Health Benefits Of Alcohol Really Are Too Good To Be True, New Study Claims

Almost every month a study will suggest alcohol is good for our health, and each and every time we head to the pub feeling a little less guilty.

But a new study published in The British Medical Journal suggests any health benefits from alcohol may be limited to people aged 65 and over - and even then may have been exaggerated by skewed data.

High alcohol consumption has been associated with more than 200 acute and chronic conditions, with estimated health and social costs of up to £55bn a year in England alone.

Yet some studies have suggested that, compared with non-drinkers, those who consume moderately (1-2 drinks units per day) may be protected against heart disease and early death.

Researchers from University of Sydney and University College London wanted to get to the bottom of these contradictions.

They took an in-depth look at several studies that claim alcohol is beneficial to health and found that evidence was inconclusive.

For instance, the researchers noted most previous studies which included "non-drinkers" did not consider the fact that participants may have included former (potentially heavy) drinkers.

"Former drinkers have been found to exhibit poorer self reported health, higher levels of depression and increased risk of mortality than never drinkers," the study reads.

"As such, protective associations identified among light drinkers may be less a consequence of a beneficial biological mechanism and more a statistical artefact resulting from the application of a pooled non-drinking category."

Using interview data from Health Survey for England 1998-2008 linked to national mortality data, the researchers analysed samples of 18,368 and 34,523 adults by sex and age group (50-64 years and 65 years and over).

Participants were interviewed about their average weekly alcohol consumption and use on the heaviest drinking day of the week.

Results were adjusted for a range of personal, socioeconomic, and lifestyle factors as these may affect risk of life-threatening disease.

The researchers found alcohol gave "little to no protection" to most, regardless of consumption level.

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

But the authors also stress that protective associations "may be explained by selection biases".

In a statement, Professor Mike Daube from Curtin University in Australia, said he welcomes this study as part of a growing body of evidence that alcohol intake is unlikely to offer any health benefits.

He argued that new evidence or health claims, "should be treated with great caution" and health professionals should discourage alcohol intake, even at low levels, for health benefits.

Health advice should come only from health authorities, he added, and that the alcohol industry "should remove misleading references to health benefits from their information materials."

If Alcohol Labels Were Actually Honest