Research results: Health benefits from alcohol overrated

Research results: Health benefits from alcohol overrated

Moderate alcohol consumption does not increase life expectancy
There has been much speculation in the past about possible positive health effects from moderate alcohol consumption. To this day, many people are convinced that a glass of wine a day makes them live longer and healthier lives. However, the scientific evidence available on this is “shaky at best,” reports the specialist journal “Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs”. The current issue of the journal presents a comprehensive study by Canadian researchers from the Center for Addiction Research at the University of Victoria on the subject.

In their comprehensive study, the scientists at the University of Victoria's Center for Addictions Research in British Columbia evaluated the results of 87 older studies in order to find out about the possible health benefits of alcohol consumption. However, her conclusion is sobering. Much of the study, which found benefits, was flawed and the results were therefore not reliable. According to the study author Tim Stockwell, there are many reasons to be skeptical about statements about the supposed positive health effects of moderate alcohol consumption.

Studies with significant weaknesses
Numerous positive effects of moderate alcohol consumption up to a significant extension of life expectancy were found in the evaluated studies, but the studies showed considerable weaknesses when examined more closely. Many were flawed and designed in the study design in such a way that advantages were found in places where no advantages can actually be found, the researchers report.

For example, the crucial question in the research is how the "abstainers" were defined, with whom the group of moderate alcohol users was then compared, explains Tim Stockwell, director of the Center for Addiction Research in British Columbia. For example, moderate drinkers (a maximum of two drinks per day) were compared with “current” abstainers, although the group of abstainers could include people in particularly poor health for whom alcohol consumption was excluded for this reason.

There is no causal connection
If the group of abstainers was adjusted for people with particularly high levels of health impairment, the studies complained of did not show any advantages of moderate alcohol consumption over abstinence, Stockwell and colleagues report. In their design, only 13 of the 87 studies had ruled out a disproportionately high negative burden on abstainers and in these studies no health benefits of alcohol consumption were found, the researchers write. After adjusting the data used, it was also shown that people who consumed less than one drink a week had the highest life expectancy. In view of the extremely low alcohol intake and irregular consumption, however, no causal link can be assumed here.

Implausible advantages described with moderate alcohol consumption
Stockwell emphasized that in the studies at hand, moderate alcohol consumption resulted in an implausibly broad spectrum of health benefits. For example, moderate alcohol users would have shown a lower risk of numbness or even liver cirrhosis compared to abstainers.

"Either alcohol is a panacea ... or moderate alcohol consumption is actually an indication of other factors," said Stockwell. With regard to the different types of alcoholic beverages, according to the researchers, there were also no effects on the lifespan. "But even if that were the case, it is unlikely that the alcohol content itself is the cause," explains Stockwell. (fp)

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