alcohol Harms Baby When Pregnant
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    In February 2015 a study from Queen's University Belfast investigated the effects of low-level alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

    When analysing scans, the researchers found that drinking just half a glass of wine affected the unborn baby.

    Professor Peter Hepper, who led the study, said: "If women drink just one unit of alcohol, the baby's breathing and movement stop for up to two hours after that. That's not normal – the baby should be continually active.

    "The only safe [alcohol] level is zero."


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