Having a Drink or 2 a Day Is Not Healthier Than Abstaining From Alcohol, Study Shows

That nightly glass of red wine may not actually be helping.

  • Having a drink or two per day is not healthier than abstaining from alcohol, new study finds.
  • But, new research shows that even moderate drinking can pose risks to your long-term health.
  • Experts explain why there is no amount of alcohol that is “good” for you.

You may have heard in the past that the occasional glass of wine can be advantageous to your health. Unfortunately, new research shows that moderate drinking every so often actually provides no benefits to your health, and can instead do more harm than good. And, having a drink or two a day is actually not healthier than having no alcohol.

A new study, published in JAMA Network Open, conducted an analysis of over 100 studies, encompassing almost 5 million people in total. The researchers used this data to determine how drinking different amounts of alcohol affects a person’s risk of death from any cause. They also considered how different factors, such as a person’s overall health aside from their alcohol consumption, could have led to bias in previous studies.

Researchers found no significantly reduced risk of death from any cause among those who drank occasionally, or drank less than one drink per week on average, compared to those considered lifetime nondrinkers. The study concluded that not only was there no significant health benefit to moderate alcohol consumption, but also that drinking a low-volume daily serving of alcohol, less than 1 oz for women and around 1.5 oz for men, increased the risk of death. There were also significantly larger risks of death among females who drank alcohol compared with females who never drank alcohol.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a moderate alcohol intake per week is defined as seven servings of alcohol or fewer for women and 14 servings of alcohol or fewer for men. One serving of alcohol is defined as 5 oz for wine and just 1 1/2 oz for hard alcohol (which is far less than what is typically served in bars and restaurants).

Is Drinking Any Amount Of Alcohol Good For Your Health?

There is no amount of alcohol that is “good” for you, says Yu-Ming Ni, M.D., cardiologist, of non-invasive cardiology at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center. “Certainly, those who drink more than a modest amount are putting themselves at higher risk for medical problems in the future, and in this study, these people did worse.”

While some studies in the past have linked low to moderate alcohol consumption with a reduced risk of heart disease, these investigations are primarily based on observation, which makes it difficult to take into account other impacting factors, such as cholesterol and blood pressure levels, explains Rigved Tadwalkar, M.D., a board-certified cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center and member of the Prevention Medical Review Board. “If there is any benefit from low to moderate alcohol consumption, it may be in those who are otherwise healthy, older, and Caucasian, as these individuals are overrepresented in the data that suggests that there could be a benefit.”

How Does Alcohol Negatively Impact Long-Term Health?

It has been repeatedly shown that alcohol consumption, particularly in excess, is associated with a number of adverse health consequences, including forms of cancer and liver disease, says Dr. Tadwalkar. “Other issues related to alcohol consumption include weakened immunity, poor sleep, psychiatric disorders like depression, and acute impairment in cognitive function—which is conducive to accidents and injuries.”

It is also worth noting that heavier alcohol consumption can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressurestroke, and heart failure, which contradicts the popular belief that alcohol is generally beneficial for heart health, adds Dr. Tadwalkar.

Certain types of alcohol have a higher carbohydrate count, which can mess with blood sugar management. Dr. Ni says it can also increase blood pressure. Drinking alcohol can also make it harder to get a good night’s sleep—an association that many don’t know about. Ultimately people end up using medications to go to sleep and stimulants, like caffeine, to help wake up in the morning. “In fact, curbing the alcohol may be a simple way to improve sleep for these people,” adds Dr. Ni.

And for lifelong drinkers, long-term moderate to heavy alcohol consumption can be damaging for the liver, particularly in those who do not metabolize alcohol well, says Dr. Ni. “The liver typically becomes fatty and ultimately begins to break down with long-term alcohol consumption, leading to cirrhosis and liver failure.”

The Bottom Line

The most important thing this study does is debunk past notions of moderate drinking having any possible health benefits.

By implementing more practical approaches, this study attempts to correct systemic biases that were present in prior research, says Dr. Tadwalkar. “Earlier studies frequently misclassified former drinkers and current occasional drinkers as abstainers, which likely skewed the data since former drinkers have significantly elevated mortality risks compared with those who have abstained throughout their life.” In essence, this study has provided a more accurate analysis of the relationship between alcohol consumption and mortality, he adds.

The primary challenge with alcohol consumption is that many people struggle with self-control, and there is a fine line between low or moderate consumption and heavier consumption, says Dr. Tadwalkar. “I would not recommend that individuals start consuming alcohol to gain any form of potential cardiovascular benefit…there are more established and efficacious means of achieving that goal.”

However, for healthy individuals who choose to regularly drink alcohol in small amounts, it is unlikely to cause significant harm to their health, particularly if done in a social setting, says Dr. Tadwalkar. “Ultimately, the decision on whether to drink alcohol should be a personal one, incorporating factors such as age, family, personal medical history, emotional well-being, and individual values.”

Important Notice: This article was originally published at www.prevention.com by Madeleine Haase where all credits are due.


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